Human rights and international law expert Professor Hilary Charlesworth, says that Australia's appointment to the UN Human Rights Council gives the country an opportunity to examine its own human rights record.
University of Melbourne Professor Michelle Foster will lead the centre, which is being established thanks to the generosity of Melbourne Law School alumnus Peter McMullin and his wife Ruth, in their largest philanthropic donation to date.
Professor Foster and her team will work to help address gaps in what is known about statelessness, both in Australia and globally, with a research focus on its causes and its consequences.
Professor Foster said it is conservatively estimated that 10 million people are stateless worldwide.
She said while much attention is focused on Australia’s system of mandatory detention for asylum seekers, stateless people are routinely forgotten.
“Australia records zero stateless persons in its annual reporting to the UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – but we know of at least one case known publicly, Said Imasi, and there are dozens more, according to federal Budget estimates,” Professor Foster said.
“Statelessness as a phenomenon remains relatively misunderstood, under-studied and under-theorised.
“While a renewed focus on statelessness internationally has been encouraged by the UNHCR campaign to eradicate statelessness by 2024, the international community continues to struggle with statelessness as an international and domestic problem.”
The centre is the world’s only academic research centre dedicated to the problem of statelessness.
Mr McMullin, who practised immigration law and has long been concerned about stateless people and refugees, said it is an issue of growing concern, with a child born into statelessness every 10 minutes.
“I’m one of the many people in Australia disappointed about Australia’s stance on these issues,” Mr McMullin said.
“I felt ‘well, you can whinge about it or do something about it’ and so this is what I’ve done.”
Michelle Foster is a Professor and inaugural Director the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness at Melbourne Law School. The Centre launch is on Monday, 26 March.
To hear more about the donation from the McMullins, watch: http://law.unimelb.edu.au/alumni/mls-news/issue-18-november-2017/melbourne-to-lead-statelessness-fight