By Colin Packham
The U.N. refugee agency on Tuesday urged Australia to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees from an abandoned Australian-run detention center in Papua New Guinea, as about 450 men remain barricaded inside without food or water.
The asylum seekers have been holed up inside the center for the past two weeks defying attempts by Australia and Papua New Guinea to close the facility, saying they fear for their safety if moved to transit centers.
With many detainees complaining of illness bought about by the unsanitary conditions in the camp, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged Australia to allow 150 of them to resettle in New Zealand.
“We urge Australia to reconsider this and take up the offer,” Nai Jit Lam, deputy regional representative at the UNHCR told Reuters.
Most of the asylum seekers are from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria.
Australia’s “sovereign borders” immigration policy, under which it refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores, has been heavily criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups but has bipartisan political support in Australia.
Australia says allowing asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores would only encourage people smugglers in Asia and see more people risk their lives trying to sail to Australia.
Two motions introduced in Australia’s parliament by the Labor and Green parties, and passed in the upper house on Tuesday, call on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to approve the New Zealand proposal.
“This is a foul and bloody stain on Australia’s national conscience,” Greens senator Nick McKim told reporters.
Turnbull this month rejected the refugee resettlement offer from his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, preferring instead to work through an existing refugee swap deal he negotiated with former U.S. President Barack Obama last year.
Under the U.S. deal, up to 1,250 asylum seekers detained by Australia in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific could be resettled in the United States in return for Australia accepting refugees from Central America. So far, the United States has accepted only 54.
Despite Turnbull rejecting the offer, Ardern this week said it remained on the table and she would seek a second meeting with Turnbull to discuss the “unacceptable” situation inside the Manus island detention center.
Water and electricity to the center were disconnected two weeks ago after Australian security withdrew and the camp closed on Oct. 31. The camp gad been declared illegal by a Papua New Guinea Court.
Papua New Guinea has threatened to forcibly move the men if they remain inside the center. It has set three deadlines but all have passed largely without incident.
Published on Reuters on November 13, 2017.
The Australian and Papua New Guinean authorities must ensure that a tense standoff with refugees on Manus Island does not descend into violence by security forces as the authorities try to move hundreds of people from the refugee detention centre to so-called transit facilities on Manus Island, Amnesty International said.
Tensions have grown on Manus Island in recent weeks, as the hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers living in the current refugee detention centre have said that they will resist any move because they fear for their safety if moved to new locations on the island.
“The looming move to so-called transit facilities on Manus Island cannot become an excuse to use violence against refugees and asylum seekers. The authorities have a duty to ensure that the PNG security forces, who already have a chequered history of abuse, refrain from using excessive force,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Issues.
The detention centre on Manus Island, where refugees and asylum seekers have suffered for four years as part of Australia’s cruel and illegal ‘offshore processing’ policies, will close on 31 October.
Australian government officials have said that water and electricity at the centre will be turned off after 31 October, and have refused to rule out forcibly transferring those who do not voluntarily leave the premises.
The closure of the detention centre does not mean the end of the ordeal for the refugees as they are being moved to other centres.
More than 600 people are due to be moved to transit facilities over the next few days, including to the East Lorengau Transit Accommodation Centre.
There are serious concerns that the various transit facilities are far too small to house the numbers of refugees, or are not yet completed.
The Lorengau Centre is also close to local communities which could make attacks on the refugees more likely. There have been several attacks by members of the local community – some wielding machetes – against refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island in recent months, which have left individuals badly injured. Neither the PNG nor the Australian authorities have acted to adequately protect the refugees from such violence.
“The closure of the current centre is not a solution if people are simply being moved from one abusive location to another. Reports that the new facilities are unfinished and leave refugees at risk of violence are extremely concerning. Authorities must ensure that the safety and well-being of refugees is given priority,” said Audrey Gaughran.
“The fact that the refugees - who the Australian government has trapped in a system amounting to torture for years - are resisting being moved because they fear for their safety in other locations on the island speaks volumes about the risks they feel they face.”
The closure of the detention centre was announced in 2016 following a ruling by the PNG Supreme Court that the Australian government’s detention of refugees and asylum seekers there is illegal and unconstitutional.
Amnesty International has documented a catalogue of serious human rights violations on Manus Island, including how people are kept in overcrowded compounds in stifling heat without access to adequate medical care, and has called for the centre’s closure, and for the refugees and asylum-seekers to be brought to safety.
“Shuttling refugees from one centre to another is simply papering over the cracks in an abusive system. It does nothing to address the central problem, and indeed may make it even worse. Authorities in Australia should do the only humane thing and immediately bring the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island to safety in Australia,” said Audrey Gaughran.
“The Australian government must accept its responsibility to protect the human rights of all those who have come under its jurisdiction as people seeking refuge, and put an end to the use of offshore processing centres. The same violations will continue as long as the same cruel and inhuman refugee policies remain in place.”
Published on Amnesty International on October 26, 2017
Asylum seekers' applications doomed to fail after visa deadline changes, says refugee support service
By Chloe Hart
The Immigration Department has cut the length of time asylum seekers have to apply for protection visas from one year to 60 days which could deny up to 11,000 people the ability to claim asylum.
Those waiting for a lawyer to help them with their visa application have received letters from the department informing them of the new deadline.
The change could result in many losing their right to protection or bridging visas as well as their right to work and access health and welfare services.
The shortened deadline has been described by The Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) as "underhanded", saying it was "neglecting" some of the most persecuted people in the world.
