Weekly media wrap - 11 September 2019

A Senate enquiry is examining the legislation that would prevent maritime arrivals who were sent to offshore facilities from ever settling in Australia. Figures submitted by the Department of Home Affairs showed 2074 of the 5191 asylum seekers who arrived by boat were never sent to offshore detention centres. It also showed that, of the 3127 people who were transferred to offshore centres, 52 have been granted Australian visas (TPVs or SHEVs). The general counsel to Home Affairs stated that those on temporary visas would be subject to ministerial discretion regarding whether they can remain in Australia after their current visas expire. The Department of Home Affairs confirmed that the legislation would cause 14 families to be separated. 

A Freedom of Information Request revealed that Australian airlines and charter planes have been used to involuntarily transfer more than 8000 people in the immigration detention system between July 2017 and May 2019. These transfers included deportations and relocations between detention facilities. The information was acquired by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility as they prepare a motion for the Qantas AGM to review its participation in involuntary transfers. 

An internal Ernst & Young audit report was submitted to the Senate inquiry into the performance of Paladin, the company contracted to provide services to the detention facilities on Manus Island. The audit report noted a serious risk from the reliance on self-reporting by the contractor. It found that Paladin had not logged performance data for its security staff and that the company did not know how many times it had failed to provide transport in a timely manner. The report recommended future contracts of this nature should be monitored by way of monthly site visits instead of self-reporting. 

The last cohort of refugees was invited to be transferred from Manus Island to Port Moresby, bringing the offshore operations on Manus Island to a close. They were assured that they would receive accommodation, health, employment and casework assistance in Port Moresby. 

7 News reported on the cases of 50 people who are stateless and have remained in indefinite detention in Australia because their deportation would require their countries of origin to be established. Amongst others, the report outlines the case of one man who has been in detention for 10 years with no prospect of release. The government refused to comment on the cases. 

Weekly media wrap - 2 September 2019

A family of four Tamil asylum seekers were granted a last-minute interim injunction giving them a five-day reprieve from deportation. Their plane, which had departed Melbourne set for Sri Lanka, was forced to land in Darwin. They were subsequently moved to the Christmas Island detention centre. An urgent federal court hearing delayed the deportation, with lawyers acting for the two-year-old daughter arguing that no assessment had been conducted by Australia as to whether she is owed protection obligations. The family has received strong community support, including many supporters who protested at Melbourne Airport this week. 

Weekly allowances and food rations for hundreds of refugees on Manus Island have been stopped amidst the Papua New Guinea Government’s plans to relocate refugees and asylum seekers to Port Morseby. Many refugee families had their allowances and food stopped with no explanation in May and June, and have struggled to provide for their families with no money or employment. 

Meanwhile, a Senate inquiry has heard that asylum seekers and refugees detained in PNG are being blocked from talking to lawyers or doctors, which is preventing medical evacuation approved under new medevac laws. Many of the asylum seekers do not have access to phones, meaning that medical evacuation response teams are unable to contact them.  

New documents released to the Senate reveal that Paladin, the security firm contracted to deliver services on Manus Island, has been fined more than a thousand times by the Home Affairs department for ‘performance failures’. These failures included chronic understaffing, incidents of drink-driving, failures to have staff with appropriate training, and lengthy delays in responding to maintenance issues in the facilities. 

Findings from a recent Deloitte Access Economics report demonstrated that increasing Australia’s refugee intake could boost the economy by billions each year, and sustain tens of thousands of full time jobs. The report found that overall economic benefit far outweighed the cost of refugee assistance and settlement services. 

Weekly media wrap - 31 August 2019

A 36-year-old Pakistani refugee on Nauru was hospitalised after setting himself on fire. The act of self-harm came amidst continued debate about the government’s proposed bill to repeal the medevac laws, reviewed by a Senate committee this week, as well as accusations from Medicines Sans Frontiers that Nauru has breached medical ethics.

Fifty-three asylum seekers being held at a detention facility annexed to the Bomana prison complex in Port Moresby are being restricted from talking to doctors and lawyers. A Senate inquiry heard that without access to phones, the asylum seekers are unable to be evacuated to Australia under the medevac legislation.

The Labor party claimed that the government has lost control of Australia’s borders. Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman, Kristina Keneally, argued that over 90% of the 81,596 asylum seekers who arrived by plane in the last five years were found not to be refugees. The argument came as Senator Kim Carr indicated Labor’s opposition to a Coalition bill to prevent asylum seekers who arrived by boat ever settling in Australia.

report from Deloitte Access Economics found that increasing Australia’s annual refugee intake to 44,000 by 2023 would bring an extra $37.7 billion to the economy in the next 50 years. Commissioned by Oxfam Australia, the report called for the federal government to commit to the increase, and to create a visa stream for 10,000 humanitarian family reunifications annually.

