Explainer: Amnesty’s Refugee Rights campaign work in Australia

The refugee crisis

More than 100 million people are displaced globally, yet only 30 countries around the world offer just over 100,000 annual resettlement places.

The refugee crisis in 2023 is relentless — the war in Ukraine, devastation in Syria, starvation in Yemen, political unrest in Afghanistan, oppression in Myanmar. There are countless stories of people forced to leave their homes, and their families, to escape persecution, trauma or death.

Over a million Rohingya people, like Maung Sawyeddolah, have been forced to cross into Bangladesh, escaping violence and persecution. Myanmar is home to the largest population of displaced people in the world.

Australia has a long history of providing refuge to those fleeing persecution because their lives are under threat — the resettlement program began in the 1940s after World War II. However, in recent years, the government’s stance on refugees has become increasingly restrictive.

The Australian public has been vocal about the government’s approach to refugees, with many calling for a more compassionate response to those seeking asylum. However, despite public pressure, the government’s policies have remained largely unchanged.

What I hope for the most is a safe and dignified future in a world that values and respects human rights.

Muang Sawyeddolah

The rights of people seeking safety — things like safe shelter, food and water, the opportunity to work, access to education and legal assistance — are fundamental human rights.

We need to be relentless in our support for refugees, like Maung, who are seeking safety and freedom.

Amnesty’s work on refugee rights

Amnesty advocates for those who urgently need safety and push governments to do their bit and put people first, including campaigning for the Australian Government to raise the refugee and humanitarian intake and to end offshore detention.

Since 2020, Australia has reduced its annual humanitarian intake by 5,000 places each year, with recent intakes at the lowest level in 45 years. Those who do make it into the country are caught up in a cruel system where even today people are still held in offshore detention centres, incarcerated just for seeking protection.

Zaki Haidari fled his home in Afghanistan in 2011, after his family was accused of helping foreign forces by the Taliban. Facing death threats, he left his family behind and sought refuge in Australia. For years, he lived in limbo and was unable to bring his family to Australia with him.

We all crave safety and a future. At the very least, Australia must allow everyone already found to be owed protection under the Refugee Convention a permanent home in Australia, no matter how or when they arrived.

Zaki Haidari

But there is hope on the horizon.

Thanks to the relentless efforts of Amnesty supporters and other partner organisations over the years, we are finally seeing change:

  • In March 2022, Australia accepted New Zealand’s long-standing offer to resettle refugees detained by the Australian Government’s brutal offshore detention policy which was designed to deter and punish people seeking protection. The number of people trapped offshore has now decreased from 600 to around 130.
  • In April 2022, the remaining refugees were released from Australia’s Alternative Places of Detention (APODs), including the notorious Park Hotel in Melbourne. Now, they are living within the community that called for their freedom.
  • In February 2023, the government announced that it would end the cruel and unnecessary system of temporary protection visas that forced thousands of people and their families to live in limbo, clearing a path for more than 19,000 refugees to apply for permanent status.

For Zaki, after 10 years of tireless campaigning alongside Amnesty, he helped to abolish the temporary visas that held him back. Most importantly, now that he is living as a permanent resident, he was able to bring his family to safety.

[These wins] give me hope for the future of refugees in this country, but we must pressure those in power to reach further and do more.

Zaki Haidari

People power works – how you can help

We need to continue to be relentless in our fight for the fair and just treatment of refugees looking to Australia for help.

A more expansive humanitarian intake would make it possible for more families who have been split up by conflict and persecution to reunite. There must also be an end to offshore processing and a pathway to protection for those remaining refugees in limbo.

I advocate for the rights of refugees so that no one else will have to go through what I have… I know that change is possible when we work together.

Zaki Haidairi

Together we can, have, and will continue to drive important change that saves lives.

  • Donate today to help Amnesty keep up the pressure on the government and raise public awareness by funding our campaigning, research and casework
  • Sign the petition calling on the government to raise Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian intake

Amnesty International is a global movement of 10 million people standing up for justice, freedom and equality. We work to free people unjustly jailed, bring torturers to justice and change oppressive laws. We shine a light on great wrongs by exposing the facts others try to suppress. We lobby governments, and the powerful to make sure they keep their promises and respect international law. Together, our voices challenge injustice and are powerful enough to change the world.

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