Weekly media wrap - 19 September 2018

Doctors warned that a 12-year-old refugee girl on Nauru, who had made several suicide attempts, would die if she was not taken off the island. Meanwhile, the daughters of a Tamil family taken from their home in Biloela, Queensland were reported to be suffering behavioural issues in immigration detention.

The family of a young Iraqi asylum seeker who died last week in immigration detention after his fourth attempt at suicide said he had been threatened with rape and mistreated. The family indicated that they plan to take legal action against the federal government.

At least a dozen Sri Lankan asylum seekers were forcibly deported back to Sri Lanka on a specially chartered plane from Perth. The Guardian reports the majority were Tamil, but at least one was Sinhalese. Separately, an Iraqi asylum seeker whose appeal was due next week was also deported against his will.

The new UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet described Australia’s offshore processing system as ‘an affront to the protection of human rights’ in her maiden speech at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Weekly media wrap - 8 September 2018

Saruuan Aljhelie, a 22-year-old Iraqi refugee detained at WA’s Yongah Hill detention centre, died after spending days in a critical condition at a Perth hospital following an attempt to take his own life. Aljhelie had been transferred to Yongah Hill from Villawood detention centre a few weeks ago, separating him from his family including two children. On the night of the attempted suicide, protests and riots broke out at the detention centre as detainees demanded information regarding Aljhelie, and tensions escalated with detainees setting fire to a number of the accommodation units.

This year’s Pacific Islands Forum, bringing together leaders from 18 countries across the Pacific, is being held on Nauru. While the Forum focuses on a number of regional issues and areas for collaboration, its location has brought significant attention to Australia’s offshore detention centres on Nauru. Employees of the immigration centre have been threatened with losing their jobs if they speak to journalists, and journalists have been severely restricted in what they can write about, who they can talk to, and their travel around the island.

The Nauruan Government blocked a critically ill refugee woman from being transferred to Australia, despite an Australian Federal Court order directing that the woman be flown to Australia for immediate healthcare. The Nauruan multicultural affairs secretary refused to grant the approval of the transfer, stating that she was ‘not convinced’ the woman was considered a medical emergency.  Lawyers for the refugee have stated that this refusal means that the Australian home affairs minister and department are in breach of the court order.

The Nauruan President claimed that refugee children are deliberately self-harming to ‘short-circuit’ the system to get transferred to Australia, and that refugee advocates and parents are encouraging children to self-harm. Meanwhile, a Queensland doctor who was considered the most senior medical officer working with asylum seekers on Nauru has been forced to leave the island amidst ongoing disagreements regarding the transfer of refugee patients off the island.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reaffirmed her offer of welcoming all asylum seekers from Australia’s offshore detention centres to New Zealand. Australia’s and New Zealand’s foreign affairs ministers discussed refugee resettlement at a meeting in Nauru prior to the Pacific Islands Forum, with Australia stating concerns that refugees could use New Zealand as an entry point into Australia after obtaining New Zealand citizenship. 

Weekly media wrap - 3 September 2018

In Cairns, 15 Vietnamese asylum seekers arrived by boat and were subsequently detained and transferred to Christmas Island, where they will have their asylum claims assessed. The group were likely Montagnards, a persecuted Christian minority.

In Nauru, The Guardian reported a crisis of ‘resignation syndrome’ among children, with at least 12 children transferred to Australia for urgent medical care this year. Meanwhile, in preparation for the Pacific Islands Forum, Nauruan authorities moved asylum seekers out of the detention centre and destroyed tents that have housed asylum seekers and refugees for the past five years.

In Indonesia, asylum seekers and refugees said boat turnbacks, not regional processing centres, prevented boat journeys from the country to Australia. Refugees in Indonesia face a long wait for resettlement in another country, if they are ever resettled at all. Australia has not resettled refugees from Indonesia since 2014.

In international news, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar reported systemic gross human rights violations and abuses committed against the Rohingya by Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw. The Mission documented crimes against humanity and possible genocide, evidence of the ‘gravest crimes under international law’, with 900,000 Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar into Bangladesh in 2017.

Weekly media wrap - 25 August 2018

A 12-year-old asylum seeker girl on Nauru was taken to hospital after trying to set herself on fire, another 17-year-old girl was being treated after refusing to eat, drink or receive medical care, and a 12-year-old boy on hunger strike for 20 days was flown by air ambulance to Australia with his family for medical treatment. The Australian Border Force had initially refused to allow the boy's family to accompany him.

Human rights groups launched a ‘Kids off Nauru’ campaign, setting the federal government a three-month deadline to get all refugee and asylum seeker children off the island. Meanwhile New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wanted to meet with asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru during the Pacific Islands Forum in September. 

Ministerial responsibility for immigration policy is currently unclear following a leadership spill within the Liberal Party. Prime Minister-elect Scott Morrison is expected to settle his new Cabinet over the weekend. Former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton resigned from the position on Wednesday after mounting an unsuccessful leadership challenge.

