Weekly media wrap - 16 February 2019

The medical evacuation bill passed through both houses of Parliament. This amendment to the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) will give doctors greater powers in deciding whether asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru should be transferred to Australia for medical treatment. Ministerial discretion still applies to an extent. The passing of this bill, with the support of Labor, the Greens and various independents, was the first time a federal government has lost a vote on its own legislation in almost 80 years.

While the bill was being debated in the Senate, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced plans to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre and strengthen Operation Sovereign Borders. The Prime Minister claimed that these contingency measures are necessary due to what he predicts will be an increase in asylum seeker boats. Since the passing of the bill, The Guardian Australia and SBS News have provided information on how it may affect the situation for ill asylum seekers and refugees currently in offshore detention. 

Bahraini refugee Hakeem al-Araibi returned to Australia following his release from a Thai prison. The 25-year-old Australian football star was detained on his honeymoon in November 2018 by Thai authorities acting on the advice of an Interpol red notice and an extradition request from Bahrain. The extradition case was subsequently dropped by Thai authorities after Bahrain abandoned its request.

Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a Sudanese refugee detained on Manus Island, received a prestigious international human rights award in Geneva. The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders recognises people who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to human rights despite huge risks. Mr Muhamat received the award for his advocacy and awareness-raising of the dire conditions for detained refugees on Manus Island, including sending over 3500 mobile phone messages to a journalist to create a podcast. Mr Muhamat was granted a visa by Switzerland to fly to Geneva to accept the award, and will be returned to PNG promptly.

The High Court of Australia rejected a stateless man’s challenge to Australia’s indefinite detention system. Lawyers for the stateless man, who has spent over nine years in immigration detention in Australia, attempted to reopen the 2004 Al-Kateb v Godwin ruling, which effectively enabled indefinite detention in Australia.