Weekly media wrap - 26 December 2017

Australia forcibly returned a Tamil asylum seeker, known as Rajah, to Sri Lanka without his protection claim being considered. This was a result of not meeting the government's October deadline to apply for refugee status. Rajah is the first asylum seeker to be returned by Australia under this new rule, which was announced by immigration minister Peter Dutton in May. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees condemned Australia’s decision to forcibly return asylum seekers to their homelands without assessing their protection claims.

Tensions remain high on Manus Island as locals protested the new Australian-built refugee accommodation facilities near Lorengau. Local landowners, angry about the facilities being built on their customary land, blocked the gates of refugee accommodation, cutting off food supplies and medical facilities while also preventing refugees from leaving and staff from entering the facility. Two refugees were attacked, and others have been threatened with violence if they leave the facility. The refugees were forcibly moved to the new facilities near Lorengau following the closure of the previous decommissioned detention centre in November.

The first tranche of Central American refugees arrived in Australia as part of the refugee deal swap with the United States. The 30 refugees, consisting of seven families, are understood to have fled gang-related violence in El Salvador. They underwent several months of assessment by the immigration department prior to arriving in Australia. Under the deal, Australia agreed to take Central American refugees currently located in US-run refugee camps in Costa Rica in exchange for the US taking refugees from Australian offshore detention centres.

Ali Dorani, an Iranian cartoonist also known as Eaten Fish, who was detained on Manus Island for over four years, was offered refuge in Northern Europe. Through his cartoons, Dorani has been instrumental in alerting the world to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island.

Refugee activists blocked and interrupted operations at Melbourne’s container port, protesting against Australia’s refugee detention regime. Protesters, some of whom suspended themselves over the port’s entries, carried banners reading ‘SOS Manus’ and ‘All refugees in detention are political prisoners’. Traffic was suspended and some of the protesters are expected to be charged with transport offences.

Weekly media wrap - 16 December 2017

Nearly 200 refugees on Nauru and Manus Island were accepted for resettlement in the USA.  The refugees, mainly from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh, form the second cohort to gain resettlement under the US deal. Refugee advocates expect the group to fly out in early 2018. Iranians, who form the largest number of refugees on both Nauru and Manus, have been suspended from entering the US following the reinstatement of Donald Trump’s travel ban. The ban excludes entry into the US by nationals from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Venezuela.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton refuted claims by refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island of threats by locals. Dutton described the claims as ‘complete nonsense’, despite a video showing one local wielding a metal implement and shouting ‘I will kill you’ outside a transit centre in Lorengau.

Following the release of this video footage, the presidents of Australia’s top medical colleges sent a letter to Peter Dutton, expressing their concern for the health of asylum seekers and refugees on the island. The letter, which represents the concerns of 61,500 doctors, called for improved transparency on health care services, provision of medication, and creation of a mental health service.

Australia ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), thereby consenting to be legally bound to the treaty. Under OPCAT, which advances the 1985 United Nations Convention against Torture, Australia is obliged to allow independent inspections of all places of detention onshore. Inspection of Australia’s offshore detention centres is not an obligation.

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.