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Many of them reported that their mental health had deteriorated since they arrived in Australia as a consequence of this anxiety.During the visit we also met some people who appeared to have significant vulnerabilities – families including children with serious disabilities, pregnant women, and people with serious health issues.
However in considering the situation in Australia it is important to recall the international context.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported at the end of 2011 that there were 15.2 million refugees worldwide and that 895 000 first instance asylum claims had been made in the previous twelve months worldwide.
The most notable of these bodies is the Human Rights Council, charged with strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe as well as with various committees that are charged with monitoring implementation of international human rights treaties.
The Australian Human Rights Commission aims to lead the promotion and protection of human rights in Australia.
While I was there I met with some of the nearly 2000 people then in detention there – men, women and children, who have come to Australia to seek asylum, claiming protection under the 1951 Refugees Convention.
All of the people currently in detention on Christmas Island have arrived in Australia since 13 August of this year.I am pleased to join the WA branch in celebrating the aims and achievements of the United Nations on this UN Day, and to acknowledge the important work of the United Nations Association of Australia in seeking to advance the goals of the UN in Australia and around the world.We have something special to celebrate today; Australia’s election to the Security Council for the next two years.Our vision is ‘human rights: everyone, everywhere, every day’.We aim to make human rights values a part of everyday life and language in Australia, to empower all people in Australia to understand and exercise their human rights and to work with individuals, community organisations, business and government to inspire action.The question of what might happen to these people in the future is of serious concern.I will return to comment on the conditions of detention on Christmas Island, and also to the question of the human rights implications of the transfer of asylum seekers to third countries later in my presentation.All of them could potentially be transferred to a third country for the processing of their claims for protection.The people with whom I met were understandably anxious about their situation.First though, I would like to explore some aspects of Australia’s long term commitment to the resettlement of refugees – in this area, there is much of which Australia can be proud.Australia has resettled over 750 000 refugees since the commencement of WWII, and has reaped tremendous benefits as a result.