Weekly media wrap - 10 August 2019

Refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island commenced court proceedings in Papua New Guinea arguing that even though the detention centre was closed, their inability to leave Manus Island constitutes indefinite detention and, therefore, a breach of the constitution. They are seeking travel documents to enable them to leave PNG and are hopeful that the PNG Government may step in to resolve their situation rather than having to continue the court action. 

A mural at Bondi beach which shows 24 Australian Border Force guards under the heading ‘not welcome to Bondi’ was defaced shortly after a motion to Council for its removal was defeated. The artist, Luke Cornish, was asked to do the work as part of an exhibition and described the vandalism as a criminal act. He explained that the border force guards represented the 24 asylum seekers who have suicided in Australian-run detention facilities since 2010. The Council noted that the artwork is temporary and would be replaced following the conclusion of the exhibition.   

The federal government reintroduced legislation to Parliament whereby a person would have their visa automatically cancelled if they are convicted of a crime that carries a two-year sentence, regardless of whether or not the jail time is actually imposed. The current law limits the automatic visa cancellation to people who have been sentenced to at least 12 months in prison. The Minister for Immigration, David Coleman, justified the proposed law on the basis that foreign criminals do not deserve to remain in Australia. Refugee lawyers have expressed concern that there is no provision in the proposed legislation to exempt people who have been granted protection. 

A Syrian refugee who was resettled in Canada after spending months stuck in an airport terminal launched a crowdfunding campaign that aims to sponsor the resettlement of up to 200 refugees on Nauru and Manus Island in Canada. He was prompted to launch the campaign by the recent increase in the number of suicide attempts by people in offshore facilities. He is working with Canadian charities and the Refugee Council of Australia with the aim of raising a total of $3.7 million. 

Gillian Triggs was appointed as United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, replacing Volker Türk, who held the role for 4 years.  

Weekly media wrap - 4 August 2019

Freedom of information documents revealed that Australian authorities are not properly tracking the numbers of people seeking asylum at Australian airports and therefore the number of people claiming protection at Australia’s borders over the past years is unknown. This revelation also raises questions about the proper process for further assessment that should be triggered if a person is claiming protection. 

The Australian Federal Police halted an investigation into the controversial leaking of classified information regarding the medevac legislation. The claimed reasoning behind this decision was that the number of potential suspects was too large. However, it is understood that a total of only 11 senior departmental officials and ministers had access to the documents prior to its leaking to the media. 

A mural at Sydney’s Bondi Beach depicting a line of 24 Australian Border Force officers along with the phrase ‘not… welcome to Bondi’ received a mixed response. The Artist, Luke Cornish, made the piece to raise awareness of the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia’s onshore and offshore detention facilities, stating that ‘the 24 officers is symbolic of the 24 suicides in Australian detention facilities since 2010’. 

Over 1000 people rallied in front of Parliament House in Canberra, calling on the government to end temporary protection visas. The protestors, many of whom held temporary visas, spoke out against the processing limbo and strict conditions they have endured, in particular the harsh travel restrictions and denial of family reunification. 

Weekly media wrap - 2 August 2019

Australia’s House of Representatives voted in favour of the government’s bid to repeal the Medevac legislation. The decision came after days of parliamentary debate, as well as the release of a report highlighting the scale of mental health problems on Manus Island and Nauru. The report, from the independent health advice panel overseeing medical transfers for asylum seekers being held offshore, found that the majority of medical admissions were for mental health conditions. The government’s bid to repeal the medevac transfer laws will now proceed to the Senate. 

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, James Marape, conducted his first official visit to Australia. In discussions with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, an agreement was reached to establish a timeline for the full closure of immigration detention facilities on Manus Island, though no specific dates were agreed to. Speaking as part of the delegation from PNG, Charlie Benjamin, governor of Manus Island, argued that the need to resettle refugees currently on the island was urgent, stating that PNG was ready to assist Australia if it accepted New Zealand’s renewed offer to resettle up to 150 refugees. 

Scott Morrison rejected the offer from New Zealand, arguing that it would weaken border security, while Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent stated that he would like to see his party pursuing the offer, declaring that Australia could not continue with indefinite detention. 

Weekly media wrap - 25 July 2019

A new report published this week by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Lives On Hold, calls for action over 30,000 asylum seekers in the so-called ‘Legacy Caseload’ – those living in Australia and who arrived by boat before January 2014. The report highlights that 7500 asylum seekers who have been in Australia for more than five years have not yet had their refugee claims assessed. The Commission raised significant concern about the impact of these prolonged delays on the mental health of this group., and the limited support available to meet their health and other needs. The Department of Home Affairs has rejected the Commission’s recommendations. 

The Australian Government took four days to inform the family of Abdul Aziz of his death. Mr Aziz, an Afghan asylum seeker, died in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation facility (MITA) last week. The man's family learned of his death through word of mouth. Authorities have not yet been able to identify a cause of death. Two days after the death of Mr Aziz, an Afghan asylum seeker who is also detained in MITA was taken to hospital after attempting to set himself on fire. The 23-year-old allegedly set a towel alight in his room before another detainee intervened.

A 15-month-old baby has been transferred to hospital from MITA with Influenza A. The baby’s mother, Vietnamese asylum seeker Huyen Tran, complained to staff for several weeks that her child had a fever, which was reportedly ignored. 

On a six-day visit to Australia commencing this weekend, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea James Marape will be urging the Australian Government to fix a deadline for the ending of offshore processing of asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Greens Senator Nick McKim was denied entry to visit the East Lorengau camp on Manus Island and deported from Papua New Guinea this week. Senator McKim was visiting Manus Island to mark six years since the Rudd Governmentannounced that all asylum seekers who arrived by boat would be sent to PNG.

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.