Refugee Council of Australia president Phil Glendenning spoke at a public forum in Melbourne on May 13 about the fate of refugees deported from Australia.
Glendenning is also the director of the Edmund Rice Centre, which has investigated the fate of asylum seekers deported to their homeland, or pressured to return "voluntarily".
Glendenning said that Australia's harsh policies "have not stopped the boats, just deflected them". He said that while he was speaking there were at least 6000 people at sea in the South East Asian region, mainly Rohingyas from Burma and people from Bangladesh, having been turned away by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
He added that some of those who had drowned in the Mediterranean recently came from countries such as Iraq, from which many people had in the past sought asylum in Australia.
Glendenning also spoke about the fate of those who had been deported from Australia. He cited examples of people who had been killed, imprisoned, or tortured, or had mysteriously disappeared, when sent back to countries such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Colombia.
Abi Bannon from the Refugee Action Collective also addressed the forum. She spoke about RAC's anti-deportation work, which has included blockading detention centre gates to prevent the removal of people for deportation, and leafleting passengers at the airport urging them to prevent deportations, by standing up as a plane that is being used for deporting someone is about to take off.
Bannon said that such actions can usually only delay deportations, not prevent them. But sometimes they may give lawyers time to take legal action to block deportations. They also put pressure on the government to change its policy, and they let asylum seekers know that some Australians support them.