Weekly media wrap - 23 June 2018

Over 2000 doctors have signed an open letter urging the government to transfer a Hazara refugee who is dying of lung cancer from Nauru to Australia. Doctors claim the man needs immediate palliative care and have stated that the treatment he is receiving in the Australian-run facility on Nauru is ‘totally inadequate’. The Australian Border Force provided him the option or either being transferred to Taiwan for care, or being returned to Afghanistan. A public petition to bring the man to Australia has also gathered more than 22,000 signatures.

Meanwhile, a Federal Court judge ruled that a pregnant Somali refugee woman requiring an abortion be transferred from Nauru to Australia. The pregnant woman is the victim of female genital mutilation and requires specialised medical treatment. The Australian Government previously proposed she be sent to Taiwan for the procedure.

A further six refugees from Manus Island were transferred to the US to be resettled. The government has confirmed that a total of 292 refugees have now been transferred to the US from Manus Island and Nauru under the US-Australia resettlement deal.

A family of Tamil asylum seekers living in Biloela QLD for many years, including two Australian-born daughters, lost their appeal to stay in Australia and will likely be deported back to Sri Lanka. Many of the Biloela community have rallied against the family’s deportation, and their case and treatment has sparked widespread attention, including a petition urging the Minister for Home Affairs to allow them to stay signed by more than 62,000 people. The family has 21 days to decide whether they will contest the Federal Circuit Court ruling.

The federal court ruled that asylum seekers in detention can keep their mobile phones, following the government’s legislation introduced in September 2017 banning detainees from having phones and other items considered risky.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie introduced legislation into parliament seeking to abolish mandatory detention of asylum seekers and refugees. The proposed legislation promotes community-based alternatives, and would require all asylum seekers currently in offshore detention to be brought to Australia. It would also establish a framework of collaboration with Asia-Pacific nations.

Following widespread outrage over the separation of immigrant and asylum seeker parents and children at the US southern border, President Trump signed an Executive Order to end family separations and detain parents and children together. However, the language of the Order leaves room for exceptions, and Trump maintained that strong immigration enforcement and border security will continue. 

Weekly media wrap - 16 June 2018

An Iranian asylum seeker committed suicide in Nauru. The Guardian reported the 26-year-old man, identified as Fariborz K, was found in his tent on Friday morning. A recent health assessment identified him as ‘severely traumatised’. Twelve asylum seekers and refugees have died in the Pacific regional processing centres: seven in Papua New Guinea and five in Nauru.

Several thousand asylum seekers in Australia are in the process of being cut off from social support in 2018. Since 4 June, Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) have been ended for many asylum seekers on bridging visas. SRSS comprised payment of around $35 a day, plus case management support and access to trauma and torture counselling.

In Europe, Italy refused to disembark a boat carrying 629 migrants and refugees, who had been rescued in Libyan territorial waters. Following a standoff between Italy and Malta, Spain offered to accept the boat in the port of Valencia. 

Weekly media wrap - 9 June 2018

A Canberra law firm representing a number of Commonwealth Games athletes seeking asylum in Australia said that the Department of Home Affairs rejected requests by their clients to postpone protection visa interviews so they could access psychological counselling.

A report by the Australian National Audit Office found that the merger between the departments of Immigration and Customs to create the Australian Border Force had not delivered expected budget savings or promised benefits. The report also stated that 'urgent and significant action' was needed to address the department's ongoing record keeping problems.

$70 million in compensation was paid to former Manus Island detainees, bringing Australia's largest human rights class action settlement closer to an end. The class action was settled a year ago without any admission of liability by the Australian Government.

The Australian reported that the Labor Party is facing a ‘grassroots revolt’ over refugee policy ahead of its NSW conference on June 30, with city and country branches of the party lobbying for changes to Australia’s offshore system.

In international news, more than 100 people died attempting to reach Europe after their boat sank off the coast of Tunisia. More than 65 others were rescued by the coast guard. The International Organization for Migration said the shipwreck was the most deadly in the Mediterranean Sea since February 2, when 90 people drowned off the coast of Libya. 

Weekly media wrap - 3 June 2018

Memorials were held around Australia and on Manus Island for Salim Kyawning, the Rohingya refugee who died on Manus Island after jumping from a moving bus. Salim allegedly faced significant mental health issues while in detention, as well as epilepsy and frequent seizures, for which he had previously been sent to Australia for treatment. Fellow refugees on Manus Island claim that his death demonstrates serious health care concerns for those remaining on the island.

The Victorian Labor Conference’s scheduled debate on refugee policy was voted down at the last minute. Various unions joined forces to unexpectedly shut down the Conference and defer various motions to Labor’s administrative committee. It was originally anticipated that the conference would consider the closure of offshore detention centres and bringing remaining asylum seekers to Australia, amongst other social policy issues. The debate shutdown disappointed many party members who want Labor’s border protection and indefinite detention policies reconsidered, or at least debated. Confusion remains as to Labor’s overall policy position with varying views being voiced amongst party members.

Residents  of the small town of Biloela in Queensland used the platform of TV program Q&A to make a public plea to Minister Dutton to allow a Tamil asylum seeker family to stay in Australia, following the removal of the family into the custody of Border Force earlier this year. The family has lived in Biloela for approximately three years, and the two children were born in Australia. The government claims that the family does not meet the requirements for protection in Australia. Residents of the town began a petition which now has more than 100,000 signatures.

