Weekly media wrap - 9 December 2018

The Australian Labor Party agreed to support independent MP Kerryn Phelps’ bill for emergency medical transfers from offshore detention, provided that changes be made to keep a ministerial power to refuse transfers. The minister would also be required to table a statement in parliament if they refuse to transfer someone, and an independent health advice panel would be established.

With support from Labor and independents, the bill was passed through the Senate late on the last day of the final Parliamentary sitting week for 2018, and so was not passed by the House of Representatives. The law could still be passed in February when the House of Representatives resumes. Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticised Labor’s support for the bill and for ‘destroy(ing) the building blocks of border protection that keep Australians safe’.

Protesters rallied outside Parliament House and offices of MPs in support of the bill. Some of Australia’s biggest film and television stars wore blue ribbons to the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Awards, to call for the government to bring asylum seeker children detained on Nauru to Australia.

A new report was published by Médecins Sans Frontières this week, highlighting new data showing the current mental health crisis on Nauru. The report rated the severity of mental illness using the Global Assessment of Functioning scale, revealing that both its Nauruan and refugee patients showed similar levels of mental illness far worse than other MSF projects around the world.

Hakeem Al-Araibi, a Bahraini refugee, has spent more than ten days in Thai detention, and has been officially arrested for a court to rule on his extradition to Bahrain. Al-Araibi is not expected to be immediately extradited, pending further hearings. Al-Araibi is a permanent resident of Australia after being granted refugee status in 2017.

A full bench of the federal court granted an extension to an Iraqi asylum seeker to lodge a notice of appeal,  overturning a decision by circuit court judge Sandy Street. In May 2018, Street dismissed the Iraqi man’s appeal against a negative refugee assessment, which had been upheld by the Immigration Assessment Authority. He upheld the original decision and gave his reasons in court orally but failed to publish his reasons until after the time limit for the man to appeal had lapsed. The federal court said the cause of the Iraqi man’s failure to file the appeal was ‘wholly outside the responsibility of the appellant’.

Weekly media wrap - 2 December 2018

Crossbench members of parliament introduced a private member’s bill that would require the urgent evacuation of any asylum seeker on Manus Island or Nauru who, on the recommendation of two or more doctors, is ill and unable to be treated offshore. The proposed changes would also require the urgent medical transfer of all asylum seeker children on Nauru.

A related rally at Parliament House earlier in the week delivered a petition of 170,000 signatures urging the government to remove children and their families from indefinite detention on Nauru. Meanwhile, a group of refugee men voluntarily left Manus Island for Nauru hoping for better conditions while they wait for resettlement in a third country.

A Bahraini refugee who has lived in Australia for four and a half years was detained in Thailand and threatened with deportation to Bahrain, where he fears persecution. 

US President Donald Trump defended his country’s use of tear gas at the Mexican border to repel thousands of Central American migrants – the so-called 'migrant caravan'.

Weekly media wrap - 24 November 2018

A new report from Amnesty International and the Refugee Council of Australia revealed the dire mental and physical conditions of the asylum seekers who remain on Manus Island, and that acts of self-harm and suicide attempts have worsened. The report criticises the restricted and understaffed heath and counselling services and the lack of protection for the more than 600 asylum seeker men still on the Island. Since August 2017, there have been three suicides and many more incidences of self-harm and attempted suicide.

The Australian Government stated that it will not sign the United Nation’s migration pact (the Global Compact), claiming it may threaten border protection and risk Australia’s efforts to stop people-smuggling. The USA and several European countries have also rejected the pact, stating that it would weaken border security and undermine existing immigration programs. The Global Compact’s aim is to improve international cooperation on migration and to allow safe, orderly and regular migration.

Teachers across many major Australian cities took part in rallies against offshore detention. The teachers, backed by several major unions to leave their classrooms and attend the rallies, called for asylum seekers and refugees, particularly children, to be released from detention on Manus Island and Nauru. The rallies coincided with Universal Children’s Day. This week five more children were evacuated from Nauru.

Anne Richard, the former US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, stated that the USA was of the understanding that Australia would do more to assist refugees from outside its region, particularly from Central America, in exchange for the USA resettling refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister expressed his concern that New Zealand’s offer to take refugees currently on Manus Island and Nauru may include a potential element to ban them from travelling to Australia. This follows Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent statement that he may be more open to a deal with New Zealand if it prescribed that the refugees would be banned from ever coming to Australia.

Weekly media wrap - 19 November 2018

Australia assisted regional countries to stop 10 boats carrying around 300 asylum seekers from leaving in the past 14 months. The operations involve Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers gathering intelligence about planned departures and passing that information on to their counterparts in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Local authorities then stop asylum seekers from departing by boat. Since 2013, Australian government documents obtained under freedom of information requests show 78 operations involving 2525 asylum seekers. 

