New Rochelle, NY (July 7, 2015) Iona College student Thomas Severin ’16 recently gave a speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to underscore the need for changes in the way child refugees in Australia are treated. He presented his two-minute oral statement on behalf of Edmund Rice International, where he completed an internship, and Franciscans International.
Speaking at the Human Rights Council’s June 16 special session on human rights of migrants, Severin cited abuses in Australian detention camps – lack of access to appropriate health care, barriers to hygiene and poor quality of housing – as well as concerns that refugees are no longer asked if they were victims of torture. His statement also called for change to a recent Australian law, the Border Force Act, which results in an “oath of secrecy” for people working at detention centers, prohibiting them from reporting abuses.
Severin shared that his time with ERI in Geneva was an incredible experience: “I was able to attend meetings with the foremost experts from around the world on a number of human rights related topics, work closely with the Christian Brothers, and even craft and deliver a statement before the United Nations Human Rights Council. Working within the UN system gave me a deeper appreciation for the power of international coöperation as the solution to many of the world’s problems.”
Detainees in Australia are from many countries where they experience persecution for their religious or political beliefs, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria, says Brother Moy Hitchen of ERI in Geneva. Nearly 1,000 children were in detention centers at the time Severin spoke, and the average stay in the centers was more than a year. ERI is calling for the Australian Government to change its policies and respect the rights of asylum-seekers.
“We were very impressed with Tommy's professional approach, his research and articulation of the issues, his balanced and clear delivery, and his commitment to the process,” said Br. Hitchen. “It reflects well on his own expertise and on Iona College.”
Severin, a political science and history major, is enrolled in Iona’s Honors Program and has been elected president of the Student Government Association for 2015-16. He graduated from Connetquot High School in Bohemia, N.Y.
About Iona College:
Founded in 1940, Iona College is a four-year private, coeducational institution of learning in the tradition of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers and American Catholic higher education. It is a diverse community of learners and scholars dedicated to academic excellence and the values of justice, peace and service. Iona offers undergraduate degrees in liberal arts, science, and business administration, as well as Master of Arts, Master of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees and numerous advanced certificate programs. Iona College is the second largest private sector employer in New Rochelle.
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