Weekly media wrap - 15 July 2019

A 23-year-old Afghan man died in the immigration detention centre in Melbourne on 13 July. The police reported that the circumstances of the death are not suspicious. Fellow detainees said that the man had signed for a bridging visa 5 months ago but it had not been forthcoming. The Department of Home Affairs issued a statement of condolence to his family.

A Federal Court judge issued the Department of Home Affairs with a five day deadline to transfer a refugee from Nauru to Australia. It came after a previous order to transfer the man was not complied with. The order included a directive that if the deadline is not met, the Department will be required to detail the steps it has taken to action the transfer and to name those who have prevented it. Reporters noted the directive’s significance in terms of requiring the Department to disclose information about processes and people.

A two-year-old child in immigration detention in Melbourne sustained a mild head injury when a whiteboard fell onto her. Media outlets reported a seven hour delay between the incident and her transfer to a hospital for treatment. The Department of Home Affairs reportedly confirmed the incident occurred, but stated that the child was not injured and that the family had refused offers of treatment. She was returned to the detention centre after an overnight stay in hospital. 

A further seven refugees on Nauru were confirmed for departure to the USA under the Australia-US resettlement dealRadio NZ reported that the total number of people transferred under the deal now stands at 580 (out of the 1250 as per the agreement). 

Weekly media wrap - 8 July 2019

Legislation to repeal the medevac transfer laws was introduced to parliament by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, and will now proceed to a Senate inquiry with a report date of 18 October. The inquiry, led by the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Legislative Committee, will give medevac supporters a public platform to argue for its retention.

The Guardian Australia reported that a number of refugees have been kept in a Brisbane hotel, in dirty rooms and under heavy guard, for up to six months. The Australian Human Rights Commission investigated the use of such alternative places of detention in May, resulting in a number of recommendations, including that hotels only be used ‘in exceptional circumstances and for very short periods of time’. The Australian Border Force defended its extended detention of refugees in the hotel as ‘appropriate’. 

The United Nations subcommittee on prevention of torture announced it would visit Australia and Nauru in the coming months to inspect places of detention. The UN Human Rights inspectors will have the right to visit any place of detention, unannounced, including all immigration detention facilities. Australia is obliged to allow these inspections after ratifying the optional protocol to the convention against torture (Opcat) in December 2017. 

Weekly media wrap - 1 July 2019

The Australian and Papuan New Guinean governments announced in a joint statement that there will be a limited extension but not a renewal of the $423 million contract for Security company Paladin, which provides services to asylum seekers on Manus Island. Prior to this announcement, PNG’s new Prime Minister James Marape stated that he did not want foreign security companies undertaking this work, which could be done by PNG companies. The limited extension of the Paladin contract will allow time while the PNG government seeks to procure a local provider. 

US President Donald Trump praised Australia’s asylum seeker policies, tough border protection measures and deterrent advertising campaign. On the day of the G20 Summit and a meeting between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the President, Trump tweeted that ‘much can be learned’ from Australian advertisements aimed to deter asylum seekers from using boats to come to Australia. 

The Coalition government increased rhetoric against the medevac legislation, with the aim of soon repealing it through parliament. Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton claimed that the new arrangements risk an increase of people smuggler boats and also encourage asylum seekers and refugees currently on Manus island and Nauru to reject offers to be resettled in the United States in hope that they will instead get to Australia. The government will require the support of four cross-benchers to repeal the legislation. 

Manus Island police stated that the asylum seeker who set himself on fire in his room last week at the Lorengau accommodation will be charged with attempted suicide and arson, with the latter carrying a sentence of life imprisonment. The man is badly injured with severe burns to his face and ear, and has reportedly been medically evacuated for treatment in Port Moresby.

Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a Sudanese refugee and former detainee on Manus Island, gave a speech before the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding the conditions for asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru. Muhamat described the situation as a humanitarian crisis requiring urgent action and urged the Council to hold the Australian government to account. Muhamat was offered asylum in Switzerland after he was permitted to travel from Manus Island to receive a human rights award.

Weekly media wrap - 24 June 2019

An asylum seeker set himself and his accommodation alight at Hillside Haus on Manus Island. The incident occurred following the man allegedly returning from the local medical centre where he sought treatment for back pain but was denied. The man is currently being treated at the Pacific International Hospital. This is the second case of self-immolation in two weeks. 

The minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, told Sky News that pregnant asylum seekers on Nauru who were victims of rape and coming to Australia in need of abortion were ‘trying it on’ so they could remain in Australia. Minister Dutton claimed these women would change their mind upon arrival to Australia, and seek legal injunctions to stay. These remarks have been condemned by lawyers and asylum seeker advocates.  

The Morrison government is expected to appeal a recent federal court decision that tested the new ‘medevac’ law, ruling that doctors don’t have to speak to a patient in order to make a medical assessment. Two doctors assessed the medical records of a 29-year old Iraqi man without a face-to-face interview or physical examination, and determined the need for this man’s urgent medical evacuation. 

With the Australian parliament resuming on 2 July, the government is expected to seek to repeal the medevac law. Labor has maintained it will not support repealing this legislation, but has not ruled out supporting amendments. The government will need the votes of the crossbench in the Senate in order to repeal this law. The law has so far seen 30 people brought to Australia for care. 

The PNG immigration minister, Petrus Thomas, said his government expects to ‘cancel or terminate’ the controversial contract with Paladin to run refugee and asylum seeker accommodation on Manus Island. The contract expires in two weeks, and Minister Dutton indicated this week that this contract may be extended, contradicting the PNG’s position. 

Weekly media wrap - 11 June 2019

Self-harm and suicide attempts have recently increased amongst refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island, sparking increased tensions and the deployment of a PNG paramilitary police unit. This crisis has also led to local hospitals being overrun as asylum seekers are being referred on to locally-funded health services despite Australia spending over $20 million on a healthcare contract with another hospital. 

Australia has been internationally condemned for detaining a blind and mentally ill Tamil refugee, known as Kumar, for almost a decade. A United Nations working group stated that Kumar’s detention is a contravention of Australia’s human rights and international legal obligations. The group called on Australia to release Kumar from detention and offer compensation and reparations. Kumar was recognised by Australia as a refugee in 2010, and a previous adverse security assessment was overturned in 2016.  

Labor’s Home Affairs spokeswoman, Kristina Keneally, claimed that an increasing number of asylum seekers are now reaching Australia via airplane. Keneally condemned the Australian Government’s efforts to maintain control of Australia’s air borders over the past four years, and questioned why aerial patrols of Australia’s borders were halted for an unknown period of time.

Weekly media wrap - 3 June 2019

In the federal government’s post-election re-shuffle, the department of home affairs, led by Peter Dutton, regained responsibility for refugee settlement services and migrant adult education. Since 2013 these functions have been performed by the departments of social services and education. Refugee support groups criticised the move. 

A boat carrying 20 Sri Lankan asylum seekers was intercepted on its way to Australia. The group of Sri Lankans, which included at least one baby, was returned to Colombo following the rejection of their asylum claims. The boat had left Sri Lanka in the first week of May, following the country’s Easter bombing attacks

The US attorney responsible for bringing charges against two Rwandan men, Gregoire Nyaminani and Leonidas Bimenyimana, stated that the United States had been ‘certain’ the two were members of a Hutu terror group. The men were recently re-settled in Australia as part of the federal government’s deal with the US, a decision that has been criticised by immigration experts and lawyers. 

In international news, an internal UN document revealed that more than half the refugees currently held in Libyan detention centres are at risk due to the deteriorating security situation in and around Tripoli. The UNHCR called for all refugees to be evacuated from the detention centres.

Weekly media wrap - 26 May 2019

Following its re-election last Saturday, the Coalition government has prioritised a repeal of the medical evacuation laws passed in February 2019. The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed there is budget available to keep the Christmas Island centre open, should the Senate block the repeal bill. 

Since the outcome of the election on Saturday, Manus Island- and Nauru-based refugees and advocates have voiced their concern about the re-elected Morrison government. They, and doctors on the islands, reported a surge in apparent suicide attempts and self-harm on both islands since the election, although there have been varied reports on the number of cases. 

The Guardian reported that more than 40 people have been transferred to Australia for urgent medical treatment from Manus Island and Nauru since the passing of the medical evacuation laws earlier this year. The Medical Evacuation Response Group (Merg), which is triaging the asylum seekers and refugees seeking medical care, said they were receiving an average of 11 applications a day. 

Families in a Syrian refugee camp wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison urgently seeking evacuation. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the letter urges the Morrison government to evacuate at least 30 Australian children detained in this refugee camp for Islamic State families. The families are seeking urgent help as a result of dangerous and squalid conditions, significant injuries, illnesses and malnourishment. The letter was sent to the Prime Minister via Save The Children.