Weekly media wrap - 11 November 2019

The federal government continued to progress its attempted repeal of the medevac laws, including negotiations with independent Senator Jacqui Lambie, whose vote is vital for the government’s repeal bill. Rallies calling for the retention of the laws are planned in Melbourne. 

A network of Australian expats in Canada have helped refugees from Manus Island and Nauru to resettle in Canada via the country’s unique private refugee sponsorship scheme. The network includes Australians living in Canada as well as Canadian locals who are raising funds and lodging applications to sponsor refugees from overseas (understood to be approximately $18,000 for each refugee). Two Iranian refugees are believed to have been resettled from Australia’s offshore detention system to Canada under the sponsorship scheme, and the groups are focusing on those refugees who are ineligible for the US resettlement program

Iraqi refugee and alleged people smuggler Maythem Kamil Radhi, who is accused of involvement in a 2001 smuggling operation which resulted in the drowning deaths of 353 asylum seekers, has been refused bail. Radhi is the third person to face court for their role in the disaster, which involved organising 421 mostly Iraqi and Afghan refugees on an Indonesian fishing boat bound for Australia. Bail was denied due to the Queensland magistrate considering there to be ‘substantial motivation’ for him to leave Australia. 

Professor Munjed Al Muderis, an orthopaedic surgeon, human rights advocate and former Iraqi refugee detained on Christmas Island, was named NSW Australian of the Year for 2020. Since fleeing Iraq by boat and being detained in Australia’s offshore system and several Australian jails, he is now known for innovations and breakthroughs in surgery and for assisting many Australians and people around the world, including returning to Iraq to assist victims of the conflict. 

Weekly media wrap - 3 November 2019

The Australian Government has contracted mining company CI Resources to maintain the Christmas Island detention centre for $20 million. This facility is currently only housing four people – the Tamil family from Biloela fighting deportation to Sri Lanka. It is understood that CI Resources will be responsible for transporting detention centre staff as well as general maintenance, repairs and cleaning. 96 Serco staff continue to work at the centre as guards, as part of a $2.5 billion contract with Home Affairs. 

Meanwhile, the 30-day time limit for the request made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee for the Australian Government to release the Tamil family from detention has now expired. The Department of Home Affairs has refused to comment further on the UN’s request, stating that the family would remain on Christmas Island ‘whilst the judicial review proceedings are before the court’.

A Queensland coroner ordered the reopening of the inquest into the death of Omid Masoumali, the 23-year-old Iranian refugee on Nauru who died after setting himself on fire three years ago. The inquest will now look at more evidence, including Mr Masoumali’s mental health treatment and request for psychological help in the weeks prior to his death. 

Over 200 athletes and officials who remained in Australia after going missing from the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games had their asylum seeker claims rejected. The majority of these were previously granted bridging visas whilst their applications were being considered. Many of those seeking asylum were African athletes and officials from Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Uganda. The majority have since lodged appeals with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Official documents show four appeals have already been dismissed, six asylum seekers have already returned to their home countries, and one asylum seeker remains in immigration detention. 

Weekly media wrap - 23 October 2019

An Afghan doctor who spent more than four years on Manus Island before being transferred to Australia for medical care died in Brisbane. Sayed Mirwais Rohani had been in Australia for approximately two years and is believed to have taken his own life. The 32-year-old’s death marks the thirteenth death of a person sent to Manus Island or Nauru by Australia under its offshore immigration policy. 

A Senate committee chaired by Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker recommended the medevac laws be repealed. The government-dominated committee found that the medevac legislation contained ‘significant flaws’. Despite this committee recommendation, support for the repeal remained split along party lines. The laws also continued to garner support from medical practitioners, with 11 of Australia’s leading medical colleges issuing a joint statement calling for the legislation to remain in place. Independent senator Jacqui Lambie now has the casting vote on the legislation. 

Despite long-running claims from Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott Morrison that the medevac legislation rendered the government powerless to block a transfer on security grounds, Dutton used his ministerial powers for the first time to override doctors’ recommendations to transfer an individual. In a parliamentary statement, Dutton said he refused the transfer because he believed it ‘would expose the Australian community to a serious risk of criminal conduct’. 

Greens Senator Nick McKim led a disallowance motion aimed to block the federal government’s expansion of its fast tracking of asylum seekers scheme. The processing scheme was put in place in 2015, and initially applied to asylum seekers who came by boat after 13 August 2012, who are not allowed to apply for permanent visas. The expansion of the scheme has meant that asylum seekers who applied before this date, but make subsequent temporary protection or safe haven visa applications, now also have their cases assessed through this pathway. Under the fast track process, asylum seekers have their cases resolved with the Immigration Assessment Authority, rather than going before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The motion is expected to go before the Senate in the next sitting week. 

The Guardian Australia reported on the transfer of a seriously mentally ill asylum seeker from Melbourne to Perth, where he spent almost a month held in detention and was admitted to hospital emergency or psychiatric departments six times. The young man’s ill health had been known to authorities and a Melbourne youth mental health facility was preparing to treat him at the time of the transfer. After more than three weeks in Western Australia he was flown back to Melbourne, where after several days he was admitted to the mental health facility that had initially offered to treat him. The transfer allegedly came without warning and without mental health consultation.

The Australian Government continued its refusal to release a report on refugee settlement, with Immigration Minister David Coleman rejecting an Order of the Senate to do so, claiming public interest immunity ‘as the documents referred to are under consideration of the Cabinet’.