A former outlaw motorcycle gang insider became the first known Australian to gain refugee status, after winning a landmark asylum claim in Canada.

In international news, Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini commended Australia's ‘No Way’ border control policy on Italian radio, leading to a flurry of analysis of Australia’s Sovereign Borders operation in the Italian media.

Weekly media wrap - 19 August 2018

A 12-year-old Iranian-born refugee boy being held on Nauru has continued to hunger strike for almost a fortnight. Advocacy organisations and medical staff have voiced serious concerns about his mental and physical health, including the possibility of resignation syndrome and imminent death. It is not yet known whether he will be transferred to Australia for further treatment.

The Guardian has reported on several other critical child cases on Nauru, including some children needing immediate intensive care who are reportedly being removed from the island this week. Many legal challenges against the Australian Government regarding refugee children’s health have been brought before courts over the past six months, each of which has resulted in the government conceding or in court orders for children to be removed from Nauru.

The Migration (Validation of Port Appointment) Bill 2018 passed the House of Representatives with unanimous Coalition and Labor support. This retrospective legislation ultimately seeks to authorise past government actions in directing boats through Ashmore Reef between 2002-2013 in order to indefinitely detain at least 1600 asylum seekers via offshore detention. The Senate’s standing scrutiny of bills committee expressed concerns around the retrospective nature of the legislation and its attempt to fix previous government errors.

Greens MP Adam Bandt stated that boat arrivals could be stopped by processing of asylum seekers and bringing refugees to Australia more quickly. He claimed that if Australia accepts refugees, including following their processing in third countries, there is less likelihood that they will attempt to reach Australia by boat.

A recent study in Queensland demonstrates that refugees and new immigrants integrate well in Australia, particularly into regional areas. The study surveyed over 200 refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and found that the refugees reported feeling welcome and a generally high sense of belonging and safety. However, the study also demonstrated a high rate of unemployment among the new arrivals, with only 18 per cent in paid employment. 

Weekly media wrap - 11 August 2018

One hundred and twenty-three Indonesians who said they were children but were imprisoned as adults after being found guilty of people smuggling offences complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission. They were imprisoned as adults on the basis of wrist x-rays, an age determination method that is not reliable.

Qantas and Virgin are being pressured to stop participating in the forced removal of asylum seekers from Australia. The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), among others, claimed that the airlines owed obligations to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Australian Government also charters flights to remove asylum seekers and refugees.

A group of 450 asylum seekers and refugees in Nauru appealed to Canada for resettlement. The Canadian Government responded that it is unable to resettle refugees in Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

Russia presented the United States with plans for the coordinated return of refugees to Syria, aiming to repatriate 900,000 Syrians from Lebanon. The United Nations said returns are not safe, with conflict ongoing in the country.

Weekly media wrap - 6 August 2018

The Federal Court saw two orders for the transfer of children from Nauru to Australia for medical treatment. Justice Robertson ordered the transfer of a sick adolescent girl, finding the applicant ‘to be at imminent risk to her health’. A critically unwell refugee baby and his parents detained on Nauru were also ordered to be flown to Sydney for diagnosis and treatment.

Two refugees on Manus Island with critical illnesses have also been belatedly rushed to medical attention. The first, Mohammed Hamza Hussein, lost one eye in an assault four years ago and is going blind in his other eye. The second, Abdikaldeawe Abdisalam, severely injured his leg in an accident and was unable to access treatment for nearly a week. This week Hussein was flown to Port Moresby for an assessment of his failing ‘good’ eye. Doctors say his condition will not be able to be treated in Port Moresby. Abdisalam was expected to be transported to Port Moresby requiring urgent surgery.

Two deaths in Australia’s onshore and offshore immigration detention facilities were examined by coroners this week. In Queensland the state coroner found that the 2014 death of 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei, who died after a routine infection, was entirely preventable. In Perth, coroner Sarah Linton commenced a two-week inquest into the 2015 death of Fazel Chegeni Nejad, who died on Christmas Island after escaping from the detention centre there.

Meanwhile, the former head of the Australian Border Force, Roman Quaedvlieg, commented that all deaths within Australia’s offshore immigration regime should be investigated by an Australian judge or coroner. Quaedvlieg said the current system, which rarely formally investigates deaths, has led to a failure to address systemic problems.

Mayors and councillors from 17 Victorian local councils drafted a joint resolution to call on the Australian Government to reverse its cuts to support payments for asylum seekers living in communities on bridging visas. This comes following an end to status resolution support services from July 2018 for several thousand asylum seekers on bridging visas.

The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, said that a Labor government would work with countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and New Zealand to resettle asylum seekers currently on Manus Island and Nauru. He said Labor did not believe in indefinite detention of illegal arrivals but would not commit to setting a time limit.