Weekly media wrap - 15 July 2018

Three refugees were removed from offshore centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to Australia for medical care.

In the first case, a two-year-old girl requiring treatment for encephalitis was flown from Nauru to Papua New Guinea for medical testing. The Australian Federal Court ordered that she be brought to Australia, as the Port Moresby hospital lacked the equipment or the expertise to perform the necessary testing.

In the second case, a 14 year-old girl who attempted to set herself on fire in Nauru will also be transferred to Australia. The girl and her family, who are refugees, have been in Nauru for almost five years.

In the third case, the Australian Federal Court ordered that an Iranian refugee, Fatemeh, and her son be brought to Australia from Nauru for medical care. In March, Fatemeh was flown to Taiwan for heart surgery, before being forcefully returned to Nauru in May. Fatemeh has a serious heart condition and her son, 17, is mentally ill. According to The Guardian, the order is the ninth such case of medical intervention requiring transfer from Nauru or Papua New Guinea to Australia.

Answers to Senate Estimates questions on notice provided recent statistics on the number of people in Australian-led offshore centres in Manus Island and Nauru. At May 2018, there were 939 people in Nauru, of whom 821 were refugees. Of these, 137 were children. At the same time, there were 716 men in Manus Island, of whom 583 were refugees. 

Weekly media wrap - 8 July 2018

The Australian Government agreed to move a seriously ill refugee girl from Nauru to Australia to seek mental health care. She is at least the seventh child to be moved from offshore detention after legal action taken on their behalf. Another girl, a two-year-old refugee, was moved earlier in the week to receive treatment for encephalitis. The principal lawyer for the National Justice Project, which has represented most of the children moved, said the mental health of children in detention has reached a crisis point.

The Australian Border Force told the mother of Fariborz Karami, the Iranian asylum seeker who took his own life on Nauru last month, that his body will be sent to Iran against her wishes. Fazileh Mansour Beigi, Fariborz's mother, begged for her son to be buried in Australia, where her sister can perform a burial service and visit his grave.

The Guardian Australia reported on the case of ‘Akam’, a stateless refugee who faces indefinite incarceration in Australia because he is deemed to have failed the Department of Home Affairs’ character test.

The Federal Court ruled to reject a ban that would have seen asylum seekers detained in Melbourne, Sydney and regional Western Australia lose access to their mobile phones.

Former Defence Force personnel spoke out about the Tampa and children overboard affair in a new documentary, accusing former Prime Minister John Howard and former Labor leader Kim Beazley of manipulating events for political purposes.

A report published by Liberty Victoria's Rights Advocacy Project found laws and policies in the Australian Capital Territory are excluding asylum seekers and refugees from accessing essential services, namely housing and education.

Heavy fighting in south-west Syria pushed more than 270,000 people from their homes towards the Israeli and Jordanian borders. The UN warned of a humanitarian catastrophe caused by the fighting that erupted after a Russian-backed army offensive to recapture rebel-held southern Syria.

In Australia, the crisis support service is Lifeline (13 11 14).

Weekly media wrap - 30 June 2018

A terminally ill Afghan refugee was moved to Australia this week and is receiving palliative care at a Gold Coast hospital. This follows calls from doctors to move him from what they have described as inadequate specialist palliative care on Nauru. The Australian Department of Home Affairs originally offered to send the man to Taiwan for palliative care.

The mother of Fariborz Karami, the Iranian asylum seeker who died on Nauru two weeks ago, wrote to the Australian Border Force seeking the return of her son’s body. Karami’s body remains refrigerated on the grounds of the regional processing centre, which continues to be under Australian control. Regarding the matter, a spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs advised that ‘these are matters for the Nauruan authorities’.

Two members of a Tamil asylum seeker family from Queensland were granted an urgent injunction preventing immigration authorities from deporting them. The family has been in immigration detention in Melbourne since March, when they were forcibly removed from their home in Queensland.

The Australian Government has not granted any humanitarian visas for ‘persecuted’ white South Africans. A spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the applications were still being assessed and none had been granted. A senior official told Senate Estimates last month that Minister Dutton had never asked bureaucrats to prioritise refugee visa applications from white South Africans.

European Union leaders met in Brussels to negotiate a new deal to respond to the continent's continued issues with migration. In a final and broad statement, the European leaders agreed to set up joint asylum processing sites and restrict migrant moves within the bloc. Leaders also agreed to tighten their external borders and increase financing for some North African states to prevent migration to Europe. The deal comes following Italy’s recent refusal to allow several migrant rescue boats to dock at its ports, seeking shared responsibility for people arriving across the Mediterranean.

South Korea’s Justice Ministry said their laws governing the arrival of refugees will be tightened, after a rapid rise in the number of Yemeni asylum seekers. More than 552 people from Yemen arrived on the southern island of Jeju in South Korea between January and May. The country has granted refugee status to just over 800 people since 1994.

Almost 300 Syrian refugees left Lebanon this week, returning to Syria under the supervision of the UNHCR. In April, about 3000 Syrian refugees in the Arsal camps registered with the committee organising their return. They asked to return to their towns under a framework of reconciliation with the Syrian authorities.

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.