Weekly media wrap - 25 February 2019

Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo revealed during Senate estimates that sick refugees and asylum seekers in offshore detention will be sent to Christmas Island, not the mainland, under new medevac laws. Shire of Christmas Island CEO David Price said the island is not equipped to deal with people sent there in poor health. Lawyers representing refugee advocacy organisations said they will launch legal challenges on medical transfers to the island. Meanwhile, the Nauruan government responded to the medevac laws by banning residents of Nauru from being granted medical transfers if the referral is based on online consultations. 

The federal government faced ongoing scrutiny for its decision to award contracts to provide security at the Manus Island detention centre, worth up to $423 million, to inexperienced contractor Paladin through a non-competitive tender process. The opposition asked the Auditor General to examine the contract, and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neil, said he would welcome an investigation into the affair. Paladin Director Ian Stewart defended the company’s record and disputed claims of corruption.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reiterated her offer to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island, including single men, during a visit by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the country. Mr Morrison again rejected the offer. Opposition immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said Labor will accept the offer if elected.

During Senate estimates, Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin blamed a lack of information sharing from the Department of Home Affairs for the detention of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in Thailand.

Two sisters from Saudi Arabia who are trying to seek asylum in Australia said they have been stuck in Hong Kong for more than six months. The two women said they were prevented from boarding a connecting flight to Australia and were intercepted at the airport by diplomats from Saudi Arabia. The case is the second high-profile example this year of Saudi women seeking to escape their country.

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.

Weekly media wrap - 14 February 2019

Independent MP Dr Kerryn Phelps put forward a bill proposing an amendment to the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) that establishes an independent medical advice panel for the transfer of asylum seekers and refugees from Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Government ministers oppose the Bill, saying that its passing would result in the transfer of one thousand people within weeks. The Bill is due for a vote next week.

The ABC’s Four Corners reported that a number of Saudi women have been prevented from reaching Australia by airline liaison officers (ALOs) stationed in airports in transit countries. The investigation followed the high-profile case of Rahaf Al-Qunun, a Saudi woman stranded in Bangkok and given protection in Canada. ALOs advise governments and airlines on whether to allow a person to board, in some cases refusing embarkation when they suspect a person will apply for asylum upon arrival in Australia.

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi appeared at an extradition hearing in Bangkok. Mr al-Araibi is a Bahrainian national granted refugee protection in Australia. Bahrain has requested his extradition from Thai authorities after he was arrested on holiday there.

Weekly media wrap - 2 February 2019

Kurdish asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani won the prestigious Victorian Prize for Literature for his book No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. Boochani has been kept on Manus Island since 2013. He wrote the book in Farsi using WhatsApp; it was translated by Omid Tofighian.

The Weekend Australian reported that a boat carrying asylum seekers is believed to have left India this month with Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian nationals on board. It is reported that the boat could be travelling to New Zealand. Estimates of numbers onboard vary between 80 and 200 people.

UNHCR’s Indonesian chief said that turning back asylum boats at sea puts lives at risk. Ahead of the upcoming Australian federal election, the UNHCR is expected to continue to lobby to end the practice of boat turnbacks and for Canberra to lift its restrictions on refugee resettlements out of Indonesia.

The Asian Football Confederation claimed the detention of refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in Thailand is not the responsibility of the AFC’s president, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, because he was recused from overseeing the region 18 months ago out of conflict-of-interest concerns. Salman has been criticised for his inaction over the matter.

The UNHCR reported that six lives were lost on average every day in 2018 attempting to reach Europe crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The UNHCR released the latest Desperate Journeys report, which describes shifts in policy by some European states that saw numerous incidents where large numbers of people were left stranded at sea.

Weekly media wrap - 26 January 2019

A male detainee at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, believed to be in his thirties and from Sierra Leone, died on Friday evening. Police said initial investigations suggest the death is not suspicious. The death allegedly triggered chaos in the centre.

Thailand's ambassador to Australia asked for patience in the case of detained refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi and stressed the independence of Thailand's judiciary. Meanwhile, a number of  Australian sportspeople signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, asking him to directly engage with Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha regarding al-Araibi's case.

One hundred and seventeen people drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean last weekend and nearly 400 rescued migrants were returned to Libya. Two hundred people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year.

The Trump administration's ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, which returns asylum seekers to Mexico to wait while their cases progress through US courts, took effect on Friday. Meanwhile, Mexico has struggled to process an influx of Central Americans applying for its new humanitarian visa.

Weekly media wrap - 19 January 2019

Said Imasi, a stateless man who has been in immigration detention in Villawood for nine years, filed a High Court challenge to the landmark immigration case, Al-Kateb v Godwin (2004). In the case, the majority of the High Court ruled that a person could remain within administrative detention for as long as was required to resolve the individual’s case. Imasi does not know where he was born and has no country that will claim him. Lawyers for Imasi have said that they hope this challenge will open a process to end arbitrary ongoing detention in Australia.  

Doctor Nick Martin, a former senior medical officer working with asylum seekers on Nauru, won the 2019 Blueprint for Free Speech prize for his medical attention and advocacy speaking out against offshore detention. Martin consistently voiced his concerns that Australia’s offshore detention regime was deliberately neglecting and harming refugees and asylum seekers and ignoring medical recommendations.

Independent MP Cathy McGowan sought the views of her constituents as to whether she should support a bill which would allow fast-track transfers for urgent medical treatments for refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. The bill, which has the proclaimed support of most cross-benchers, Labor and the Greens, is likely to come before Parliament in February 2019.

The World Report 2019, Human Rights Watch’s annual assessment of human rights around the globe, condemned Australia’s offshore detention regime, labelling it ‘draconian’.

Weekly media wrap - 14 January 2019

Rahaf al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi refugee, was accepted for resettlement in Canada. The young woman was stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok on her way to Australia, which had granted her a three-month tourist visa. She intended to seek asylum in Australia on the basis of a fear of persecution for her renunciation of Islam. After locking herself in her hotel room and pleas on social media, UNHCR was given access to al-Qunun and quickly declared her a refugee. UNHCR referred al-Qunun for resettlement to Australia. Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said she would receive ‘no special treatment’, with the Labor party encouraging the government to resettle her. However, she ultimately accepted resettlement in Canada, flying from Bangkok to Toronto.

Malta agreed to allow two boats carrying 49 people rescued at sea to disembark after 18 days at sea. The two vessels, sailing under the German flag, had been denied access to European ports since December.