Huge impact of asylum seeker work recognised with ALA’s VIC justice award

3rd May 2019

The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) have jointly won the Australian Lawyers Alliance’s (ALA) 2019 Victorian Civil Justice Award for their work to ensure that asylum seekers receive appropriate medical care.

Representatives from both Centres were presented with the Award during the ALA's annual state conference today.

VIC ALA Director Geraldine Collins said that these two organisations were at the forefront of the legal and public education campaign that ultimately resulted in the introduction of the medevac legislation.

“The Nauru medical evacuation cases represent one of the most effective pieces of social interest litigation in recent times,” said Ms Collins. “The issue mobilised the legal profession, saved people from harm and ultimately led to a law change. The ASRC and HLRC co-ordinated this effort and are very worthy recipients of the Civil Justice Award.

“Their work has had enormous individual and social impact.”

Due to the lack of appropriate medical facilities on Nauru and the number of asylum seekers needing urgent medical care, Federal Court applications for Orders were required for individuals to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment.  

The ASRC and HLRC were responsible for co-ordinating the legal response and managing a process of triage and case allocation to private firms.

“In this sense, the ASRC and HRLC also played a critical role in the organisation and mobilisation of the wider legal profession, with an unprecedented number of private firms taking on matters pro bono,” said Ms Collins.

“For many it was their first experience with asylum seeker cases and the program’s success relied heavily on the organisation, training and support from these two organisations. Over 100 individual cases were pursued, saving sick asylum seekers from harm or death.”

The ASRC and HRLC were also at the forefront of a broader public campaign on this issue raising awareness of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers more generally. Partnering with other groups, including refugee advocates, law firms and doctors, they were able to ignite public interest in the issue.  

Medical evacuation of asylum seekers requiring urgent treatment became a key political issue for the federal parliament, culminating in passing of the medevac bill earlier this year.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that the series of events leading to the medevac legislation owes much to the work of the ASRC and HRLC,” said Ms Collins.

The Human Rights Law Centre is a not-for-profit, non-government organisation that protects and promotes human rights in Australia and in Australian activities overseas by using an integrated strategic combination of legal action, advocacy, research and capacity building. It is active in a number of areas, including refugee and asylum seeker rights, ATSI peoples’ rights, LGBTI rights and women’s rights.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is an independent not-for-profit organisation, whose programs support and empower people seeking asylum. Its activities range from public campaigns and advocacy, to providing education and training and frontline services like food and clothing.

The annual ALA Civil Justice Award recognises individuals or organisations who have displayed outstanding commitment to the pursuit of justice.

Tags: Victoria Asylum seekers and refugees Civil Justice Award