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. 

Weekly media wrap - 31 March 2019

It was revealed by the Sydney Morning Herald this week that as immigration minister in 2014, Scott Morrison proposed a multibillion-dollar program to build new mass detention facilities in Australia for asylum seekers who were living in the community on bridging visas. The proposal, according to multiple sources, was to operate alongside Operation Sovereign Borders, and serve as a deterrent to asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat. A spokesperson for Mr Morrison said he had no recollection of such a proposal.

Guardian Australia investigation into Australia’s onshore detention centres found serious concerns about the transparency and accountability of the operator Serco. The Guardian received a number of secret recordings, and found that guards allegedly discouraged detainees from pursuing complaints. The investigation also found allegations of abuse and mistreatment of detainees, arbitrary transfers, and claims of ‘prison-like’ conditions and rising tensions within the centres. Following these revelations, the centres are expected to be a focus of the Senate’s budget estimates hearings next month. 

The federal court criticised federal circuit court judge Alexander ‘Sandy’ Street, after he did not publish reasons for a decision in time for an asylum seeker to make an appeal. Judge Street took 75 days to publish written reasons for a judgment he delivered orally in July, in which he dismissed an application by an Iranian asylum seeker for a review of a visa rejection. However, the man had only 21 days to submit an appeal. Street has been criticised previously for this same failure.

The Queensland state government committed $3.5 million over two years to support asylum seekers to find work and access public transport. Communify Queensland, a community support organisation, will receive the funding to provide this support, as part of Queensland’s asylum seeker and refugee assistance program.

A Turkish tanker was hijacked by migrants it had rescued near the Libyan border, to avoid being returned to Libya. Five men who allegedly led the hijacking were arrested in Malta following the Armed Forces of Malta taking control of the vessel. The five men were among 108 asylum seekers rescued by the tanker. The tanker was ordered by Libyan authorities to take the migrants to Tripoli, but they allegedly forced the vessel to sail north towards Europe.

Weekly media wrap - 24 March 2019

Refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries were among the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attacks last week. Khaled and Hamza Mustafa, a Syrian father and son, were the first to be buried this week. Abdul Aziz, a former refugee from Afghanistan, was hailed as a hero for chasing off the gunman at Linwood mosque. Meanwhile, Australian Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds linked the Christchurch terrorist attacks with parliament’s passing of the medevac bill.

Doctors signed off on the first applications for medical transfer under the new medevac bill. The applications were expected to be put to Department of Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo and Immigration Minister David Coleman by the end of the week.

Refugees living on Nauru were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos after local workers left it next to the Fly Camp settlement. Documents leaked to the ABC say refugees have been ‘using the asbestos to build sheds’. 

Sprent Dabwido, former President of Nauru, called for an end to the offshore processing of refugees and said he regrets agreeing to reopen Australia’s offshore detention centre on the island. Mr Dabwido has applied for asylum in Australia after being classified as an ‘enemy of the state’ by current Nauruan President Baron Waqa.

SBS News reported that a backlog in citizenship applications is taking a toll on refugees living in Australia who, among other things, cannot apply for passports until citizenship is conferred.

Weekly media wrap - 19 March 2019

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and members of the Coalition have continued to claim that refugees transferred to Australia for medical treatment under the medevac arrangements will equate to Australians losing out on medical services. In response, a number of health care associations and hospitals stated that the Australian system has the capacity to provide medical treatment to asylum seekers and refugees without impacting Australians. 

Hakeem Al-Araibi, Bahraini-born refugee and footballer, became an Australian citizen at a ceremony in Melbourne alongside over 200 new citizens. Following his two-and-a-half-month ordeal in a Thai prison from late 2018 where he was detained due to Bahrain’s extradition request, he returned to Australia in February and completed the citizenship test. 

The United Nations voiced its concern over a plan to relocate 23,000 Rohingya refugees currently in Bangladesh to a remote island. Bangladesh proposed the relocation due to the chronic overcrowding at Cox’s Bazar where approximately 730,000 Rohingya are currently taking shelter. Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee stated that the island of the proposed relocation may not even be habitable, and fears relocation could create a ‘new crisis’. 

Weekly media wrap - 11 March 2019

Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Christmas Island following his announcement that the government will reopen its immigration detention facility in the remote external Australian territory. The government budgeted approximately $1.4 billion over the next four years to reopen the centre. 

Morrison announced that asylum seekers currently on Manus Island or Nauru who are deemed a risk to Australia will be sent to Christmas Island’s North West Point facility if they apply for medical transfer under the newly passed medical evacuation bill. This cohort includes 57 men, including those allegedly charged with murder, sexual and violent assaults and terrorist activities.

Government health contractor IHMS will employ an additional 60 medical practitioners on Christmas Island, including a general surgeon, an anaesthetist and 35 mental health professionals. The expanded team is designed to eliminate the need for any transfers to the Australian mainland.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton warned that asylum seekers brought to the mainland under the so-called medevac bill would likely go on to become Australian citizens, an outcome he argues is against the wishes of the Australian community. Morrison supported that assertion, further warning that these asylum seekers would need to be housed through their claims, resulting in Australian citizens missing out on public housing. 

UNHCR’s Catherine Stubberfield criticised the reopening of the Christmas Island facility, arguing that ill asylum seekers are ‘unlikely to recover in a remote, formal detention environment’.