Australia grants permanent protection visa to teenager who fled Ethiopia

July 22, 2014

High court ruling and backflip by immigation minister Scott Morrison could have ramifications for other asylum seekers.

Scott Morrison reacts during question time in parliament.
Scott Morrison during question time in parliament. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The immigration minister has issued a permanent protection visa to an unaccompanied minor who fled Ethiopia and arrived in Australia by boat, in a major backflip that could have ramifications for other asylum seekers in Australia.

Since the Coalition government came to power in September, Scott Morrison has aggressively stated it would not issue permanent visas to asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia and has attempted to cap the number of permanent visas it offers.

But he has now issued a visa to the 15-year-old boy whose case led to a high court ruling that such a cap was invalid.

After the ruling, Morrison had initially indicated he would still not grant the boy a permanent visa, and had appeared intent upon getting around the ruling by introducing a new public interest test in July.

Morrison said following the ruling: “The policy of the Australian government is that those who arrived illegally by boat or plane … should only be granted a temporary visa.

“This policy forms part of a suite of measures that have been critical to the government’s success to date in preventing maritime people-smuggling ventures as part of Operation Sovereign Borders.

“The government will continue to implement this policy consistent with the powers established under the Migration Act and national interest.”

He had then asked the boy’s lawyers to argue why it was in the national interest for a visa to be granted.

But now Morrison appears to have changed tack, with a decision that the boy’s lawyer, David Manne, said was a “great outcome for my client but also a great outcome for the whole of our nation”.

Manne said the boy was “so happy to finally have an answer … I just can’t believe it”. Manne added the boy had been through a “terrible cycle of uncertainty” as his case progressed through the court.

“I look forward to the government recognising that not only is it in the interests of our client and all refugees in Australia, but in the interests of Australian society to give people a permanent visa to rebuild their lives,” Manne said.

“We look forward to the government adopting the same approach for other refugees.”

The boy is understood to have arrived by boat as a stowaway 16 months ago, lodging a protection claim in April last year.

He is said to be a keen and talented sportsman, currently studying in Melbourne.

“It’s hard to comprehend the courage it took him to flee in such fear and then, having arrived here, have the courage to present his case before the high court,” Manne said.

“The circumstances are extraordinary, but in another sense what he’s done is something that ought to be considered normal in this country. Anyone should be able to raise questions with the court and ask if the government has the power to do what it is saying it wants to.”


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Tamil asylum seekers being held at sea in windowless locked rooms

July 16, 2014

The lower deck of the Australian Customs vessel Ocean Protector, where asylum seekers are held.
The lower deck of the Australian Customs vessel Ocean Protector, where asylum seekers are held. Photograph: Supplied

More than 150 Tamil asylum seekers on board an Australian border protection vessel are being detained in windowless locked rooms with men kept apart from their families against their will, newly released high court documents have revealed.

A statement of claim document submitted to the court by lawyers acting for 86 of the 153 asylum seekers also reveals that they have had no opportunity to deliver their protection claims – despite all claiming to be refugees – and had no access to a qualified translator despite almost all being unable to speak English.

The document shows that lawyers will challenge the legality of the detentions on the vessel, which Guardian Australia understands to be the customs ship Ocean Protector.

Lawyers will also argue that any decision to move the asylum seekers straight to offshore detention would be unlawful.

The Australian immigration minister Scott Morrison has refused to offer any public comment on the fate of the 153, who were intercepted by Australian border officials in late June after departing by boat from southern India on 11 June – meaning they have been at sea for over a month.

The ongoing high court hearing has been the only public mechanism to obtain information about what is happening to the 153.

The statement of claim, written after lawyers had the opportunity to speak to their clients on board the vessel, states the immigration department have only requested basic information from the asylum seekers such as names, dates of birth and addresses. They have not been asked to discuss their reasons for leaving India or been told where the Australian government is planning to take them.

At a high court hearing last week, counsel for Morrison argued that because the 153 were intercepted outside of Australia’s territorial waters, they had no rights under the Australian Migration Act.

The court document show that lawyers plan to challenge the legality of the asylum seeker’s detention under executive powers and the Maritime Powers Act.

Last Thursday human rights barrister Julian Burnside said the ongoing detention of the 153 was tantamount to piracy.

The UNHCR has voiced “profound concern” at the treatment of those onboard and those on board a separate boat carrying 41 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka who were subsequently handed over the Sri Lankan navy in an unprecedented on-sea transfer.

At a hearing last week, the government gave the high court an undertaking not to hand the 153 asylum seekers to the Sri Lankan navy without 72 hours written notice.

Immigration minister Scott Morrison has been contacted for comment.

