KASAMA Vol. 23 No. 2 / April-May-June 2009 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Australian Human Rights Commission

Attacks on international students have racial underpinning

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Tom Calma Attacks against international students in Australia are disturbing and should sound alarm bells for the Australian community about the life threatening extremes to which racial prejudice can extend, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tom Calma said today.

Commissioner Calma said he was appalled by reports of the cowardly and violent acts that have been perpetrated, most recently, on international students from India.

“Racism is ugly and unacceptable in any form, but when it takes the form of violence, it not only injures innocent individuals who have the right to feel safe in Australia, it also injures the nation’s international reputation,” Commissioner Calma said.

“I urge the Australian Government, the Opposition and minor parties to work diligently to develop a national action plan to combat racism. Anti–racism strategies are an investment, not an expense,” Commissioner Calma said.

Mr Calma said the incidents revealed a disturbing level of antagonism directed towards international students.

“I welcome the condemnation by Australian universities of the attacks in Melbourne and the effort by those universities concerned to ensure the safety of international students. These are important initial responses to this mounting problem,” he said.

“As Race Discrimination Commissioner, I’m very concerned about the racial nature of these attacks. Apart from the immediate harm done to the victims, the attacks have broader implications for international students as well as Australian students from diverse backgrounds participating in Australia’s tertiary education programs.”

Commissioner Calma said the Australian Human Rights Commission had received anecdotal information over the last four years about increasing levels of hostility towards international students. He said the issue had been raised late last year at the annual meeting of the Australia/New Zealand Race Relations Roundtable (a meeting of all race discrimination commissioners in Australia and New Zealand to develop collaborative human rights approaches regarding race–related issues).

“The New Zealand Human Rights Commission is engaged in a partnership with the University of Canterbury in conducting the Safer Students Campaign and I strongly urge Australian universities to consider replicating this initiative,” Commissioner Calma said.

“The Australian Human Rights Commission has worked with a variety of institutions to develop their capacity in dealing with racial discrimination and vilification and will continue to work with relevant organisations to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of international and domestic students is guaranteed,” he said.

We must not forget the displaced peoples of the world

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Graeme Innes AM Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes and Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma commended the Australian Government today, World Refugee Day, on restating its commitment this week to meeting its international obligations to refugees from around the world.

“It is tremendously important that the plight of refugees and asylum seekers is put in a context of reality, rather than the tabloid news context that so often clouds the very real and tragic circumstances surrounding people who come to Australia, having fled from their own countries because of war and fear of persecution,” said Commissioner Innes.

“The reality is, in comparison to other countries, Australia receives relatively few refugees and asylum seekers, and any increase in the number of people attempting to come to Australia is part of a sad and continuing international trend,” said Mr Innes.

The UNHCR 2008 Global Trends Report shows that there was a 28 percent increase in claims for asylum worldwide during 2008.

“As a wealthy, multicultural country, Australia has an obligation, not only morally, but under international law, to assist these people who are far less fortunate than we are here,” said Commissioner Calma.

“When you consider that 42 million people were forcibly displaced from their home countries during 2008, including 15.2 million refugees, the sheer scale of this problem is staggering and one that we in Australia should be thankful we don’t have to confront as part of our own daily life experience,” Mr Calma said.

Commissioner Innes also once again urged the Australian Government to reconsider holding people, including children and minors, on Christmas Island. “The Australian Human Rights Commission has always criticised the inhumane practice of holding people on an island with so few support services and over 2600km from the nearest Australian capital city – Perth – particularly when there are so many children and minors involved and many of the detainees are likely to qualify as refugees to Australia,” Mr Innes said.

Mr Innes said the Commission would conduct an inspection of the facilities on Christmas Island in July and would make a report to the Australian Government and the public soon after.

Commissioner Calma said: “World Refugee Day is important because it offers everyone in Australia the opportunity to stop and think about our global responsibilities towards refugees and also to consider the universality of human rights.”

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