Weekly media wrap - 14 October 2019

Some asylum seekers who have been approved for medevac transfers to Australia are among a group of 52 men who have been detained in Bomana immigration detention centre in Port Moresby for the past two months, without access to phones or lawyers. The Australian Government confirmed that approvals for medevacs have been ‘communicated’ to Port Moresby, but said the management of detainees inside the detention centre is a matter for the PNG Government.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged the Australian and Papua New Guinea Governments to work together to find a solution for the men who were denied refugee protection and who remain in Port Moresby. In Australia this week, Bachelet said no one was ‘taking responsibility’ for the more than 50 men who have been transferred to Bomana immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea's capital, after failing in their bid for asylum in Australia. 

More than 95,000 people have sought asylum in Australia after arriving by plane in the past five years, but more than 84% were found not to have a valid claim. Figures revealed this week show that 4037 people who flew to Australia sought asylum in the first seven weeks of this financial year. This rate indicates a record high if the trajectory continues. However, the Australian Government commented that on annual comparisons there has been a decline. The Labor opposition raised concern that the refusal rate of applicants was an indicator that people making claims for asylum were at risk of labour exploitation. 

Average processing times for refugee applications has more than doubled in less than three years, to a peak of 786 days. Commentators are raising concerns that this is creating incentives for further arrivals. The number of active migration and refugee cases at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has also increased to 63,576 at the end of September 2019, up from 24,462 at the end of June 2017.

Internal emails from within the Department of Home Affairs revealed that the Australian Government reportedly considered cancelling the visa of refugee Hakeem al-Araibi, who was recently detained in Thailand. The emails, released under freedom of information laws, also showed that the Border Force officials initially failed to notify the Australian Federal Police of al-Araibi’s refugee status.

The UNHCR launched the Joint Data Centre this week, in collaboration with the World Bank. The Centre ‘aims to combine the former’s knowledge and data on refugees and displaced persons, with the latter’s global experience of poverty reduction, and socio-economic analytical experience’.

Weekly media wrap - 6 October 2019

The United Nations called on the Australian Government to end the ongoing detention of the Tamil family on Christmas Island. The UN-issued interim measures request that the family be transferred into a community setting or that alternative measures be taken to release them from detention within 30 days. The measure is non-compellable, and the Department of Home Affairs has stated that the family will not be removed from Christmas Island while judicial review proceedings are underway.

The Australian Government continued to refuse to release a report which, according to various news outlets, calls on the government to foster a more positive narrative on refugees and recommends increased funding for settlement services. The government rejected Freedom of Information requests to make the report public, however it is anticipated that the report may be released at the end of the year alongside a government response. 

A woman who formerly taught English to asylum seekers and refugees at the Nauru immigration detention centre sought to sue Broadspectrum, the offshore detention operator, for debilitating ill heath caused by black mould in her accommodation. The case is currently before the Queensland Supreme Court, however it was adjourned due to disagreement over which jurisdiction applied. 

Weekly media wrap - 29 September 2019

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton lodged an application to the High Court to appeal a decision by the Federal Court which found that the latter does have jurisdiction to hear cases for medical transfer of people in offshore detention. If the government wins the appeal it will mean that only the High Court has jurisdiction to hear such cases. Initiating a case in the High Court is significantly more expensive and more complicated than in other courts.      

The Tamil family who are in immigration detention on Christmas Island pending a court hearing on the protection status of their youngest child has been told they will not be returned to the Australian mainland. The court date has not yet been confirmed and they have been told they could wait months. Should they win their court case, their visa status will still be subject to ministerial discretion.

Federal circuit judge Alexander (Sandy) Street’s handling of asylum cases has been called into question. The average success rate for applicants on refugee review cases at the federal circuit court is 7.28%, but of the 842 cases that have come before Judge Street, he found in favour of the applicant only 1.66% of the time. He has been criticised for regularly failing to provide written reasons for his judgements and for the frequency with which he provides same day judgements. The Law Council of Australia has called for a federal independent review body where complaints against judges can be heard.

A major review into refugee resettlement in Australia was completed in February this year, but its report will not be made public until the end of 2019. The review examined improvements to the settlement and integration of people who have come to Australia on humanitarian grounds. Freedom of information requests for the report have been refused on the basis that the report is ‘cabinet in confidence’. 

Weekly media wrap - 25 September 2019

The Federal Court ruled that a family of four Tamil asylum seekers facing deportation has a prima facie case to stay in Australia, and cannot be deported to Sri Lanka until the case goes to a final hearing at a date yet to be determined. The case centres around Australia’s international obligations to provide protection to the family’s two-year-old daughter. The family is currently being held on Christmas Island, where they will remain until the hearing, according to home affairs minister Peter Dutton. 

Documents released to the Senate revealed that Paladin, the security firm contracted to deliver services on Manus Island, has had to pay back $5.7 million to the Australian Government for thousands of breaches of its key performance indicators. Paladin defended these breaches by describing its ‘inability to deploy expat personnel’, but the department of home affairs found this reasoning inadequate to excuse the company’s failures.

The Labor party offered to support a Coalition bill that seeks to amend the Migration Act, provided that a number of conditions be met. The proposed bill, which is currently before the Senate, aims to provide grounds for visa cancellation where a non-citizen has been convicted of a serious crime punishable by two years’ imprisonment, even if a jail term is not imposed. The opposition’s conditions for support – that the bill not apply retrospectively, exempt low-level offences and allow special consideration to be given to New Zealanders – were rejected by immigration minister David Coleman.

An Essential Poll survey of 1093 respondents found that a majority of Australians either support the medevac legislation or believe improved health and welfare services should be provided for people in offshore detention. The survey, though finding majority support for offshore detention at 52%, found that 41% of respondents support medevac legislation as it stands, while 23% believe the legislation does not go far enough to provide humane treatment for asylum seekers offshore.