It is expected that the case will be heard at the end of the month after it preliminary hearing on Friday



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High Court blocks return of 153 asylum-seekers to Sri Lanka military

July 07, 2014

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has declined to comment on the whereabouts of an asyl

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has declined to comment on the whereabouts of an asylum-seeker boat which is believed to be carrying 153 people. Picture: Kym Smith Source: News Corp Australia

THE High Court has granted an interim injunction to prevent 153 asylum-seekers being returned to the Sri Lankan military by the Australian Navy.

In an urgent hearing in Sydney this evening after an application by refugee advocates, Justice Susan Crennan granted an interim injunction that would stop the Australian Navy returning the Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, who have claimed to be minority Tamils, being handed over to the “Sri Lankan government, its military or its agents.”

Asylum-seekers face criminal probe

Acting on behalf of refugee advocates and the Tamil association, solicitor George Newhouse has sought to protect a boat of 153 people claiming to be Tamil refugees who made contact with Australian authorities after leaving Pondicherry in southern India late last month.

The order sought to protect 48 people who are named as Tamils, while it seeks to protect a further 105 unnamed asylum-seekers who are also claiming to be Tamil refugees.

Justice Crennan’s interim injunction protecting the removal of the asylum-seekers believed to be on the Australian Navy vessel will stay in place until 4pm tomorrow. The matter is set to be heard in the High Court tomorrow afternoon.

Justice Crennan noted that “the position of Tamil minority appears problematic” and that the applicants had “made out a prima facie case for urgent relief”.

However she also noted that “it was not entirely clear what the next step for the plaintiffs” was and the application “appears somewhat speculative”.

The court heard evidence from affidavits field by human rights groups, as well lawyers handing up the Australian department of foreign affairs own travel warnings on what they describe as a still unstable and potentially dangerous situation in Sri Lanka.

Acting on behalf of the asylum-seekers, barrister Ron Merkel compared the case to the Tampa boat crisis, saying: “the Tampa case raised a slightly similar” although slightly “different question” about the constitutionality of parts of the migration act that could allow returns of asylum-seekers.

“This is a clear case where the commonwealth should not be able to risk the lives of those on the boat … simply because they were unable to make a claim,” Mr Merkel said.

Acting on behalf of the commonwealth, Andras Markus said claims that the asylum-seekers would be handed over to Sri Lanka were “entirely speculative” and relied merely on media reports.

“The factual assumptions made are simply not sufficient to justify the sort of judicial power that is being sought,” he said.

“The reference to press reports do not provide a sufficient factual basis for the making of the orders being sought.”



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We are the Walking Dead – Killings of Shia Hazara in Balochistan, Pakistan

July 05, 2014

A man prepares graves for the victims of the February 17, 2013 vegetable market bomb attack in a Shia Hazara area of Quetta city in Pakistan. ©2013 Reuters

A man prepares graves for the victims of the February 17, 2013 vegetable market bomb attack in a Shia Hazara area of Quetta city in Pakistan.
©2013 Reuters

(London) – Pakistan’s government should take all necessary measures to stop Sunni extremist groups in Balochistan province from committing further killings and other abuses against Hazara and other Shia Muslims, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 62-page report, “‘We are the Walking Dead’: Killings of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, Pakistan,”documents Sunni militant group attacks on the mostly Shia Hazara community in Balochistan. Since 2008, several hundreds of Hazara have been killed in steadily worsening targeted violence, including two bombings in the provincial capital, Quetta, in January and February 2013 that killed at least 180 people.

“Sunni extremists have targeted Hazara with guns and bombs while they participate in religious processions, pray in mosques, travel to work, or just go about daily life,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “There is no travel route, no shopping trip, no school run, no work commute that is safe for the Hazara. The government’s failure to put an end to these attacks is as shocking as it is unacceptable.”

The ongoing attacks have meant that the half-million members of the Hazara community in Quetta live in fear, compelled to restrict their movements, leading to economic hardship and curtailed access to education and employment. This oppressive situation has prompted large numbers of Hazara to flee Pakistan for refuge in other countries.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 100 survivors, members of victims’ families, law enforcement, security officials, and independent experts for the report.

Since 2008, Pakistan’s Shia Muslim community has been the target of an unprecedented escalation in sectarian violence as Sunni militants have killed thousands of Shia across the country. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), group has claimed responsibility for most attacks, yet many of its leaders continue to play command and leadership roles and avoid prosecution or otherwise evade accountability. A number of convicted high-profile LeJ militants and suspects in custody have escaped from military and civilian detention in circumstances the authorities have been unable to explain.

