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.

Weekly media wrap - 16 September 2019

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee recommended the government’s proposed amendments to the Migration Act 1958 be passed, to prevent asylum seeker boat arrivals making a valid application for any Australian visa. The legislation was introduced to Parliament's lower house in July. The majority committee recommendation described the measures as ‘necessary, reasonable and proportionate’, but dissenting views came from both Labor and Greens senators on the committee.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton described the two children of the Tamil family currently detained on Christmas Island as ‘anchor babies’ being used ‘to leverage a migration outcome’. The two Tamil asylum seekers and their Australian-born daughters will remain on Christmas Island after a federal court hearing to determine whether they would be deported to Sri Lanka was delayed until 18 September.

A Newspoll survey of 1000 Australians found that 64 per cent believe asylum seekers who are considered by the courts not to be refugees should be deported, with 24 per cent saying they should be allowed to settle in Australia. This survey followed publicity last week surrounding the case of the Sri Lankan Tamil family facing deportation.

The Victorian Government announced it will contribute $3 million for crisis response to support asylum seekers on bridging visas who are impacted by federal cuts to the status resolution support services payments, which came into effect in 2018. The $3 million will provide health and support services for 6000 asylum seekers in Victoria. 

A Melbourne couple were charged with causing another person to engage in forced labour and conducting business with forced labour, allegedly keeping an Iranian asylum seeker as a slave for two years to work at their confectionery store. 

In the US, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to enforce new rules that generally forbid asylum applications from migrants who have travelled through another country on their way to the US without being denied asylum in that country. 

Weekly media wrap - 11 September 2019

A Senate enquiry is examining the legislation that would prevent maritime arrivals who were sent to offshore facilities from ever settling in Australia. Figures submitted by the Department of Home Affairs showed 2074 of the 5191 asylum seekers who arrived by boat were never sent to offshore detention centres. It also showed that, of the 3127 people who were transferred to offshore centres, 52 have been granted Australian visas (TPVs or SHEVs). The general counsel to Home Affairs stated that those on temporary visas would be subject to ministerial discretion regarding whether they can remain in Australia after their current visas expire. The Department of Home Affairs confirmed that the legislation would cause 14 families to be separated. 

A Freedom of Information Request revealed that Australian airlines and charter planes have been used to involuntarily transfer more than 8000 people in the immigration detention system between July 2017 and May 2019. These transfers included deportations and relocations between detention facilities. The information was acquired by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility as they prepare a motion for the Qantas AGM to review its participation in involuntary transfers. 

An internal Ernst & Young audit report was submitted to the Senate inquiry into the performance of Paladin, the company contracted to provide services to the detention facilities on Manus Island. The audit report noted a serious risk from the reliance on self-reporting by the contractor. It found that Paladin had not logged performance data for its security staff and that the company did not know how many times it had failed to provide transport in a timely manner. The report recommended future contracts of this nature should be monitored by way of monthly site visits instead of self-reporting. 

The last cohort of refugees was invited to be transferred from Manus Island to Port Moresby, bringing the offshore operations on Manus Island to a close. They were assured that they would receive accommodation, health, employment and casework assistance in Port Moresby. 

7 News reported on the cases of 50 people who are stateless and have remained in indefinite detention in Australia because their deportation would require their countries of origin to be established. Amongst others, the report outlines the case of one man who has been in detention for 10 years with no prospect of release. The government refused to comment on the cases. 

Weekly media wrap - 2 September 2019

A family of four Tamil asylum seekers were granted a last-minute interim injunction giving them a five-day reprieve from deportation. Their plane, which had departed Melbourne set for Sri Lanka, was forced to land in Darwin. They were subsequently moved to the Christmas Island detention centre. An urgent federal court hearing delayed the deportation, with lawyers acting for the two-year-old daughter arguing that no assessment had been conducted by Australia as to whether she is owed protection obligations. The family has received strong community support, including many supporters who protested at Melbourne Airport this week. 

Weekly allowances and food rations for hundreds of refugees on Manus Island have been stopped amidst the Papua New Guinea Government’s plans to relocate refugees and asylum seekers to Port Morseby. Many refugee families had their allowances and food stopped with no explanation in May and June, and have struggled to provide for their families with no money or employment. 

Meanwhile, a Senate inquiry has heard that asylum seekers and refugees detained in PNG are being blocked from talking to lawyers or doctors, which is preventing medical evacuation approved under new medevac laws. Many of the asylum seekers do not have access to phones, meaning that medical evacuation response teams are unable to contact them.  

New documents released to the Senate reveal that Paladin, the security firm contracted to deliver services on Manus Island, has been fined more than a thousand times by the Home Affairs department for ‘performance failures’. These failures included chronic understaffing, incidents of drink-driving, failures to have staff with appropriate training, and lengthy delays in responding to maintenance issues in the facilities. 

Findings from a recent Deloitte Access Economics report demonstrated that increasing Australia’s refugee intake could boost the economy by billions each year, and sustain tens of thousands of full time jobs. The report found that overall economic benefit far outweighed the cost of refugee assistance and settlement services.