22 June 2010

In the lead up to Refugee Week (June 21) a group of University of Queensland law students has taken their coursework beyond the classroom to advocate for the legal rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.

TC Beirne School of Law Senior Lecturer Dr Peter Billings and a group of fifth year students have already voiced their concerns about the political treatment of asylum seekers in a meeting with the Federal Member for Bonner, Kerry Rea.

The students are concerned that the policies endorsed or proposed by the Federal government and opposition are inconsistent with Australian law and Australia’s international legal obligations.

Bachelor of Laws student Marissa Dooris said in an election year, informed and thoughtful advocacy on the rights of asylum seekers and refugees was especially important.

“Since the Tampa incident in 2001, it has become an unfortunate hallmark of Australian politics that both sides of the House leverage asylum seekers in a bid to secure voter support.”

UQ law student Ben Russo added that all Australians should be concerned about the policy of suspending asylum claims from Afghans and Sri Lankans and its impact on Australia’s international reputation as a compassionate country that observes the rule of law.

Dr Billings said the students were drafting a petition to ask the House of Representatives to review the suspension of protection visa applications for Sri Lanka and Afghanistan nationals.

“Patiently waiting for a protection visa in a refugee camp abroad is not the only legitimate way of seeking sanctuary in Australia, as is often portrayed by politicians," he said.

“The (comparatively) small numbers who choose to come by boat are not queue jumpers.

"Firstly, people may not be able to access humanitarian protection mechanisms elsewhere, and secondly, people have a right, under international law to seek asylum.

"There is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum seeker’ under either international law or Australian domestic law.”

The petition will be available for signature at the TC Beirne School of Law office, Level 3, Forgan Smith Building, UQ St Lucia Campus from Monday 21 June to coincide with the start of Refugee Week.

Dr Peter Billings, 07 3365 7176, p.billings@law.uq.edu.au
Ms Marissa Dooris 0416 821264
Lynda Flower, School of Law Marketing, 07 3365 2523, l.flower@law.uq.edu.au