The federal government is using “a hammer to crack a lentil” with its plans to weaken protections for vulnerable asylum seekers, a Senate inquiry has been told.
Legislation before parliament tightens eligibility for complementary protection visas, which help people who are not refugees but can’t be sent home for fear of being harmed.
They affect women at risk of female genital mutilation or honour killings, or journalists who speak out against their government.
The new rules would mean individuals can be returned if their homeland has measures to protect them or if they can relocate to safer parts of the country.
People who don’t face a real risk of peril – for example, if they sell alcohol in countries that ban the substance – would also be denied safe haven.
But the Law Council of Australia is concerned it’s too heavy-handed.
Australia risks failing to meet its international refugee obligations and may return people to harm, the council says.
“It’s like using a hammer to crack a lentil,” the council’s human rights committee chair, Sarah Prichard, told Canberra hearing on Friday.
Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs said it narrowed what had been a relatively uncontroversial and successful safeguard.
She gave the example of a Sri Lankan child who was granted protection after suffering domestic violence at the hands of an alcoholic father.
An Australian tribunal had found it unreasonable to expect the child, who had never left home before, to relocate to another area of Sri Lanka to avoid his father.
“It might be a case of that kind would not be protected in the future,” Prof Triggs said.
Refugee lawyers said women at risk of honour killings or domestic violence would be returned even if they could not relocate, putting them at risk of exploitation.
The immigration department said the relocation proposal would uphold Australia’s international obligations.
If a person would not be safe in an area they were to be relocated, they would not be returned home, official David Wilden said.