Weekly media wrap - 22 April 2018

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said that it had not received any asylum applications from South African white farmers, after Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton expressed interest in the farmers in March. UNHCR further suggested that the group would not qualify for refugee status, noting that ‘[u]nder the 1951 Refugee Convention, a person must be outside their country of origin in order to claim asylum.’

The Australian High Court unanimously upheld a fast-track refugee assessment process introduced in 2014 to handle the claims of 30,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat before 2013.

Fifty refugees will soon depart Papua New Guinea and Nauru for resettlement in the United States, under a bilateral agreement between the Australian and American governments. According to The Guardian, 145 refugees have already left Nauru and 85 have left Papua New Guinea.

Refugee advocacy groups are lobbying the Australian Government to create a private refugee sponsorship avenue in Australia. The proposed Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (CRSI) would begin with 5000 additional places per year, in addition to Australia’s existing humanitarian intake. 

Weekly media wrap - 14 April 2018

An Afghan refugee on Manus Island was stabbed with a screwdriver in his shoulders, back and neck after refusing to hand over his phone to three men in the town of Lorengau. The man was given basic treatment at Lorengau hospital but began to have breathing difficulties after he returned to the accommodation compound. Fellow refugees called a doctor in Australia for medical advice, claiming later that cutbacks to Australian-funded medical services on the island forced them to do so.

Meanwhile, the Australian Medical Students Association protested against Australia's offshore detention system. The group argued that the policy is unacceptable and inhumane.

Sky News reported that the Australian Government asked New Zealand to keep its offer of resettling 150 refugees on the table, despite refusing the offer in public. Government papers obtained by Sky News showed the Australian Government wanted a backup plan in case the US resettlement deal was unsuccessful.

Shadow Minister for Immigration Shayne Neumann said the Labor Party supports all eligible refugees having the option to apply for resettlement in the US, including those who are in Australia for medical treatment. Neumann argued that such a policy would allow refugee families separated between offshore detention and Australia to be reunited.

In international news, US National Guard members started arriving at the US-Mexico border, following a direction by President Donald Trump. On Trump's orders, Defense Secretary James Mattis authorised the funding for up to 4000 National Guard troops for the operation to stop migrant crossings. 

Weekly media wrap - 8 April 2018

The South African government claimed that Australia retracted its plans to fast-track visas to white South African farmers. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton denied that his offer of humanitarian support had been withdrawn and is reportedly considering ‘several’ applications.

Nauru ended a long standing agreement that allowed appeals to the High Court of Australia. The move will have a significant impact on asylum seekers held on Nauru, who will have ‘virtually no rights if rights of appeal to the high court are taken away’, according to human rights lawyer George Newhouse.

Humanitarian migrants from specified countries, including South Sudan, Somalia and Iran, were excluded from resettlement under Australia’s Community Support Program. Eight priority countries were determined for inclusion in the Program: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Iraq. Members of Australia’s South Sudanese community criticised the exclusion, citing discrimination.

Peter Dutton argued that the 1951 United Nations refugee convention is outdated and should be reviewed by ‘like-minded’ countries. He suggested that rather than countries accepting a ‘token’ number of displaced people, support should be given to international refugee camps. Madeline Gleeson, from the Kaldor Centre for International Law, argued that international support and resettlement were both critically important and that ‘one cannot replace the other’.

International advisors warned that the coming monsoon season could result in ‘enormous deaths’ among the 700,000 Rohingya currently living in refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. A repatriation deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh has been delayed, forcing a race against time to prepare new homes on a Bangladeshi island before the monsoons arrive.

Weekly media wrap - 31 March 2018

The Federal Government’s plan to cut the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) payment for people on bridging visas is expected to take effect from 1 April 2018, impacting asylum seekers currently living in communities. Advocacy organisations came together this week to raise concerns over the changes to eligibility, warning that it could lead to homelessness and destitution. This income support provides for living allowance, assistance in finding housing, casework support and counselling.

Following a recent visit to the Nauru immigration detention centre, the Asia Pacific director for UNHCR strongly urged the Federal Government reconsider its offshore processing policy, highlighting concern about detainees' mental health and risk of self-harm as well as family separations.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the Labor Party has concern for the treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention and for people being held in indefinite detention, but confirmed he has ‘no interest’ in changing Labor’s position on asylum boat turnbacks.