Weekly media wrap - 22 August 2019

Dozens of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea were moved to a detention facility annexed to the Bomana prison complex in Port Moresby. The men moved have all been deemed non-refugees. A letter from the PNG immigration and citizenship authority ordered the men to surrender their mobile phone, any medication, and to pack up their personal belongings. 

Kurdish Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani won the $25,000 National Biography award this week for his autobiography No Friend But The Mountains. Mr Boochani remains in detention on Manus Island

Protests were held outside the Department of Home Affairs in Sydney this week against the continued use of temporary visas for people found to be refugees and afforded protection. Temporary protection visas remain a key component of the Australian Government’s border protection policy. The bridging and temporary visas have been widely criticised for the damaging effects they have on their holders.

Australians have raised more than $100,000 to privately sponsor and relocate refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to Canada, as part of new project Operation Not Forgotten, launched this week. This project was launched by Syrian refugee, Hassan Al Konta.

Weekly media wrap - 10 August 2019

Refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island commenced court proceedings in Papua New Guinea arguing that even though the detention centre was closed, their inability to leave Manus Island constitutes indefinite detention and, therefore, a breach of the constitution. They are seeking travel documents to enable them to leave PNG and are hopeful that the PNG Government may step in to resolve their situation rather than having to continue the court action. 

A mural at Bondi beach which shows 24 Australian Border Force guards under the heading ‘not welcome to Bondi’ was defaced shortly after a motion to Council for its removal was defeated. The artist, Luke Cornish, was asked to do the work as part of an exhibition and described the vandalism as a criminal act. He explained that the border force guards represented the 24 asylum seekers who have suicided in Australian-run detention facilities since 2010. The Council noted that the artwork is temporary and would be replaced following the conclusion of the exhibition.   

The federal government reintroduced legislation to Parliament whereby a person would have their visa automatically cancelled if they are convicted of a crime that carries a two-year sentence, regardless of whether or not the jail time is actually imposed. The current law limits the automatic visa cancellation to people who have been sentenced to at least 12 months in prison. The Minister for Immigration, David Coleman, justified the proposed law on the basis that foreign criminals do not deserve to remain in Australia. Refugee lawyers have expressed concern that there is no provision in the proposed legislation to exempt people who have been granted protection. 

A Syrian refugee who was resettled in Canada after spending months stuck in an airport terminal launched a crowdfunding campaign that aims to sponsor the resettlement of up to 200 refugees on Nauru and Manus Island in Canada. He was prompted to launch the campaign by the recent increase in the number of suicide attempts by people in offshore facilities. He is working with Canadian charities and the Refugee Council of Australia with the aim of raising a total of $3.7 million. 

Gillian Triggs was appointed as United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, replacing Volker Türk, who held the role for 4 years.  

Weekly media wrap - 4 August 2019

Freedom of information documents revealed that Australian authorities are not properly tracking the numbers of people seeking asylum at Australian airports and therefore the number of people claiming protection at Australia’s borders over the past years is unknown. This revelation also raises questions about the proper process for further assessment that should be triggered if a person is claiming protection. 

The Australian Federal Police halted an investigation into the controversial leaking of classified information regarding the medevac legislation. The claimed reasoning behind this decision was that the number of potential suspects was too large. However, it is understood that a total of only 11 senior departmental officials and ministers had access to the documents prior to its leaking to the media. 

A mural at Sydney’s Bondi Beach depicting a line of 24 Australian Border Force officers along with the phrase ‘not… welcome to Bondi’ received a mixed response. The Artist, Luke Cornish, made the piece to raise awareness of the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia’s onshore and offshore detention facilities, stating that ‘the 24 officers is symbolic of the 24 suicides in Australian detention facilities since 2010’. 

Over 1000 people rallied in front of Parliament House in Canberra, calling on the government to end temporary protection visas. The protestors, many of whom held temporary visas, spoke out against the processing limbo and strict conditions they have endured, in particular the harsh travel restrictions and denial of family reunification. 

Weekly media wrap - 2 August 2019

Australia’s House of Representatives voted in favour of the government’s bid to repeal the Medevac legislation. The decision came after days of parliamentary debate, as well as the release of a report highlighting the scale of mental health problems on Manus Island and Nauru. The report, from the independent health advice panel overseeing medical transfers for asylum seekers being held offshore, found that the majority of medical admissions were for mental health conditions. The government’s bid to repeal the medevac transfer laws will now proceed to the Senate. 

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, James Marape, conducted his first official visit to Australia. In discussions with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, an agreement was reached to establish a timeline for the full closure of immigration detention facilities on Manus Island, though no specific dates were agreed to. Speaking as part of the delegation from PNG, Charlie Benjamin, governor of Manus Island, argued that the need to resettle refugees currently on the island was urgent, stating that PNG was ready to assist Australia if it accepted New Zealand’s renewed offer to resettle up to 150 refugees. 

Scott Morrison rejected the offer from New Zealand, arguing that it would weaken border security, while Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent stated that he would like to see his party pursuing the offer, declaring that Australia could not continue with indefinite detention.