Weekly media wrap - 24 April 2017

During a visit to Australia, US Vice President Mike Pence confirmed that Australia’s refugee swap deal will go ahead, saying that ‘The US intends to honour the agreement – subject to the US vetting process’.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton alleged that asylum seekers led a five-year-old Papua New Guinean boy into the Manus Island detention centre, causing ‘angst’ and leading to the altercation between asylum seekers and PNG police on Good Friday. PNG police dispute this account.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is using targeted advertisements via YouTube to discourage asylum seekers from attempting to reach their shores via people-smuggling boats.  


Weekly media wrap - 20 April 2017

Manus Island detainees reported that the PNG Defence Force fired approximately 100 rounds of bullets into the detention centre on 14 April in response to an alleged fight between detainees and PNG Defence Force personnel. The Australian immigration department confirmed that one detainee was injured by a thrown rock; however, the numbers and seriousness of injuries vary in other reports. In response to this incident, churches and refugee advocates called for the evacuation of asylum seekers on Manus Island to Australia while the resettlement deal with the US progresses.

According to the Fifth National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey, pro bono legal services increased by almost 10% from 2014 to 2016. Heightened demand from asylum seekers and refugees is cited as a key reason for this increase. 

Weekly media wrap - 10 April 2017

Officials from the US Department of Homeland Security visited Manus Island to fingerprint and photograph refugees for potential resettlement under the US-Australia refugee deal. Details of the deal, including what the ‘extreme vetting’ promised by President Donald Trump entails, remain unclear.

On an official visit to Papua New Guinea, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull endorsed the Manus Island detention centre closing by the end of the year. Neither he nor PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill gave further information on the process for the closure. Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton later clarified that refugees not accepted by the US would be settled in PNG and non-refugees would be returned to their home countries.

Amnesty International released a report accusing Spanish company Ferrovial and its Australian subsidiary Broadspectrum of failing to meet human rights obligations in running Australia’s offshore processing centres. Broadspectrum’s $2.5 billion contract with the Australian government ends in October.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruled against fully disclosing many documents on Australia’s asylum seeker boat turnback operations, sought by The Guardian under freedom of information laws. Some previously classified documents were released during the legal proceedings. 

Weekly media wrap - 4 April 2017

International Health and Medical Services ceased operations at the Manus Island detention centre on 31 March. This follows an ongoing medical licensing issue. Some IHMS staff were instructed to remain on the island, suggesting that the company may be able to resume its work shortly.

In the continued repatriation of asylum seekers held on Manus Island, five Lebanese detainees were returned to Lebanon. There are reports that the men were pressured to consent to their removal and were offered payments of up to $25,000 each. A sixth man is being held in police custody to discuss his voluntary repatriation after committing an act of self-harm after boarding the plane.

UNHCR will refer a minimum of 850 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru for resettlement in the United States. After speculation that the US-Australia deal would not go ahead with the new Trump administration, this is one of the first signs that the deal is progressing as originally intended under the Obama administration.

Weekly media wrap - 27 March 2017

Protesters gathered outside Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre in an attempt to prevent the deportation of a 60-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker known as ‘Saeed’. Following a recent hunger strike, Saeed was shifted from Melbourne to Villawood, during which time he was denied access to his lawyer. In response to the protest, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection stated: ‘This individual has had their claims for protection carefully assessed. It is now expected they should depart Australia.’

The Nauruan government detained two Australian Wilson security officers after revoking their visas. It is understood that the guards, who had been working at Nauru’s Australian-run immigration detention centre, were not charged with any crime or wrongdoing. Their detention followed Wilson Security’s decision not to hire a local Nauruan, provoking concerns that it was ‘political payback’.

The partner of Iranian refugee Omid Masoumali, who died after setting himself alight in protest on Nauru in April 2016, spoke publicly for the first time about her grief and trauma.  Pari, who has been in isolated detention in Australia since Omid’s death, now suffers from ‘complex post-traumatic stress disorder with depression and associated panic attacks’, according to clinical psychiatrist Helen Driscoll. Natasha Blucher, detention advocacy manager with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, urged the government to ‘put all of the politics aside’ and release Pari. 

Weekly media wrap - 22 March 2017

A riot reportedly occurred at the Manus Island detention centre on Friday. Detainee Behrouz Boochani stated that this followed the erection of a fence between the kitchen and detainees. Guards claimed that the fence was erected as some detainees had been taking too much food.

On Friday, a judge rejected a submission by the Australian government that the Federal Court did not have jurisdiction to hear a challenge to the government’s proposed ban on mobile phones in detention centres. Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg claimed the phones are being used to commit crimes in detention centres, but human rights lawyer George Newhouse said that they ‘provide asylum seekers with vital access to the outside world and to loved ones’.

At least 42 Somali asylum seekers died on Saturday when an Apache helicopter reportedly fired at the boat in which they were travelling. The asylum seekers were carrying official UNHCR documents and travelling from Yemen to Sudan. 

Weekly media wrap - 13 March 2017

This week the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse examined Australia’s immigration detention, including offshore detention. The commission heard that a government-commissioned child protection panel failed to interview any children before making recommendations about child safety in immigration detention. It also heard that immigration minister Peter Dutton was involved in delaying the public release of the Making Children Safer report, which reviewed 242 alleged incidents of abuse.

A case was brought to the High Court by Victoria Legal Aid on behalf of two female asylum seekers brought to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment. Victoria Legal Aid filed a constitutional challenge to the legality of detaining asylum seekers transferred from offshore detention facilities to the country for temporary purposes, such as medical treatment. A decision is not expected to be made immediately.

A 28-year-old Pakistani refugee on Manus Island was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in Lorengau. The man is expected to appear in court this week. This alleged sexual assault is the second such incident reported in the town of Lorengau that involves the transferred populations of refugees and asylum seekers.