The government may consider expanding a pilot program to assist skilled refugees to become requalified in Australia. The assistant minister responsible for the program, Nationals MP David Gillespie, said the pilot was showing positive results and that he had been discussing the scheme and employment opportunities with industry leaders, settlement services and key sectors. However, this proposal comes soon after the recent federal budget announcement requiring refugees to spend six months on Centrelink payments accessing employment services, as well as debates around regional and rural employment visas and proposals to prevent migrants from leaving regional and rural areas.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that Australia’s refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia will expire, as planned, at the end of 2018. This resettlement deal has been described as ‘unsuccessful’ due to significantly low number of refugees who took up the offer to relocate from the detention centres in Nauru to Cambodia. 

Weekly media wrap - 27 May 2018

The Australian Minister for Home Affairs raised the prospect of considering a New Zealand offer to resettle 150 refugees held in offshore detention, on the proviso that they would be banned from coming to Australia. Media reports this as a bid to pressure the opposition to support legislation to stop anybody who arrived by boat from ever reaching Australia’s shores.

A Rohingya refugee man reportedly committed suicide this week on Manus Island after jumping out of a moving vehicle. Refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island will hold a vigil on Friday for Salim, who is the seventh to die on the island and the third apparent suicide in less than a year. Salim had been on Manus Island for almost five years.

Also on Manus Island, 120 asylum seekers have been relocated on the island after a fire broke out in their accommodation. No injuries have been reported, but there was significant damage to the accommodation facility.

Doctors on Nauru have made repeated requests to the Australian Border Force to move a terminally ill refugee off the island to receive palliative care, which cannot be provided on Nauru. He is currently in the Australian-built RPC1 camp on the island, which doctors on the island have said is ‘dangerously inadequate’.

An edited transcript of a television interview by Labor MP Linda Burney on asylum seekers was distributed through Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's office. The edits removed Burney’s calls for a ‘time limit’ on the offshore detention of refugees. Ms Burney's office has taken responsibility and described the incident as a ‘stuff up’.

The Victorian state Labor conference this weekend is expected to discuss Labor’s policy towards asylum seekers and refugees, and debate an urgency motion calling for an end to offshore immigration detention and the transfer of all remaining asylum seekers to the Australian mainland within 90 days.

In a press briefing this week, the UNHCR highlighted a significant increase in the number of people fleeing persecution in the North of Central America, calling on the international community to address their protection needs. More than 294,000 asylum seekers and refugees from the North of Central America were registered globally as of the end of 2017, an increase of 58 per cent from a year earlier. 

Weekly media wrap - 19 May 2018

A significant number of athletes who went missing during the Commonwealth Games have sought asylum in Australia. Five athletes were granted bridging visas in Canberra while their claims for protection are assessed. Refugee advocates claimed they had helped many others lodge applications for protection; some estimated up to 100 people nationally could be seeking refugee status. 

The Guardian Australia reported that the Department of Home Affairs is withdrawing income support and housing from up to 100 refugees and asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island who are in Australia for medical treatment. The group will receive a final departure bridging visa E, which includes the right to work but no financial assistance. Refugee advocates said the group was largely made up of family groups and elderly people with serious physical and mental health issues.

Amnesty International criticised the Australian Government for reducing critical health services on Manus Island. A report by the organisation labeled cuts to health care 'inexplicable' in an environment with one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world. Meanwhile, an Iranian refugee, Fatemah, and her 17-year-old son were returned to Nauru from Taiwan against medical advice. Fatemah and her son were transferred to Taiwan to receive critical heart surgery and treatment for severe mental illness respectively. 

Bill Shorten said a future Labor government would not place time limits on offshore immigration detention, despite a draft party platform prepared for Labor's national conference in July calling for asylum seekers to not be held on Manus Island and Nauru longer than 90 days.

In international news, Greece’s parliament passed a bill to ease overcrowding on its island refugee camps – which currently hold more than double their capacity – and to make asylum procedures simpler and faster. Human rights groups criticised the bill for also shortening appeals processes. 

Weekly media wrap - 12 May 2018

Malaysian police intercepted a boat carrying 131 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, bound for Australia or New Zealand. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the people smuggling operation had been running since mid-2017. In response, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said ‘the need for Operation Sovereign Borders is as vital today as it was when it began.’

In relation to refugees in Papua New Guinea, Minister Dutton said resettlement to another country was very unlikely. Refugees in the country hope to be resettled under an agreement between Australia and the United States entered into in 2015. While the agreement provides for the resettlement of up to 1250 refugees from PNG and Nauru, the United States is under no obligation to accept that number.

In Nauru, Iranian and Somali refugees seeking resettlement to the United States have been rejected, apparently in line with the Trump Administration ‘travel ban’. The Guardian reported that 85 refugees have been resettled from Manus Island and 162 from Nauru. UNHCR pointed out that over 80 per cent of asylum seekers transferred by Australia to PNG and Nauru have been recognised as refugees, therefore requiring a durable solution.

In Rome, seventeen people applied to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that Italy violated absolute norms of human rights law in providing aid and assistance to Libyan border authorities. A number of the applicants, who were rescued at sea and returned to Libya in November 2017, were allegedly detained and treated inhumanely.