Audio Ron Merkel discusses the difficulty of handling refugee cases, 2008

TLF ID R10293

This is an edited sound recording of former Federal Court of Australia judge Ron Merkel discussing the difficulty of handling refugee cases. Merkel outlines how criteria from the UN refugee convention are used to make a judgement about whether a person is a genuine refugee. He explains that 'it's a very imperfect process' that has undoubtedly resulted in genuine refugees not being recognised and being sent back to 'horrific harm' in their home countries. Merkel also says that working on refugee cases is a 'tough jurisdiction' because of the distressing personal stories that come to light. The recording was made in December 2008.



Educational details

Educational value
  • This recording provides a rare insight into the feelings of a former judge of the Federal Court who has dealt with refugee cases. Ron Merkel (1941-) was on the bench of the Federal Court from 1996 to 2006 and during that time he handled dozens of refugee cases. The cases involved hearing applications for judicial review of decisions made under the Migration Act 1958, which is used to regulate Australia's immigration program.
  • Merkel points out the limited jurisdiction of the Federal Court in relation to refugee matters. He says that the Federal Court can only consider whether an error of law has been made by the Refugee Review Tribunal, to which unsuccessful applicants for protection (refugee) visas can apply.
  • Merkel refers to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a signatory. Under the UN convention a refugee is broadly defined as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of usual residence because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
  • Merkel says that some people who claim asylum in Australia are what he calls 'economic refugees', people who are seeking a better life but who would not be considered refugees under the UN convention. Merkel stresses the difficulty of assessing the credibility of asylum-seekers and deciding whether a person has genuine fears of persecution and if so whether the fears are justified. The personal stories of many people, he says, are in between these two extremes.
  • The refugee cases that are heard before the Federal Court involve people who are already in Australia who have lodged claims for asylum. These claims are known as 'onshore' claims. In 2007-08, a total of 2,215 protection visas were granted to claimants within Australia. In comparison, 10,799 protection visas were issued to people in the 'offshore' category - in most cases people who had been living in refugee camps while they awaited resettlement.
  • Australia is one of only a few countries in the world that accepts refugees as part of its formal immigration program, but there have always been vastly more applicants than the number of places that are available. In early 2009 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that it was helping 31.7 million refugees across the world. It said the number of people seeking asylum in industrialised countries such as Australia rose in 2008 for the second year in a row.

Other details

Contributors
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 20 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au/
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au/
  • Remarks: Copyright Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Content provider
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au/
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 2008
  • Name: Ron Merkel
  • Remarks: speaker
Access profile
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Learning resource type
  • Sound
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Rights
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements.