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. 

Weekly media wrap - 6 March 2017

The Australian immigration department reduced the amount of time that asylum seekers have to apply for protection visas from one year to 60 days. Lawyers at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service expressed concerns that the shortened deadline would lead to rushed applications that would inevitably fail.

An asylum seeker with genetic skeletal dysplasia was allowed to stay in Port Moresby after the National Justice Project obtained an injunction to stop him from being transferred back to the Manus Island detention centre. The National Justice Project took the action on behalf of the man after receiving advice that it was unsafe for him to be returned to the detention centre without a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

A Nepalese asylum seeker reported being destitute and in hiding after being involuntarily removed from the Manus Island detention centre and returned to Nepal three weeks ago. The Australian immigration department denied involvement with such deportations, stating that these were ‘matters for the Government of PNG.’

It appears that International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), the company providing health services for detainees in the Manus Island detention centre, has been operating illegally on the island for the past three years. An independent review committee handed down findings that International SOS, the company that owns IHMS, ‘intentionally breached’ PNG law by failing to register the clinic with the Papua New Guinea Medical Board.

The Australian Border Force is investigating the extent of post-traumatic stress disorder in its workforce, allegedly caused by workers having to retrieve the bodies of asylum seekers at sea. Border Force chief Roman Quaedvleig stated at a Senate estimates hearing that there was ‘significant anecdotal evidence’ of such trauma. 

Weekly media wrap - 28 February 2017

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop travelled to the US to meet with new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Ms Bishop clarified earlier comments from immigration minister Peter Dutton, in which he linked the Turnbull Government’s refugee deal with the Obama administration to Australia’s plans to resettle Central American refugees. Ms Bishop stated that the ‘people swap’ was not contingent on Australia’s resettlement plans.  

Refugee advocates say about 80 asylum seekers  will not lose their mobile phones following an injunction stopping Australian Border Force staff from confiscating them. 

A Vietnamese asylum seeker returned by Australia in 2015 was sentenced to three years in prison for illegally leaving the country.  

Weekly media wrap - 22 February 2017

Reports emerged that Australian immigration officials have been offering up to $25,000 to asylum seekers held on Manus Island to return to their home countries voluntarily. Meanwhile, officials allegedly forcibly removed at least one man from Manus Island this week. In related news, on 14 February a motion in the Australian Senate highlighting the UNHCR’s concerns over forced deportations from Manus Island was defeated. The UNHCR stated that no deportations should be occurring due to concerns over how claims were being processed.

After over two years of preparation, Slater and Gordon will launch a class action against Australia’s federal government in May on behalf of more than 1900 asylum seekers held on Manus Island. The law firm will claim that the detainees should be compensated for physical and psychological injuries as well as false imprisonment. Further, the Stanford International Human Rights Clinic announced that it would seek to take Australia to the International Criminal Court for its treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention centres.

On an official visit to Australia, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged asylum seekers in Australian-run immigration detention centres to return to Sri Lanka. However, human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias warned against returning, saying that the situation in Sri Lanka was still dangerous. Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English reiterated his country’s offer to accept 150 asylum seekers from Australia’s offshore camps on Nauru and Manus Island

Weekly media wrap - 14 February 2017

Papua New Guinea authorities attempted to deport two Nepalese asylum seekers. One was removed from the processing centre for deportation, while the other escaped and has been pursued by police. A local PNG newspaper, The Post Courier, reported that the PNG government sought travel documents for 60 people whose asylum claims had been denied, with a view to deport them to their home countries within a few weeks. The Australian Attorney-General, George Brandis, advised parliament that these men were given ‘negative’ assessments by Papua New Guinea’s immigration authority.

The inquest into the death of Hamid Kehazaei continues this week. Kehazaei, who was held on Manus Island, died as a result of fatal blood poisoning (sepsis) in 2014. The inquest heard that staff at the Pacific International Hospital in Port Moresby appeared not to understand how critically ill Kehazaei was.

A Senate committee heard evidence this week as part of an inquiry into abuse, self-harm and neglect in regional offshore processing centres. The evidence included testimony from senior immigration department officials about the standard of healthcare in offshore detention facilities on Manus Island and Nauru. The committee heard of the case of Faysal Ishak Ahmed, a refugee on Manus Island who sought medical assistance 13 times over two months before he died.

A petition was submitted to the International Criminal Court by the Global Legal Action Network. The petition alleges that Australia’s offshore immigration detention regime could constitute a crime against humanity.