Australia, which has been a vocal critic of the human rights records of other nations hosting major sports events, needs to address its own inhumane refugee policies, human rights advocates have urged.

Describing the country’s treatment of asylum seekers as a “shocking record” they said it was hypocritical not to acknowledge the problems while holding the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which kicks off tomorrow. Australia had previously attacked Qatar’s human rights record when it hosted the men’s World Cup last year, and also China’s hosting of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

Currently, there are some 12,000 refugees in Australia whose lives remain in limbo in detention centres, with some having spent over a decade going through processing. Another 19,000 have been promised a minimum processing time by the Albanese government.

Margaret Sinclair, a Refugee Collective Action spokesperson, told Central News that major sporting codes could play a significant role in highlighting refugee and asylum seeker issues to the public.

“I would absolutely love it, if the [FIFA women’s] World Cup and many different sports, many different tournaments could keep highlighting the sorts of harm Australia has inflicted on people who are refugees,” she said.

Qatar hosted the 2022 men’s FIFA World Cup but was widely criticised by countries around the world including Australia for its treatment of foreign workers, LGBTQI rights and freedom of expression. Australia’s players organisation and the Socceroos were among those who panned Qatar. The Qatari government claimed the number of migrant worker deaths had been misrepresented by international organisations for political reasons, while other criticism was based on cultural differences.

Football governing body, FIFA also faced backlash from its member footballing associations like England, France, Netherlands, Wales, Germany and Belgium, who accused it of turning a blind eye to the issues.

Sinclair said the issues in two countries were very different, but the lack of “acknowledgement” of the issues by both governments were similar, with Australian policies setting a precedence across the world and other countries reproducing them for their own refugee and asylum seeker approach.

“Australian policies are now being taken up by other countries,” she said. “We’ve got Greece who saw a boat in the Mediterranean and stood by and watched while [several hundred] people drowned.

“We’ve got England who are trying to send refugees to Rwanda. America, who had refugees on their southern border, they’re splitting up families [and putting] kids in cages and just shuffling people around and refusing to process their claims for asylum in a timely and responsible manner.

There’s a lot of unfinished business from the Labor government… it doesn’t address the many other asylum seekers still hurt because of the policies Labor still follows.

“What happens in Australia or whatever happens in a country that can be taken up by other countries really does, a disservice to human rights everywhere.”

Criticism of FIFA awarding Qatar the World Cup lead the governing body in 2016 to introduce human rights policies in their statutes of governance that are meant to assess and vet future host nation’s human rights risks.

The assessment is conducted using framework in the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, which targets addressing and prevention of human rights impacts associated by FIFA’s business activities. However, questions have arisen about how affective the policies are.

During last year’s election, that saw Labor swept to power, party leader Anthony Albanese promised a comprehensive review of the country’s immigration system, increases to asylum seeker intakes and the introduction of a 90-day detention limit for applicants, to deal with lengthy backlogs in processing.

However, refugee advocates say Labor’s policies don’t go far enough and do not have a substantial impact on many refugees and asylum seekers.

They claim proposals only affect people who hold temporary protection visas (TPVs) and safe haven enterprise visas (SHEVs), while a further 12,000 people are still in visa “legacy caseload” limbo.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson, Ian Rintoul, called it a good first step in the right direction but that the federal government needed to address much more.

“The announcement was very good news for the 19,000 people,” Rintoul said. “Unfortunately it did not address wider questions for at least another 12,000 people who aren’t on temporary protection visas or safe haven enterprise visas, but who are on bridging visas.

“Some are still in community detention [centres] that weren’t addressed by that announcement.

“There’s [still] a lot of unfinished business from the Labor government… but it doesn’t address the many other asylum seekers still hurt because of the policies [the] Labor government still follows.”

According to research conducted by Amnesty International, the annual human rights barometer in June 2022 indicated 72 per cent of Australian’s either support maintaining or increasing the country’s humanitarian intake with a majority of the public supporting refugees being settled here.

Australia is a signatory to the 1949 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) but refugee advocates said the government hasn’t abided by its international treaty commitments.

“I think that our international obligations should be brought back in the Migration Act [1958] again. Previous governments had taken out the reference to our international obligations and I think Labor need to put that back in,” Sinclair said.

She said the government should pay reparations, show accountability and acknowledge the harm government policies have caused to people who were “simply searching for a safe place to call home”.

“I think also there needs to be a truth-telling about the effects of detention on human beings,” she added.

“So, in this century alone, there’s been over 120 amendments to the Migration Act which have been punitive in nature, legalised human rights abuses and have had a terrible detrimental effect on many thousands of people.

“I think that its very hard for Australian to hold their heads up and be proud of anything that either side of politics has done while they’ve been in government because we’ve just gone down the slippery path [of] committing terrible acts and covering them up.”

Co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, the Women’s World Cup 2023 kicks off tomorrow in Auckland at Eden Park and in Sydney at Accor Stadium.

Image creative commons Canva montage: John Englart/Flickr; Wikimedia.