Weekly media wrap - 17 October 2018

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was forced out of Nauru after providing mental health help to Nauruans, asylum seekers and refugees for almost a year. The Nauruan Government said MSF’s services were ‘no longer required’, while MSF said mental health situation of asylum seekers and refugees on the island is ‘beyond desperate’. After their departure, MSF called for the immediate evacuation of all asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru.

UNHCR urged Australia to evacuate asylum seekers and refugees in both Papua New Guinea and Nauru to address a ‘collapsing’ health situation. The agency argued that Australia bears international responsibility for having ‘designed, financed and managed the system’ in both offshore sites.

In international news, Austria and Denmark released a policy proposal, Vision for a Better Protection System in a Globalized World, which seeks to protect refugees in their region of origin and prevent irregular migration by boat to Europe.

Weekly media wrap - 6 October 2018

A petition signed by 368 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island was presented to Papua New Guinea’s supreme court, calling for the delivery of a crucial judgement regarding the court’s 2016 ruling that the detention centres on the island are unconstitutional and unlawful. The petition calls for compensation and the opportunity to apply for travel documents, opening possibilities for resettlement in other countries.

The immigration detention centre on Christmas Island officially closed. The more-than 30 detainees who remained on the Island were transferred to mainland immigration facilities. Immigration minister David Coleman stated that the centre will remain ready for operations in case re-opening is necessary.

The Australian Government spent over $320,000 in legal costs in 2017-18, responding to court proceedings and challenging requests for urgent medical transfers of asylum seekers and refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. It is likely that the costs will be far greater this financial year given the increasing number of critically ill asylum seekers and refugees requiring urgent medical attention.  Additionally, Australian authorities admitted to cancelling or blocking medical evaluations of asylum seekers from Nauru despite Australian court orders and against medical advice, in order to preserve the relationship between the two governments.

Huyen Tran, a Vietnamese asylum seeker, is awaiting a court decision regarding her potential deportation and separation from her baby daughter. Ms Tran has spent almost one year in immigration detention and gave birth to her daughter whilst in detention. She arrived in Australia by boat in 2011 fleeing religious persecution as a Catholic in Vietnam, and fears she will be killed or jailed if deported. 

Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian Kurdish refugee currently on Manus Island, won a prestigious international award for journalism for his documentation of Australia’s offshore detention regime. The Anna Politkovskaya investigative journalism award recognises excellence in investigative reporting and is bestowed each year by the Italian magazine Interzionale.

Weekly media wrap - 29 September 2018

The four-year Australia–Cambodia refugee settlement agreement expired. Under the agreement, refugees in Nauru could receive refugee protection in Cambodia. Of seven refugees transferred, six have returned home and one remains in Cambodia. The cost of the agreement to Australia was around $55 million.  

The federal court ordered the medical evacuation of a family of three from Nauru to Australia, further ordering that the family not receive treatment from Australian government contractors on the island. More than 30 asylum seekers and refugees have been transferred from Nauru to Australia this year for medical care.

The Australian Federal Police is investigating an alleged sexual assault at Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia. A person detained there claims a Serco officer sexually assaulted him on 16 September.   

In Europe, the EU negotiated with Egypt to increase patrols in the Mediterranean and potentially host an asylum processing centre to filter refugees and migrants intercepted at sea en route to Europe. Talks are ongoing.

Weekly media wrap - 23 September 2018

Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected a plea from the Australian Medical Association President, Dr Tony Bartone, to bring families and children on Nauru to Australia. Dr Bartone said the medical profession was concerned about the health and welfare of refugees and people seeking asylum on both Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie read out a list of the severe medical conditions of children on Nauru who were evacuated to Australia on medical grounds, by order of the federal court. The list was read during debate of a motion of no confidence against Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, in response to a Senate committee finding he had misled parliament.

A Queensland coroner will investigate the adequacy of health and medical evacuation services on Nauru during an inquest into the death of Iranian refugee Omid Masoumali, who set himself on fire on Nauru in 2016.  

Sir Frank Lowy, a self-described ‘boat person’, criticised Australian Government leadership regarding refugees and people seeking asylum and rejected calls to cut immigration. Meanwhile, the City of Sydney joined 10 other councils around Australia in passing a motion supporting expansion of the community sponsorship model of refugee entry. Furthermore, New Zealand raised its refugee quota from 1000 to 1500, to begin in July 2020. However, the United States reduced its cap on refugee entry from 45,000 in 2018 to 30,000 in 2019, bringing it to its lowest level since the program began in 1980.

The New York Times reported that Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a trophy on display in his office in the shape of a fishing boat that reads ‘I stopped these’. Meanwhile, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton shared his belief that immigration detainees should not have access to mobile phones.  

The final version of a UN report investigating potential violations conducted against the Rohingya in Myanmar was presented to the UN Human Rights Council. It found military actions were disproportionate to security risks and showed genocidal intent. Australia is considering options in response, including targeted sanctions. Also at the UN Human Rights Commission, Australia has received criticism from delegates on offshore detention policies.

Italy and Austria expressed support for a plan to process people seeking asylum on ships in the Mediterranean Sea. The proposal is considered an alternative to the regional disembarkation platform concept. A similar proposal in 2016 was not accepted by the European Commission due to concerns over legality. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has suggested that Spain build a wall across the Sahara to slow migration from Africa to Europe.

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.