On January 10, 2013, the suicide bombing of a snooker club in Quetta frequented by Hazaras killed 96 people and injured at least 150. Many of the victims were caught in a second blast 10 minutes after the first, striking those who had gone to the aid of the wounded. On February 17, 2013, a bomb exploded in a vegetable market in Quetta’s Hazara Town, killing at least 84 Hazara and injuring more than 160. The LeJ claimed responsibility for both attacks, the bloodiest attacks from sectarian violence in Pakistan since independence in 1947.

“It’s obscene that the Hazara community has been forced into a fearful and terrorized existence because the Pakistani authorities have failed to stop the LeJ’s violence,” Adams said. “But it’s beyond obscene that Pakistani authorities have suggested to Hazara that their severely curtailed rights are simply the price of staying alive.”

Civilian and military security forces deployed in Balochistan have done little to investigate attacks on Hazara or take steps to prevent the next attack. Many Hazara told Human Rights Watch that discriminatory attitudes and hostility towards them by elected officials and state security services are an important reason why such attacks go uninvestigated and unpunished.

The LeJ has also killed with increasing impunity members of the Frontier Corps paramilitary or police assigned to protect Shia processions, pilgrimages, and Hazara neighborhoods. While the Pakistani military and political authorities deny any complicity in the LeJ’s abuses or sympathy for its activities, the LeJ has historically benefitted from ties with elements in the country’s security services.

Pakistani and Balochistan authorities claim to have arrested dozens of suspects in attacks against Shia since 2008, but only a handful are known to have been convicted. Pakistan’s government should disband and disarm the LeJ and criminally investigate its leadership and others implicated in crimes. Pakistan’s international allies and donors should press the government to uphold its international human rights obligations and promote good governance by investigating sectarian killings in Balochistan and prosecuting all those responsible.

“Government officials and security forces need to understand that failure to tackle LeJ atrocities is no longer an option,” Adams said. “Inaction in the face of the slaughter of the Hazara and the wider Shia community is not only a callous betrayal of its own citizens, but suggests state complicity in allowing these crimes to continue.”

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Hazara
Pakistan’s current population is estimated at approximately 185 million, of whom approximately 95 percent are Muslim. Sunnis represent approximately 75 percent of this population and Shias 20 percent. The Hazara Shia community is concentrated in Quetta and is estimated to be around 500,000.

The emergence in Afghanistan in 1994 of the Pakistan-government-backed Taliban, militant Sunni Muslims who view Shia as blasphemers, unleashed a new wave of persecution against the Hazara in Afghanistan. In August 1998, when Taliban forces entered the multi-ethnic northern Afghan city of Mazar-i Sharif, they killed at least 2,000 civilians, the majority of them Hazaras.

A number of Pakistanis, including members of the extremist Sunni group Sipah-i-Sahaba (SSP) and its offshoot, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), fought on the side of the Taliban in Mazar-e Sharif. The links between these Afghan and Pakistani Sunni militant groups and the flood of Hazara into Balochistan prompted a rise in persecution of the Hazara in that province.

The Pakistani military ruler at the time, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, banned the LeJ in 2002, but the ban has not hobbled the LeJ’s ability to carry out sectarian attacks across Pakistan. These include attacks against the Hazara community in Quetta in collaboration with the Taliban.

Since 2002, Malik Ishaq has been the LeJ’s operational chief. Ishaq has been prosecuted for alleged involvement in about 44 incidents of violence that involved the killings of 70 people, mostly from Pakistan’s Shia community. However, the courts have not convicted Ishaq for any of those killings and have acquitted him in 40 terrorism-related cases, including three acquittals by a Rawalpindi court on May 29, 2014 on the basis that “evidence against Ishaq was not sufficient for further proceedings.”

The failure to bring Ishaq to justice underscores both the crisis of Pakistan’s criminal justice system and the impunity for serious abuses this failure facilitates. Usman Saifullah Kurd has been operational chief of the LeJ in Balochistan since at least 2002. Media reports allege that he has been involved in hundreds of killings across the country, particularly Balochistan.

Accounts from “‘We are the Walking Dead’”
“I drive coaches on the route to the Iran border. [The gunmen] came speeding just as we entered Mastung district and intercepted us. I don’t remember how many men there were, but there were all armed with Kalashnikovs [assault rifles] and rocket launchers. They told us to get out. They asked who the Sunnis were, asking for names. Then they told the Sunnis to run. We jumped and ran for our lives. Everybody was so scared … someone ran in this direction and someone in that direction. But while they allowed everybody who was not a Shia to get away, they made sure that the Shias stayed on the bus. Afterward they made them get out and opened fire. I saw it while taking shelter in a nearby building.”
–Sunni Bus Driver, Quetta

