Weekly media wrap - 11 December 2017

On Manus Island, 60 refugees are being transferred to the Papua New Guinea capital, Port Moresby, for interviews with United States officials as part of the Australia–United States resettlement deal. None of those slated for interview originate from countries banned from the United States by President Trump’s executive order.

In Nauru, refugees seeking to benefit from the Australia–United States resettlement deal have been told that they must separate permanently from partners and children, according to The Guardian. As the United States prefers to accept single refugees rather than families for resettlement, a number of refugees are forced to choose between resettlement and being with their families.

The High Court of Australia heard arguments that fast-track procedures for asylum claims in country are incompatible with asylum seekers’ procedural fairness. The fast-track process, introduced in 2014, includes a review by the immigration assessment authority (IAA), instead of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

In Geneva, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released it periodic report on Australia, criticising the ‘desperate and dangerous conditions’ in offshore centres producing ‘severe human rights violations’. The Committee further found that Australia exercises effective control over the centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and is thus bound by international human rights law.

The United States withdrew from the compact on migration, a process which aims to improve ways of handling global flows of migrants. Citing national sovereignty, the Trump Administration withdrew from discussions on the Global Compact on Migration, to be held next week.

Weekly media wrap - 1 December 2017

The situation on Manus Island for asylum seekers who were removed from the decommissioned detention centre continues in Australian media and has been reported on in international media. In an open letter signed by 18 current and former heads of peak medical bodies and royal colleges of medicine, clinicians said they were ‘deeply concerned’ about the ongoing physical and mental health of the men removed from the detention centre on Manus Island. The group have offered to provide health checks to men in need of medical care, and called on the Australian Government to facilitate their travel to Papua New Guinea.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton reportedly did not accept requests from Australia's peak medical body, the Australian Medical Association, to send a team to assess the health of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.  Médecins Sans Frontières was also not permitted to access to the accommodation and medical clinic, despite having been approved entry by PNG’s immigration department.  

Christian leaders demonstrated in Sydney to protest against Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island. This protest follows a day after thousands of people gathered across Australia to call for the Australian Government to end offshore detention.

Around 10 case management staff from the company JDA Wokman who were contracted to work with refugees on Manus Island were told to leave the island after a protest at one of the refugee accommodation centres. Manus Province’s police commander said the protest was by landowners linked to the company Peren Investments.

Around 70 refugees currently on Nauru, mainly single men from Pakistan and Afghanistan and some single women, were reportedly accepted for resettlement in the United States. Up to 90 refugees are expected to be accepted in this round of resettlement offers.

This week the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination undertook a two-day review of Australia, asking government representatives to explain progress in promoting racial equality and tackling racism, which included the situation of asylum seekers and refugees amongst other topics.

In international news, Pope Francis visited Myanmar and Bangladesh this week. Pope Francis acknowledged Bangladesh in extending humanitarian care to more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees who have crossed the border in recent months, but he was criticised for not adequately raise awareness of the crisis while in Myanmar. Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding for the return home of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh.

Weekly media wrap - 25 November 2017

Papua New Guinea police and immigration authorities removed by force all asylum seekers and refugees from the decommissioned Manus Island detention centre. Video footage showed immigration officials using long metal poles to threaten and hit the men, who had refused to leave the facility due to safety concerns. Many of the men reported that officials had intentionally damaged their belongings during the removal. Papua New Guinea police said all men were cleared from the camp without violence. The Guardian reported that up to 60 men were left without a place to stay, because new accommodation in the three alternative centres that refugees and asylum seekers were sent to is either not ready or full.

Some asylum seekers and refugees were arrested during the removal, including Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani, who had regularly reported from the camp. Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Chief Executive Paul Murphy called the arrest an ‘egregious attack on press freedom’. The men were later released. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was ‘pleased ... that busloads of people [were] leaving Manus and complying with the directions of the PNG authorities’. Immigration minister Peter Dutton stated that the men on Manus ‘[had] trashed the facility’ and that ‘under no circumstance will these people be coming to Australia’.

Earlier in the week, UNHCR said the situation on Manus was a ‘man-made and entirely preventable humanitarian crisis’ and described it as a ‘damning indictment’ of Australia's offshore detention policy. Twelve former Australians of the Year called for the Prime Minister to allow medical professionals access to Manus, after the Australian Medical Association voted unanimously that access to independent doctors should be granted. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that New Zealand and Australian officials had started discussions on screening processes for refugees on Manus, but Prime Minister Turnbull maintained that his priority was the existing US resettlement deal.

On Nauru, a Rohingya refugee living in offshore detention was seriously injured in a motorbike crash, suffering life-threatening head injuries. Dr Barri Phatarfod, from Doctors for Refugees, said that he needed an immediate medical evacuation out of Nauru. Australia's immigration department was deciding whether or not to grant the evacuation.

The Australian Government's contract with Canstruct – a Queensland construction firm replacing Broadspectrum to provide garrison and welfare services on Nauru – was updated on the government's Austender website, revealing taxpayers will pay $385 million over the next 12 months to maintain offshore processing on the island.