In 2013 the Federal Government cut funding for immigration and legal assistance for people who arrive by boat and plane and in response RACS drop-in centres were set up to fill the gap.
Lawyers at the centres offer pro-bono assistance on thousands of applications.
"RACS has been providing free legal service to people through night-time clinics run by volunteers and we have a massive waiting list of currently 1,800 people [in Sydney] waiting up to one year for assistance," said RACS executive director Tanya Jackson-Vaughan.
"We were promised by the Department of Immigration that people on our waiting list wouldn't be threatened or coerced in anyway to apply without legal assistance.
"We have people fleeing places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq — cities that have been destroyed, places we see in the news every day where women are raped, men are tortured. We know what they are fleeing from. We see it daily."
Applications filled in without legal help doomed: lawyersAbout 11,000 people are waiting to apply and have been sent letters explaining that if they do not apply within two months their status resolution support service payments will be cut, Ms Jackson-Vaughan said.
"[It is] ultimately their bridging visa which then endangers their right to seek asylum [and] their right to work and health care," she said.
"We have young families with children in this situation who will end up starving and homeless .
Lawyers say most applicants do not speak English and if the applications are rushed or filled in without legal assistance they are doomed to fail.
"The forms are in English and require you to list everywhere you have ever lived and worked, why you fled your country and why you fear persecution.
These are legal definitions and hard to explain in your own language let alone [something other than] English," Ms Jackson-Vaughan said.
"Expecting people who have no legal background [and] are often traumatised and have memory deprivation [to do this]… it's unreasonable, and too challenging when it takes a lawyer 10 to 15 hours to assist one person."
Decision detrimental to the already vulnerable: RACSRACS is calling for the Government to stop sending the letters and comply with its promise to give people the right to seek asylum and welfare payments.
The Refugee Council of Australia said further discrimination against asylum seekers could prove dire.
"It's a tragedy ad hoc decisions are being made by the Turnbull Government, we don't know what will happen to these very vulnerable people who've been kept trapped in limbo for many years now," said council spokesman Tim O'Connor.
"We've seen high rates of suicide among this group and we are very concerned these latest decisions the Turnbull Government has made will increase that psychological duress these people are under and that suicide rate may increase as a result.
"It's particularly cruel the Turnbull Government is again changing the rules.
There needs to be a process but this process has been clear and now it's being changed again.
In a written statement the Immigration Department said "resolving the status of illegal maritime arrivals in Australia is a key priority and all legacy cases have been invited to apply for temporary protection visas (TPV) or safe haven enterprise visas (SHEV)".
"Letters are being sent to those who have not made an application for either a TPV or SHEV and failure to apply may affect some of the support services they receive."
But RACS says the Government's demands were unrealistic and its service was at breaking point.
"[The staff] are now at their wits' end — we don't know how we will manage the people waiting for our assistance by the deadline of November 2017."
This article was published on ABC News' website on February 26, 2017.
The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, which amends the Migration Act 1958 and the Maritime Powers Act 2013, has recently been adopted by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The full text can be read here.
According to the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, this bill seeks to:
- introduce TPVs for asylum seekers who arrived by boat or by air without a visa and are not subject to mandatory regional transfer and resettlement arrangements but are found to engage Australia’s protection obligations;
- establish a new assessment process with limited merits review for asylum seekers who arrived by boat from 13 August 2012;
- mandate that Australia’s non-refoulement obligations are irrelevant to the compulsory removal of a person who does not have a visa;
- codify Australia’s interpretation of its protection obligations under the Refugee Convention, render the Australian definition of “refugee” separate to and narrower than the currently accepted international law definition;
- clarify that Australian born children of asylum seekers who arrive by boat (unauthorized maritime arrivals) will be treated in the same way as their parents, including being eligible for transfer to a regional processing country and bar them from applying for a protection visa in Australia (where this applies to their parents);
- give the Minister the ability to place a limit on the number of protection visas that may be granted in a financial year; and
- limit the ability of Australian courts to invalidate actions at sea where these actions do not comply with Australia’s international obligations or the domestic law of other countries.
According to the UNHCR, this bill "raises a number of serious questions in relation to the interpretation of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol". The UNHCR submitted a memo to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee and proposed several amendments to the bill in order to comply with Australia's international obligations under international refugee law.
Moreover, the Refugee Advice and Casework Service recently stressed that: "the proposed changes will strip away fundamental legal safeguards afforded to people seeking protection from persecution in Australia."
Posted by Flavie Fuentes
More than 600 children are currently detained in Australian immigration facilities (459 on the Australian mainland and 144 on Christmas Island) and 186 children are currently detained on Nauru. 413 days is the current average length of detention in Australia for adults and children.
These figures are provided by the non-profitorganisation "We are better than this", that asks the Government to put an end to this form of institutional child abuse1. They have authored the following "humanifesto":
"Australia does not tolerate individuals who are cruel to kids.
Australia is no longer blind to institutional child abuse. We shine light deep into the dark corners of even the most venerated and powerful institutions.
And yet, Australia locks up innocent, traumatised children without trial; indefinitely, and under a tightly woven cloak of secrecy.
Our Government has created detention centres—deterrence camps—on Christmas Island, Nauru and on our own soil. There, the treatment of children is so inhumane and the conditions so appalling that leading Australian psychiatrists and paediatricians have been moved to speak out in a voice unprecedented in their profession.
These camps contravene international human rights conventions to which Australia is signatory.
We are better than this.
This will end because it must end and we will help it end.
There are better ways."
The organisation, which comprises artists, politicians, child protection workers and other experts, has realized a song which can be purchased online to raise funds and support their cause.