Weekly media wrap - 4 November 2018

A number of asylum seeker families held on Nauru were quietly transferred to Adelaide and are receiving medical treatment. While the government initially refused to confirm whether this transfer occurred, Prime Minister Scott Morrison since admitted to working to reduce the number of children on Nauru, claiming that the number has halved in the last nine weeks. High Commissioner to the UK and former Attorney-General George Brandis stated that the Australian Government anticipates that all children on Nauru will be moved by the end of 2019.

Advocates claimed that these transfers signal that the government is conceding to public pressure and increased rhetoric from many areas of the government calling for children to be brought from offshore detention to Australia. There has been a perceivable increase in public concern about this issue, which was this week exemplified by thousands who protested in Sydney and Melbourne and by a recent poll which demonstrated that almost 80 per want asylum seeker children and families transferred off Nauru.  

The Federal Court stalled a federal government attempt to challenge the court’s jurisdiction to hear cases involving refugee transfers, and therefore also the court’s ability to order that refugees be brought to Australia. The matter was based on the government’s claim that a subsection of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) prevents Australian courts other than the High Court from hearing cases on ‘transitory persons’.

A Refugee Council of Australia report found that federal government cuts to asylum seeker support payments have meant that almost 80% of asylum seekers in Australia are now at risk of homelessness and destitution. This issue has resulted in charities and state governments being required to manage the burden, reportedly costing between $80-$120 million a year.  

Weekly media wrap - 29 October 2018

Eleven more children awaiting high-level medical treatment on Nauru were transferred to Australia, as the ‘Kids Off Nauru’ movement gathered momentum. However, the Morrison Government challenged the Federal Court's ability to order humanitarian evacuations, throwing into doubt further urgent court hearings to decide if dangerously ill refugee children should be flown to Australia. Meanwhile, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton revealed that a further 13 refugee children on Nauru are with parents deemed national security risks by the US, raising concerns the children and their families would not be accepted by Australia or New Zealand.

The Labor Party said it would support the Government’s 'lifetime ban' bill on people held in offshore detention coming to Australia, if all children and their families on Nauru were transferred to New Zealand. Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected the compromise, saying he would not ‘horsetrade’ on border protection. Meanwhile, Liberal Party MP Julia Banks, crossbenchers Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie, and likely new Member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps urged the Government to find a solution to the crisis.

A former Home Affairs officer who resigned from his job in the refugee processing area so that he could speak freely called on all federal parliamentarians to put an end to Australia's offshore system, arguing that its reliance on boat turn-backs makes it meaningless. A new data release about Australia’s maritime border enforcement program revealed 33 boats were stopped since the start of the Abbott Government, while 78 smuggling operations were stopped before they ever boarded vessels.

Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court dismissed on a technicality a case brought by Manus Island detainees asserting their human rights. The lawyer representing the more than 730 refugee and asylum seeker men vowed to keep fighting for compensation.

Australia imposed sanctions and travel bans on five Myanmar military generals accused of leading violent human rights violations on the country's Rohingya people during last year’s crisis.

Weekly media wrap - 24 October 2018

The mental and physical health of children and families on Nauru dominated this week’s news. Following the return of Médecins Sans Frontières staff from Nauru and their call for the transfer of refugees from Nauru to Australia, support for the proposed transfer is building. On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison received a letter signed by almost 6000 medical professionals that called for the removal from Nauru of 80 children suffering health issues. Meanwhile, a number of families were ‘quietly’ flown to Australia from Nauru on medical advice.

In related news, after talks with the Australian Medical Association, the Labor party proposed legislation to allow for easier transfers of refugees from Nauru to Australia for health treatment. Three Liberal Members of Parliament also requested Scott Morrison to resolve what has been termed the humanitarian emergency on Nauru. Morrison is also reconsidering the resettlement of refugees from Nauru to New Zealand, if the Australian parliament passes a law that bans resettled refugees from ever entering Australia.  

Onshore, a year after Australia was elected to the UN Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) submitted a case to the UN Human Rights Committee against the Australian Government on behalf of 14 families who have been separated for up to five years as a result of offshore detention policies. The submission coincides with a ruling by the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that states that the Australian Government has breached international human rights by arbitrarily detaining an Iranian asylum seeker since 2015.

In Manus Island news, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton confirmed that 17 more refugees resettled to the US from Papua New Guinea. This brings the total number of refugees resettled under the US deal to 435.

Internationally, the ‘caravan’ of Central American refugees crossed the Mexican border where they were temporarily stopped by Mexican riot police. President Trump threatened to deploy the US military to close the US-Mexico border if Mexico did not halt their progress. Separately, the North African countries of Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia refused to allow establishment of European offshore processing centres called ‘disembarkation platforms’ on their territory.

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.