Posted by: Laura John | March 15, 2013

Small places, close to home

Engraving at Human Rights First

Engraving at Human Rights First

At the end of 2011, the United States had an estimated 264,763 refugees and 11,721 asylum seekers. These are significant numbers, making the United States the second largest recipient of asylum applications (the first is South Africa). It was these numbers that compelled me to apply for this internship at Human Rights First. I wanted to see how a country who receives large numbers of asylum seekers balances protecting the rights of refugees with national security concerns.

Unfortunately, as my previous blogs have outlined, the scale is skewed towards national security, resulting in many burdensome obstacles that must be overcome before an asylum seeker is granted protection in this country. Increasingly, these barriers erode the principles of protection that underline the 1951 Refugees Convention, which governs the international protection system.

While the United States prepares for comprehensive immigration reform, there is a possibility for policies to be changed so that the spirit of the Convention is placed at the forefront of immigration policy. As a leader on the international stage, the world (including Australia) will be looking to see if the United States capitalizes on this opportunity to improve the process for those seeking protection.

Back home, while we receive significantly fewer asylum seekers (only about 0.1% of the Australian population are refugees or asylum seekers according to UNHCR’s 2011 Global Trends Report), our government has also skewed the scale in favour of security and border control over the protection of fundamental rights. My internship has exposed me to many wonderful and passionate people, who give me hope that we can change the current status quo in the United States and in Australia.

I am incredibly grateful to the Castan Centre, Monash Law School and Human Rights First for this experience. My internship has inspired me to continue advocating for the fair and humane treatment of refugees. And whenever the problems seem too big to overcome, I will remember the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt which is engraved in the foyer of Human Rights First – “Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home.”

HRF Refugee Protection interns

HRF Refugee Protection interns

 


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