A Senate Inquiry report was released this week, which considers legislation that would implement a redress scheme to compensate survivors of child sexual abuse. Immigration authorities submitted that allowing people on temporary visas to apply for compensation under the scheme would increase the government’s financial exposure. The current design of the scheme has raised concern that people in offshore detention or on temporary visas may be excluded from compensation.

Germany’s interior minister is progressing with plans to hold asylum seekers in centres for up to 18 months while their applications are being processed. The first centre is expected to be established in 2018 in Bavaria.

Weekly media wrap - 24 March 2018

A 10 year old refugee boy with severe mental health issues and at risk of suicide was flown, along with his mother, from Nauru to Australia for treatment following a Federal Court order. The court cited significant risk of suicide if he was not provided immediate acute psychological care in Australia. The Department of Home Affairs argued that sufficient care is available on Nauru and that the boy should be treated there, and had rejected previous attempts to transfer the boy in 2017.

Papua New Guinea requested Australia set a deadline for resettling all refugees currently on Manus Island to third countries. The PNG Government identified that recent attempts to resettle refugees in PNG have generally not been successful and that many refugees may not be settled in the US under its deal with Australia. Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop noted that Australia is not considering new resettlement countries.

Despite criticism and diplomatic tension, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton remained steadfast with his proposal to provide special attention and fast-track visas to white South African farmers allegedly targeted in land seizures and violence. South Africa’s foreign ministry responded, describing Dutton’s comments as ‘offensive’ and demanding that they be retracted. Tony Abbott supported Dutton’s proposal, whilst many in the Greens party described it as a throwback to the White Australia policy.

The Labor Party may consider a plan to increase Australia's annual intake of refugees to 50,000. The policy submission, currently in the early stages of consideration by Labor’s policy committee, also includes proposals to bring all refugees on Nauru and Manus Island to Australia, and a Royal Commission into immigration detention. 

Weekly media wrap - 17 March 2018

Refugee advocacy groups claimed that government cuts to the status resolution support service (SRSS) provided to around 12,000 asylum seekers leave them at risk of poverty and homelessness.

A Sri Lankan family remains in Australia, after an attempted deportation by the Australian Border Force. The family of four has lived in Australia for four years. The mother, Priya, has not received a final rejection of her asylum claim.

An Iranian refugee in Nauru, Fatemeh, was flown to Taiwan for critical heart surgery. Previously, the surgery was planned for Australia, but the Australian Border Force would not allow her son to travel with her. Fatemeh and her son, 17, flew to Taipei at Australian government expense.

Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei criticised Australian asylum policy while visiting the country for the Sydney Biennale. He said, ‘There is no excuse for any kind of policy which does not consider or protect very basic human rights.’

Weekly media wrap - 3 March 2018

Dangerous mould levels at the Nauru detention centre continued to make news. A former worker at the centre revealed the then Department of Immigration paid $50,000 for a dangerous and ineffective industrial steam cleaner to tackle the problem, while leaked emails revealed then centre operator Transfield worried asylum seekers would riot over mould levels. The microbiologist contracted by Transfield in 2014 to assess the mould said the contamination was ‘of epic proportions’.

ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis denied the agency slowed down visa processing for asylum seekers who came to Australia by boat before 2013 – as requested by the Department of Immigration in 2013 – but said the cohort was a lower priority. Mr Lewis said it was not unusual for ASIO to receive letters from the Secretary of the Department of Immigration.

Australia’s first session as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council was undermined by a report from the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, stating that deterrence-based refugee policies are fundamentally wrong. The report said deterrence policies – like Australia's offshore program – were the major reason migrants were exploited and abused.

A group of Coptic Christian asylum seekers in Melbourne appealed directly to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to avoid deportation to Egypt when their visas expire within weeks. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan asylum seeker deported from Australia last week due to the Australian Government’s scepticism of his claimed links to the Tamil Tigers has allegedly been harassed by Sri Lankan security forces since his return.

The National Gallery of Victoria ended its contract with Wilson Security, but did not state that it was due to the company's involvement in offshore detention. The gallery was consistently petitioned by national and international artists and activists to sever ties with the security company implicated in the Nauru Files.

In Israel, more than 20,000 people protested against a government policy of detaining and deporting African asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country. Seven Eritrean asylum seekers have already been transferred to an Israeli prison indefinitely after refusing to be deported to Rwanda.