2017 Grace Vaughan Memorial Lecture

15 March 2017


Caroline Fleahy





Families Still Seeking Asylum: Political Impacts and Community Responses in Australia

By Dr Caroline Fleay, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University

The responses of most political leaders to people seeking asylum lie in contrast to growing numbers of others in Australia who are disturbed by the impacts of policies on asylum seekers and their families. Over the past 25 years the responses of Australia’s major political party leaders have generally hardened when increasing numbers of people seeking asylum arrive in small boats. This is despite the fact that relatively few people have ever sought asylum in Australia compared with many other countries. The impact on asylum seekers of the harsh policies implemented by political leaders particularly over the last five years continues to be profound and lasting.

This includes the devastating consequences of policies that effectively prevent the reunion of refugees who came to Australia by boat, with their families. The majority of people who arrive by boat are men, reflecting the dangers of the long journey and their hope that they may at least get their immediate families to join them safely once they arrive. Instead, many women and children are now forced to remain in precarious and often dangerous and violent situations in their own or neighbouring countries. Australian policies prevent the safe passage of families to be re-united, forcing families to be rendered apart indefinitely.

This presentation outlined the adverse impact that Australian political leaders and their policies have on people seeking asylum and their families. It also explored a range of community responses that challenge these policies, highlighting acts of solidarity, activism and community building that defy and challenge political attempts to dehumanise, punish and divide.

Dr Caroline Fleay is Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University, where she teaches human rights and conducts research into the experiences of people seeking asylum in Australia. She has been a regular visitor to some of WA’s sites of immigration detention and written extensively about the impacts on people seeking asylum of indefinite detention and being released into the community with minimal supports.

Caroline has also been involved with a range of community groups and human rights campaigns over the past three decades, including those focused on women's rights and refugee rights. In 2011 she was awarded the Amnesty International Australia (WA) June Fassina Award for her contributions to human rights activism.

Caroline is currently a Board Member of the Refugee Council of Australia and continues to liaise with WA, national and regional refugee support organisations and activists to campaign on the rights of people seeking asylum. This includes being a co-organiser of Seeking Refuge WA, one of the largest crowdfunding campaigns to support the provision of free legal assistance to asylum seekers in WA.

The Grace Vaughan Memorial Lecture

This annual lecture commemorates the life and achievements of Grace Vaughan, a social worker, social activist and parliamentarian, who was dedicated to the improvement of life at all levels and had a deep commitment to Australia’s participation in the Asian region and to ensuring women’s full participation in society. The lecture is presented by the Australian Association of Social Workers, the Institute of Advanced Studies at The University of Western Australia and Department of Local Government and Communities Western Australia.