Australians need to wake up to the human rights violations occurring under the government’s refugee policy, says a former defence chief.

A former head of defence says the Abbott government is doing its utmost to strip hope from asylum seekers, and has urged Australians to educate themselves on what he calls the government’s breach of human rights standards.

Retired Admiral Chris Barrie, who was Chief of the Defence Force during the 2001 Tampa and ‘Children Overboard’ scandals, made the comments at a book launch in Sydney on Thursday.

“We are doing our utmost to extinguish hope,” Mr Barrie said.

“We are in a country of so-called fair minded people – yet it seems we don’t want to hear, or see what is being done in our name in the context of asylum seekers.”

Mr Barrie, who was in charge of border protection between 1998 and 2002, accused Immigration Minister Scott Morrison of “double-handling” in returning asylum seekers to Syria and Iraq while warning of the dangers inherent in those warzones.

He said the government was violating its human rights obligations, including a fundamental principle where states are barred from returning asylum seekers to countries where they face the risk of persecution.

“The fact that we’re buying orange boats to send people to back to Indonesia … forcibly taking people from one vessel, putting them on another and sending them to a country they don’t want to go to, that concerns me,” Mr Barrie said.

His comments came at the launch of international law professor Jane McAdam’s book, ‘Refugees: Why Seeking Asylum is Legal and Australia’s policies are not’.

Prof McAdams said the government’s justifications in violating human rights law were not legally sound.

“They’re trying to identify what the bare minimum is so that they can scrape through on a technicality,” she said.

“Australia needs to be careful, that when it wants to point out the human rights violations in other countries it’s not just perceived as entirely hypocritical.”

Mourners are planning to gather at Sydney Town Hall on Thursday evening in a vigil for Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei who was pronounced brain dead on Wednesday in Brisbane.

Refugee activists have alleged Mr Kehazaei died after he received inadequate medical treatment for a cut to his foot.