Australian Border Force officials confirmed that the Christmas Island detention centre will shut down within seven months. The centre’s closure was flagged in the 2015 federal budget papers.

Weekly media wrap - 18 November 2017

Over a fortnight since the closure of Australia’s Manus Island detention centre, more than 300 men remain in the facility, refusing to move to Lorengau due to safety concerns. Although threats to use force were retracted, immigration officials continued a push to remove the men, with water supplies destroyed and makeshift shelters torn down. 

In response to New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees from Manus Island, immigration minister Peter Dutton indicated the move could harm Australia-New Zealand relations. In a shift in position, a spokesperson for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern replied that the move would only happen with the cooperation of the Australian government. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the deal as a ‘marketing opportunity’ for people smugglers, but said his government may consider it once the US resettlement deal is complete. Refugee supporters in New Zealand advocated for their government to skip talks with Australia and complete the deal, while UNHCR urged Australia to take up the offer.  

Jacinta Ardern announced that the New Zealand government would spend $2.7 million on essential services for refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. Peter Dutton criticised the move, arguing that the money would be better spent elsewhere.     

Protests against the situation on Manus Island continued, with members of the Whistleblowers Activists and Citizens Alliance barricading the entrance to Peter Dutton’s Brisbane office. Additionally, two men were charged with malicious damage and hindering police following a protest outside a Liberal Party fundraising event. 

Weekly media wrap - 15 November 2017

Approximately 600 men remain without power or running water in the now-closed Manus Island detention centre, refusing to relocate to alternative accommodation due to safety concerns. In an interview with 3AW radio, Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton alluded to the possibility of a conflict between these men and Papua New Guinea police, stating that he was discussing with authorities how to proceed if the men stayed on. Meanwhile, PNG’s Supreme Court dismissed an application to restore key services to the detention centre.

UNHCR’s head of protection, Volker Turk, expressed concerns about the closure of the Manus Island centre. At a press briefing in Geneva, Turk called on Australia and PNG to ‘find ways and means to resolve the current tensions peacefully’. Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the UNHCR stated from Manus Island that the alternative accommodation provided for refugees was inadequate, with insufficient healthcare, running water and electricity. In related news, the UN Human Rights Committee published a report urging the Australian government to immediately bring the detainees in its offshore processing facilities to safety.

Protests against the situation on Manus Island took place across the country. Five people from the activist group Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance were charged with trespassing after climbing the Sydney Opera House to display pro-refugee banners on Thursday. In Melbourne, a large pro-refugee protest blocked the intersection on Spring Street at Bourke Street on Friday. 

Weekly media wrap - 6 November 2017

This week, Australian media focused heavily on the closure of immigration detention facilities on Manus Island. Essential services including electricity, food and water were cut off and the centre staff, including service provider personnel, have reportedly left the facilities.

More than 600 asylum seekers and refugees are remaining in the former detention facilities, refusing to move to accommodation in Lorengau because of safety concerns. UNHCR inspected two of the alternate accommodation facilities, and reported that one – West Lorengau Haus – is not ready for detainees to transition.

The United Nations human rights commission denounced the Australian Government for withdrawing support to former Manus Island detainees, and criticised Australia’s offshore refugee processing as ‘unsustainable, inhumane and contrary to its human rights obligations’. The commission called on the Australian Government to immediately provide protection, food, water and other basic services. Meanwhile, rallies in support of the detainees on Manus Island were held in Canberra and Brisbane on Friday and in Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday.

On Friday, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection released a statement addressing what they described as ‘significant misreporting’ on the situation on Manus Island, saying that the department’s staff no longer had authority to remain on the PNG Naval Base. The department said it had assisted its PNG counterpart for seven months to decommission the centre and to provide detainees with information about their options.

This week, New Zealand reiterated an offer to the Australian Government to settle 150 refugees from the immigration detention centres on Nauru and PNG, as a one-off intake that would be within New Zealand’s refugee quota.

A report presented to the UN general assembly identified that Australia’s ‘push-backs’ of asylum seeker boats are illegal under international law and ‘may intentionally put lives at risk’. The report focuses on government responses to worldwide flows of migrants across borders.

Weekly media wrap - 3 November 2017

In the lead-up to the closure of the Manus Island Processing Centre on 31 October, the Australian Government issued notices to asylum seekers detained there warning that water, food and power would soon be cut. The government has offered certified refugees accommodation in Lorengau or a transfer to Nauru while they wait for the outcomes of their resettlement applications to the USA. However, detained asylum seeker and journalist Behrouz Boochani stated that many asylum seekers fear for their safety at Lorengau. Meanwhile, a total of 606 asylum seekers are refusing to move from the Manus Island Processing Centre and lawyers including Ben Lomai are planning to ask the PNG Supreme Court to intervene in the closure and stop food and water services being cut off. 

Law firm Maurice Blackburn will file a new class action against Peter Dutton on grounds of unlawful detention with the lead plaintiff being a boy who was born in Darwin and detained on Christmas Island with his asylum seeker parents. Lawyers estimate that thousands of asylum seekers are eligible to join the lawsuit. This comes after the Turnbull Government settled a $70 million payout to 2000 asylum seekers detained on Manus Island last month.