Africans and people of African descent are exposed to multi-faceted forms of racial discrimination, xenophobia and systemic racism in all spheres of predominantly ‘white’ Australia, says the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
Ending a 10-day official visit to the country, the experts expressed serious concerns that, in a multicultural country that professes an inclusive national identity, “people of African descent face racial profiling, racial slurs, abuse of authority, over policing, under protection, targeting and violence”. The group, led by Chair Catherine Namakula, heard concerns about racist hate speech and the use of negative racial stereotypes by some politicians and the media. Research documenting the experience of young people in schools shows that many African Australians are exposed to racist bullying with no redress, the experts said in a statement.
South Sudanese refugees reported high rates of incarceration, indefinite detention, mental health concerns, and suicide in Australia. In schools and in the community, reports of severe and pervasive racism have impacted their sense of belonging and their opportunities. “Disproportionate numbers of people of African descent have been categorised as unlawful non-citizens and banished indefinitely from Australia’s population to offshore and inland detention facilities,” the experts said.
The Working Group found that Australia’s use of indefinite detention under section 501 of the Migration Act presents grave human rights concerns, including with respect to due process, prior notice of collateral consequences, retroactive application and the racialised arbitrary and subjective nature of its use. The experts recommend that the Government immediately end the practice of indefinite detention under Section 501, which is incompatible with international human rights law.
The Working Group heard that racialised approaches of government and Australian society to COVID-19 restrictions clarified the long-lived reality of people of African descent as always under siege.
The experts said the experiences of people of African descent continue to be impacted by the country’s settler-colonial past, its White Australia immigration policy, which was dropped in 1973, and its legacy, still endured by the First Nations peoples, including Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islanders, and South Sea Islanders. “People of African descent experience a culture of denial of this racialised reality, and the legacies of this via pervasive ‘othering’ in public spaces and entrenched disadvantage.
“The mental health of children, men and women of African descent is an urgent concern requiring culturally appropriate and trauma-informed care, prevention and non-carceral approaches”, the experts said.
All children in ‘detention’ need to be decriminalised and returned to their families and communities with a view to shifting to a public health centred approach that addresses the underlying causes of juvenile offending.
The Working Group, which also included human rights experts Barbara Reynolds and Dominique Day, visited Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.
The experts welcome the expressed intent of the Government to address gaps and human rights concerns with a strengthened Anti-racism framework.
The Working Group will present a report with its findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2023.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).