Weekly media wrap - 19 January 2019

Said Imasi, a stateless man who has been in immigration detention in Villawood for nine years, filed a High Court challenge to the landmark immigration case, Al-Kateb v Godwin (2004). In the case, the majority of the High Court ruled that a person could remain within administrative detention for as long as was required to resolve the individual’s case. Imasi does not know where he was born and has no country that will claim him. Lawyers for Imasi have said that they hope this challenge will open a process to end arbitrary ongoing detention in Australia.  

Doctor Nick Martin, a former senior medical officer working with asylum seekers on Nauru, won the 2019 Blueprint for Free Speech prize for his medical attention and advocacy speaking out against offshore detention. Martin consistently voiced his concerns that Australia’s offshore detention regime was deliberately neglecting and harming refugees and asylum seekers and ignoring medical recommendations.

Independent MP Cathy McGowan sought the views of her constituents as to whether she should support a bill which would allow fast-track transfers for urgent medical treatments for refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. The bill, which has the proclaimed support of most cross-benchers, Labor and the Greens, is likely to come before Parliament in February 2019.

The World Report 2019, Human Rights Watch’s annual assessment of human rights around the globe, condemned Australia’s offshore detention regime, labelling it ‘draconian’.

Weekly media wrap - 14 January 2019

Rahaf al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi refugee, was accepted for resettlement in Canada. The young woman was stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok on her way to Australia, which had granted her a three-month tourist visa. She intended to seek asylum in Australia on the basis of a fear of persecution for her renunciation of Islam. After locking herself in her hotel room and pleas on social media, UNHCR was given access to al-Qunun and quickly declared her a refugee. UNHCR referred al-Qunun for resettlement to Australia. Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said she would receive ‘no special treatment’, with the Labor party encouraging the government to resettle her. However, she ultimately accepted resettlement in Canada, flying from Bangkok to Toronto.

Malta agreed to allow two boats carrying 49 people rescued at sea to disembark after 18 days at sea. The two vessels, sailing under the German flag, had been denied access to European ports since December.

Weekly media wrap - 24 December 2018

An appeal to stop the deportation of a family of Tamil asylum seekers was dismissed by the Federal Court. The family, including two Australian-born children, lived for many years in the small Queensland town of Biloela prior to their detention in March 2018. They have been campaigning against their deportation for much of this year through various court proceedings, receiving significant community support including a petition with over 140,000 signatures calling on Peter Dutton to intervene. In dismissing the appeal, the judge ordered that the family not be deported until February 2019.

A former worker in the Manus Island detention centre filed a case in Victoria’s Supreme Court suing the security company G4S and the Australian Government for unsafe and harmful working conditions at the centre. The former worker stated that the job description and working conditions presented to him upon applying for the job were misleading. He said that he actually experienced inadequate security to protect staff from violence, no training for emergency procedures or security briefings, inadequate facilitates to treat detainees, and insufficient water, hygiene and power.

An Afghan Hazara refugee who was transferred from Nauru to Australia for medical treatment over six weeks ago has not yet seen a doctor in Australia. Specialist medical reports state that without immediate treatment, the woman, Narges, is at risk of permanent hearing loss and developing fatal infections. Narges was recently taken to a medical appointment from the Villawood detention centre, but the appointment was cancelled.

The Australian Labor Party quashed a push to overhaul their current asylum seeker policy platform at their national conference. There had been proposals by some within the party to end offshore detention, cease boat turnbacks, and improve regional processing. The party will, however, likely increase their refugee intake commitment by up to 4000.

Weekly media wrap - 20 December 2018

Parallel class action cases in the High Court of Australia claim that around 1200 asylum seekers and refugees in Nauru and Papua New Guinea have been subjected to crimes against humanity and torture. The claims seek injunctions to transfer the class action participants to Australia and damages for harm while in the offshore centres. The claims are being brought under the civil law of negligence, which requires the Commonwealth of Australia to meet a certain duty of care to people within its jurisdiction.

In 2017-2018, 27,931 people applied for asylum in Australia having arrived by plane, an increase from 18,290 the previous year. Applicants from China, who receive protection at a rate of around 10 per cent, made up one-third of all applications.

An Australian-based footballer of refugee background arrested in Thailand faces extradition to his country of origin, Bahrain. Hakeem al-Araibi, arrested on holiday at Bangkok airport, has previously faced torture in Bahrain and been convicted of vandalism in absentia in the country. The forced return of al-Araibi to Bahrain would amount to refoulement.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton appointed Major General Craig Furini as Operation Sovereign Borders commander, arguing for the retention of offshore regional processing centres, as well as ongoing boat turnbacks.

The Australian Government launched an inquiry into the integration and employment of refugees and other humanitarian entrants in Australia. The review is likely to be completed by February 2019.

In international news, a seven-year-old girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and exhaustion in the custody of United States Customs and Border Protection in New Mexico, having crossed the border from Mexico.

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.