Weekly media wrap - 21 August 2017

On Thursday, the High Court again upheld the legality of Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island. After Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled that the arrangement was unconstitutional in April, Australian lawyers argued that it was unlawful for Australia to enter into an agreement that was not legal in another country. However, the High Court ruled unanimously that there was no constitutional requirement for the Australian government to conform to the law of another country.

The Australian Government lost its appeal against a Federal Court ruling allowing immigration detainees to keep their mobile phones. In February, the Federal Court granted an injunction prohibiting Australian Border Force guards from seizing detainees’ phones. George Newhouse, the principal solicitor for the National Justice Project, claimed that removing phones was ‘part of the process of criminalising asylum seekers’.

In a short speech to parliament this week, Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent called for asylum seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island to be brought to Australia if they are not resettled in the USA

Weekly media wrap - 16 August 2017

Iranian asylum seeker Hamed Shamshiripour was found dead in a forest near the East Lorengau transit centre on Manus Island. Shamshiripour had suffered mental health crises in the Australian-run detention system for over a year, with fellow refugees and asylum seekers making formal and urgent requests for his medical treatment. The reported cause of Shamshiripour’s death, suicide, was challenged by refugees and asylum seekers on the island, and his family requested an independent autopsy and inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton put forward amendments to the secrecy and disclosure provisions in the Australian Border Force Act 2015 (Cth). The provisions initially included the imposition of criminal liability on employees, former employees, contractors and consultants who disclosed any ‘protected information’ in connection with detention centres. They will now apply only to information that could compromise Australia's security, defence or international relations, interfere with the investigation of offences, or impact sensitive personal and commercial matters. 

An Iraqi man known as Saeed was deported after 4 years in Australia’s detention system.  Saeed, whose brother has been granted asylum, was deported overnight with no notice to his lawyer, Alison Battisson. 

Weekly media wrap - 8 August 2017

A transcript of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s January phone call with US President Donald Trump regarding the US resettlement deal for refugees on Manus Island and Nauru was leaked to the media this week. During the conversation, Turnbull told Trump that those detained were ‘economic refugees’ and assured him that his only obligation was to ‘go through the process’ of vetting the asylum seekers for resettlement.

Over 700 asylum seekers on Manus Island are continuing to protest after water and medical services were taken away from the detention centre in an attempt to force the remaining residents to move to the new camp of Lorengau. On Friday, protesters refused access to police and immigration officials attempting to move them on. They maintain that Lorengau is unsafe. 

Weekly media wrap - 2 August 2017

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Filippo Grandi, issued a statement saying that Australia had not honoured an agreement made on family reunification in Australia. The UNHCR agreed to help administer the Australia’s refugee resettlement agreement with the United States, on the understanding that vulnerable refugees with close family ties in Australia would be allowed to settle in Australia. The UNHCR was recently informed that Australia would refuse to accept these refugees. The Australian Government rejected the claim that such a deal was reached with UNHCR.

Refugees and asylum seekers in the Foxtrot compound of the Manus Island immigration detention centre were advised that they must vacate this week, forming part of the rolling closure of the facility. Water, power, and cleaning services within the Foxtrot compound are also ceasing.

Also on Manus Island, two men were reportedly seriously injured in separate armed robberies overnight: a 27-year-old Sudanese refugee and a 27-year-old Iranian asylum seeker. Both men are currently in the Lorengau Hospital.

A group of around 30 refugees from El Salvador, who are being held in Costa Rica, are expected to arrive in Australia in the next two months, according to two sources. This forms part of the refugee swap arrangement made with the United States. 

Weekly media wrap - 27 July 2017

Wednesday 19 July marked the fourth anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s announcement of a refugee deal with Papua New Guinea that would mean that ‘any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia’. Rudd tweeted on Wednesday night that this deal was only intended to last 12 months and that refugees should have been resettled in Australia by the Coalition Government three years ago. To mark the anniversary, refugee advocates organised 57 vigils around Australia urging the need to ‘evacuate [the detention centres] now’. Around 2000 people remain in offshore detention centres under the program. 

Immigration minister Peter Dutton expressed disappointment that US resettlement for asylum seekers in offshore processing centres had not begun this month as hoped, due to the US already having filled its refugee quota of 50,000 for the financial year. Dutton stated his hope that the eligible asylum seekers would be moved by 21 October, when the processing centre on Manus Island is scheduled to close.

Refugee advocates reported a six-fold increase in workload as they attempt to file protection claims for asylum seekers by 1 October. This is the deadline for asylum seekers living in Australia to make a claim for protection or risk losing government payments and being deported. An unnamed asylum seeker told SBS News that the uncertainty is causing depression and anxiety for those affected.



Weekly media wrap - 19 July 2017

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull considered the creation of a homeland security portfolio, bringing ASIO, the Federal Police and the current Department of Immigration and Border Protection under the one umbrella. Separately, the immigration department is reportedly considering outsourcing large parts of the visa system to private operators. The Community and Public Sector Union described the potential plan as ‘undermin[ing] the integrity of a core function of government’. 

The US State Department said it had reached its annual refugee intake. The US is currently assessing the applications of hundreds of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island as part of a resettlement deal struck with the Australian Government last year. 

UNHCR released a Roadmap to improve the situation of unaccompanied minors and separated refugee and migrant children. Since 2015, the situation for unaccompanied children and young people arriving in Europe has worsened, with a broadened use of detention and large scale institutional care, limited family reunification opportunities, and rising concerns over deportations. 

Weekly media wrap - 10 July 2017

Immigration officials are in the process of shutting down the Manus Island detention centre, although hundreds of asylum seekers are refusing to leave. A notice posted at the centre stated that refugees should move to the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre without delay and that failure to cooperate would hinder their chances of being accepted for resettlement in the USA.

On Monday, former immigration department spokesperson Sandi Logan posted to Twitter that Australian Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg was ‘under external investigation’ and had been suspended. Sources claim that the investigation is due to ‘personal behaviour’.

Andrew Goledzinowski, Australia’s ambassador for people smuggling and human trafficking, stated that although most of the refugees detained on Manus Island and Nauru are to be resettled in the USA, New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees has not yet been rejected outright.