The Senate refused to extend the fast-track asylum procedure to 108 asylum seekers who arrived in Australia before 2014. The current fast-track procedure provides a limited review process for rejected asylum seekers that raises a risk of errors in the decision-making process.

Former United States immigration official Anne Richard said the US-Australia refugee swap included an understanding that Australia would resettle more refugees from Central America and Africa. Under the informal arrangement, the United States has agreed to resettle up to 1250 refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Weekly media wrap - 13 November 2018

Refugee advocates said 27 asylum seeker children remain on Nauru, after eight more children were moved from the island on Monday for medical treatment in Australia. Meanwhile, Papua New Guinean authorities moved more than 20 refugees from Port Moresby to Manus Island, including some who were receiving ongoing medical treatment, ahead of next week's APEC summit. This move coincided with a reported spike in suicide attempts.

The Australian Border Force allegedly prevented a baby who was born and remains in immigration detention from being baptised in a church. Meanwhile, bureaucrats from the Home Affairs Department were accused by lawyers of 'reprehensible' tactics to deny an Iraqi Christian's asylum claim.

The Australian newspaper reported that 13,800 refugees in Indonesia waiting for third country resettlement – some for more than 15 years – are still wary of boat turnbacks, despite news of evacuations of families and children on Nauru.

Figures released in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s annual report revealed that the number of Chinese nationals appealing rejected applications for refugee visas has more than doubled in the last year, from 1200 to 2821.

In the US, the Trump administration announced new measures that would deny asylum to people who enter the country through the US southern border with Mexico.

For anyone seeking help, Lifeline can be reach on 13 11 14, and Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

Weekly media wrap - 4 November 2018

A number of asylum seeker families held on Nauru were quietly transferred to Adelaide and are receiving medical treatment. While the government initially refused to confirm whether this transfer occurred, Prime Minister Scott Morrison since admitted to working to reduce the number of children on Nauru, claiming that the number has halved in the last nine weeks. High Commissioner to the UK and former Attorney-General George Brandis stated that the Australian Government anticipates that all children on Nauru will be moved by the end of 2019.

Advocates claimed that these transfers signal that the government is conceding to public pressure and increased rhetoric from many areas of the government calling for children to be brought from offshore detention to Australia. There has been a perceivable increase in public concern about this issue, which was this week exemplified by thousands who protested in Sydney and Melbourne and by a recent poll which demonstrated that almost 80 per want asylum seeker children and families transferred off Nauru.  

The Federal Court stalled a federal government attempt to challenge the court’s jurisdiction to hear cases involving refugee transfers, and therefore also the court’s ability to order that refugees be brought to Australia. The matter was based on the government’s claim that a subsection of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) prevents Australian courts other than the High Court from hearing cases on ‘transitory persons’.

A Refugee Council of Australia report found that federal government cuts to asylum seeker support payments have meant that almost 80% of asylum seekers in Australia are now at risk of homelessness and destitution. This issue has resulted in charities and state governments being required to manage the burden, reportedly costing between $80-$120 million a year.  

Weekly media wrap - 29 October 2018

Eleven more children awaiting high-level medical treatment on Nauru were transferred to Australia, as the ‘Kids Off Nauru’ movement gathered momentum. However, the Morrison Government challenged the Federal Court's ability to order humanitarian evacuations, throwing into doubt further urgent court hearings to decide if dangerously ill refugee children should be flown to Australia. Meanwhile, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton revealed that a further 13 refugee children on Nauru are with parents deemed national security risks by the US, raising concerns the children and their families would not be accepted by Australia or New Zealand.

The Labor Party said it would support the Government’s 'lifetime ban' bill on people held in offshore detention coming to Australia, if all children and their families on Nauru were transferred to New Zealand. Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected the compromise, saying he would not ‘horsetrade’ on border protection. Meanwhile, Liberal Party MP Julia Banks, crossbenchers Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie, and likely new Member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps urged the Government to find a solution to the crisis.

A former Home Affairs officer who resigned from his job in the refugee processing area so that he could speak freely called on all federal parliamentarians to put an end to Australia's offshore system, arguing that its reliance on boat turn-backs makes it meaningless. A new data release about Australia’s maritime border enforcement program revealed 33 boats were stopped since the start of the Abbott Government, while 78 smuggling operations were stopped before they ever boarded vessels.

Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court dismissed on a technicality a case brought by Manus Island detainees asserting their human rights. The lawyer representing the more than 730 refugee and asylum seeker men vowed to keep fighting for compensation.

Australia imposed sanctions and travel bans on five Myanmar military generals accused of leading violent human rights violations on the country's Rohingya people during last year’s crisis.