Weekly media wrap - 18 May 2019

News outlet Politico reported that two Rwandan men accused of mass murder and detained by the US were granted humanitarian visas by Australia as part of the federal government’s resettlement deal with the US. Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the men were in Australia but said they had been screened by security agencies.

A Tamil family detained by immigration authorities in March last year lost their final appeal for asylum and will likely be deported to Sri Lanka. The family are at the centre of a grassroots campaign driven by their local community in Biloela, central Queensland. Labor leader Bill Shorten vowed to reopen the case if he wins the federal election.

The Chinese-Australian community paid tribute to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who passed away on Thursday, for his decision to offer asylum to thousands of Chinese students and their families in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Six former Afghani soldiers who sought asylum in Australia after last October's Invictus Games in Sydney were granted permanent protection visas.

The UNHCR said at least 65 people drowned when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the Tunisian coast. It was one the deadliest shipwrecks involving migrants trying to reach Europe this year.

Weekly media wrap - 13 May 2019

In the lead-up to the federal election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed that the current US resettlement deal still has scope to resettle hundreds more refugees. The Liberal party also won’t rule out New Zealand’s previous offer to take 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention. Meanwhile, Labor claimed it will use the US refugee deal to scope a potential resettlement arrangement with New Zealand, and may pursue other third-country options to get people off Manus Island and Nauru. Check out Asylum Insight’s Special Election Explainer for more details on the parties’ policies. 

Labor’s Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong slammed a campaign which it claims is spreading false content about Labor’s refugee policies. The WeChat campaign, from an influential Chinese social media site, claimed that a future Labor government would increase humanitarian intake at least tenfold over the next decade and would allow visas to five or six of each refugee’s relatives. Labor is requesting that the Liberal party rule out any involvement in this campaign. 

Refugee support workers on Manus Island claimed they were directed to falsify reporting documents to make it appear that they were meeting government requirements. Some workers resigned in protest after being asked to falsify records, including writing fraudulent files for clients they had not seen and completing management plans for refugees without any assessment.

Weekly media wrap - 6 May 2019

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the federal government’s plan to cap refugee intake numbers at the current rate of 18,750 a year for the next three years if the coalition is re-elected. Morrison detailed the particulars of the refugee intake program, which includes an increased offshore component target of 60 per cent for women, as well as an aim to resettle 40 per cent of arrivals in regional areas. 

Victorian children’s commissioner Liana Buchanan increased calls for the federal government to provide access to detention centres, following reports from advocates that at least five children under the age of seven are detained at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre facility. Priya, a Tamil mother currently detained at the centre with her family, accused the government of failing to give adequate medical care to her youngest daughter, Tharnicaa, who is almost 2 years old. 

The partner of Omid Masoumali, an Iranian refugee who died after setting himself on fire on Nauru in April 2016, is suing the Australian Government and International Heath and Medical Services (IHMS) for failing to provide adequate medical care for her husband.

The Nauruan government failed to approve the contract extension of Canstruct, the company responsible for managing the island’s processing centre, until hours before it was due to expire. The stand-off, which saw Canstruct and Wilson inform caseworkers and other stakeholders that they were ‘demobilising’, resulted in chaos and confusion for asylum seekers and refugees, who were told to clear out of the centre and warned that healthcare may cease. 

A new global survey found that 46 per cent of Australian respondents believed immigration should be reduced, while 23 per cent thought it should be increased. In a national poll, conducted by Essential Media, 51 per cent of respondents believed immigration was ‘generally positive’ for the country, while 35 per cent thought it was ‘generally negative’. 

Weekly media wrap - 29 April 2019

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre released a report which found that a federal government decision to change the eligibility requirements for Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) – a welfare program for community-based asylum seekers – had created a ‘housing and hunger crisis’. 

The Government of Nauru rejected comments by former president, Sprent Dabwido, that the country’s offshore detention deal with Australia had led to corruption and greed on the island.

The UNHCR evacuated 325 African refugees – mainly Eritrean, Sudanese and Nigerian – from the Qasr Ben Gashir detention centre in Libya because of deteriorating security and escalating violence.

In the USA, the FBI arrested the leader of a right-wing militia that was detaining migrant families at gunpoint near the border in southern New Mexico.

Weekly media wrap - 20 April 2019

Former Nauru president Sprent Dabwido called for an end to detention on the island and expressed regret for making an agreement with the Gillard Government to re-open an offshore processing centre there, which has since led to the deaths of refugees. Mr Dabwido is currently in Australia, having sought asylum himself. Dabwido is among a group of former politicians called the ‘Nauru 19’ who were involved in a protest against a government crackdown on MPs in 2015. The Nauru Government sought to convict and jail the protesters.

Rallies were held on Palm Sunday in capital cities and regional centres across Australia calling for an end to the offshore detention of asylum seekers.

In the United States, the Justice Department decided that asylum seekers who have proven a credible fear for their safety will no longer be able to ask a judge for bond release. This decision could mean more migrants are indefinitely detained while they wait for their cases to be heard. 

Weekly media wrap - 15 April 2019

The Australian Government defended the $185 million spent to reopen the Christmas Island immigration detention centre, but subsequently recommended that it soon be closed. The centre was reopened following the passing of the Medevac legislation, with 140 contractors and 14 medical staff, however there are yet to be any detainees transferred there. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg claimed the expense was justified as the centre sent ‘a deterrent to people who would try to game the system’.  

An Australian Paladin employee on Manus Island was charged with sexual offences against two PNG women. It is understood that, prior to his arrest, Paladin management took no action following one woman’s reporting of the incident. The man received bail however has been ordered not to leave Manus Island, including surrendering his passport. The matter has been adjourned to May for a final ruling.

Malaysian authorities fear a new wave of people smuggling by sea after 37 people were found on a beach in Northern Malaysia. It is believed that they are either from Bangladesh or Rohingya from Myanmar. Meanwhile, Bangladesh has sent armed border guards to patrol its southern border with Myanmar, stirring diplomatic tensions.

Weekly media wrap - 7 April 2019

The federal budget, released this week, includes expenditure of $2.9 billion on immigration in 2019–20, of which around 65 per cent is to be spent on irregular migrants on and offshore.  

The key elements of the federal budget in relation to asylum policy have been reported as:

  • the repeal of Medevac legislation that allows doctors to recommend seriously ill asylum seekers and refugees be transferred from Nauru and Manus Island for medical treatment in Australia; 

  • the closure of Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre, reopened in February at a cost of $180 million, from 1 July 2019; and 

  • the reduction of payments to asylum seekers in Australia under the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) from $139.8 million in 2017-18 to $52.6 million in 2019-20.

For more information on the federal budget, see reporting from the Parliament of AustraliaKaldor Centre and Refugee Council of Australia.

Currently the Christmas Island centre is staffed by 150 people with no asylum seekers or refugees transferred there. One person has been transferred under the Medevac legislation, but was sent to mainland Australia for medical care. 

Under the Australia–United States resettlement agreement, 508 refugees have been transferred from Nauru and Papua New Guinea, while 1868 people remain in the two countries.