Weekly media wrap - 14 March 2016

Australian authorities intercepted a boat carrying six Bangladeshis and two alleged people smugglers  and transferred the passengers to an Indonesian fishing vessel for their return to that country. Indonesia’s foreign ministry said it does not support for Australia’s policy on turning back boats, and indicated a potential straining of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Recently released documents show that between December 2014 and January 2014, Australian maritime patrols unintentionally entered Indonesian territorial waters six times when turning back 13 boats. Australia later apologies for the incursions into Indonesian sovereign waters.

Iranian foreign affairs minister, Dr Mohammad Javad Zarif, is visiting Australia next week to discuss a possible deal for Iranian asylum seekers in Australia. Negotiations are likely to focus on allowing forcible removal of Iranians who are found not to be refugees, in exchange for guarantees that this group would not face persecution or punishment. Iranian asylum seekers represent a significant proportion of the ‘legacy caseload’ of 29,000 asylum seekers in Australia.

The office of the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, confirmed that two of the five refugees who were transferred to Cambodia have returned to their home country. The Australian Government has committed to maintaining the $55 million cost of the deal with Cambodia, regardless of the number of refugees that are resettled, and has spent an additional $2 million in resettlement costs under this agreement.  

In Australia, churches held ‘sanctuary training’ with instructions on peaceful resistance towards authorities who forcibly remove asylum seekers, as part of the #LetThemStay campaign. Senior staff of Australia’s largest asylum seeker service, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, have left the organisation, with claims of a toxic work environment and bullying, and concerns for the safety and wellbeing of staff.

A recent University of Melbourne study showed that amongst their focus groups, the most important driver of negative attitudes towards asylum seekers was ‘religious prejudice’ and concern for the  ‘Islamisation’ of Australia. The research concluded that more constructive public debate on issues related to asylum seekers was needed, to build knowledge and correct misconceptions.

At an emergency summit in Brussels, Turkey offered to take back all asylum seekers who cross into Europe through their soil as well as those intercepted in its territorial waters, effectively slowing the entrance of asylum seekers into Europe. European Union leaders have welcomed this proposal, and recognised this as a potential breakthrough in Europe’s refugee crisis. The UNHCR has distanced itself from the proposal. Meanwhile, the route used by asylum seekers to move from Greece to northern Europe has been blocked after Balkan countries Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia each closed their borders.