“I had left the shop 10 minutes prior to the attack. There were four shops owned and run by Hazara Shias in one row and all four were attacked together. Six to seven people on motorbikes came and opened fire. They killed the Hazaras who were working in the shops and also those who were working at the back in the storeroom. I later learned that, two days before the attack, someone came to a Pashtun shopkeeper whose shop was four shops down from the Hazara-owned shops and asked which ones were owned by Hazaras. The attackers knew exactly how many Hazaras worked in those shops and where. They knew that there were people working in the storerooms as well, which is why they went to the back of the shops and killed people.”
Hazara Shopkeeper, Quetta

“Yusuf was a handsome young boy. He was 22 years old and studying business at a local college. As soon as the [Eid] prayers ended, Yusuf went out of the mosque to greet some friends – I saw him leave. Then the blast took place. Some of the dead and injured had already been rushed to hospital so we went to the Civil Hospital. I walked into the emergency and there was a line of bodies with shrouds covering their faces. I lifted the cover off the first and it was my son. His body was totally burned – there was a cavity where his heart had been and his entire body was marked with pellets. I recognized him only by his hands.

The government is increasingly failing in its duty to protect us. There is only the law of the jungle or worse if you are Shia. I have a good business, I pay taxes but I still feel I am a second-class citizen in Pakistan. Why are Shias to be killed? Why does the government allow Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to kill us?”
–Hazara victim’s father, Quetta

Read the full report here:

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High Court challenge possible as Scott Morrison flags test for permanent protection applications

July 03, 2014

A fresh High Court challenge could be launched after the Immigration Minister indicated he would personally apply a “national interest” test for permanent protection applications from people who arrive without a visa.

Two weeks after the High Court struck down the Government’s attempt to cap the number of protection visas for some refugees, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has moved to circumvent the decision.

He has declared he will personally apply a “national interest” test for those who arrive without a visa and apply for permanent protection.

Refugee advocate David Manne has signalled a possible second legal challenge, telling the ABC the move is extraordinary.

“[It will] essentially defy the clear will of Parliament and the rule of law in this country,” he said.

Last month’s High Court decision was sparked by Mr Manne’s client, a 16-year-old unaccompanied boy whose case is still before the court.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the Minister is thumbing his nose at the will of the Parliament and the ruling of the High Court.

“This is clearly an act of desperation by Mr Morrison,” she said.

“It is him [and] his department acting in a way that seems to be, not just above the law, but above the Parliament.”

It comes as the fate of dozens of asylum seekers reportedly being held at sea on an Australian Customs vessel remains unclear, after Mr Morrison refused to make public any details about the operation.

There have been reports in recent days that two asylum seeker boats have been intercepted by Australian authorities in the Indian Ocean and that the passengers of one of the boats are set to be transferred to the Sri Lankan navy at sea.

Mr Morrison refused to confirm the existence of the boat and would not address questions about whether the asylum seekers would be handed over to Sri Lankan authorities.


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Scott Morrison silent on fate of Tamils on reported asylum boat, former immigration official says ‘mothership’ processing previously dismissed as unlawful

July 03, 2014

The fate of dozens of asylum seekers reportedly being held at sea on an Australian Customs vessel remains unclear, after Immigration Minister Scott Morrison refused to make public any details about the operation.

There have been reports in recent days that two asylum seeker boats have been intercepted by Australian authorities in the Indian Ocean and that the passengers of one of the boats are set to be transferred to the Sri Lankan navy at sea.

The ABC understands the boat left the Indian territory of Pondicherry last month with about 150 Tamils on board, but there has been no contact with refugee groups since the weekend.

Mr Morrison refused to confirm the existence of the boat and would not address questions about whether the asylum seekers would be handed over to Sri Lankan authorities.

“You’re making presumptions about instances that I can’t comment on,” he said.

Information has been tightly held by the Government under its Operation Sovereign Borders and Mr Morrison says he has no intention of changing that.

Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia Thisara Samarasinghe told the ABC his government would have no problem with the transfer – although he said he had no knowledge of any such plans.


“At sea or whichever the way – if the two governments agree that we could do what is practically possible to achieve the aim of the two governments,” he said.

Federal Labor has stepped up its criticism of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, accusing him of going into hiding.

“I do not know what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to this Government’s handling of our border security,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said.

“Only one person can tell us what’s going on – that’s Scott Morrison. I think it is a disgrace that this Minister isn’t doing his day job and telling Australians what is going on.”

Abbott says Sri Lanka ‘peaceful’ but ‘not perfect’

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended the Government’s approach.

“Everything that we do is consistent with safety at sea and everything that we do is consistent with our international obligations,” he said.


And he has indicated the Government would be comfortable dealing with Sri Lankan authorities, describing the situation in the country which endured more than two decades of civil war up to 2009, as “peaceful”.

“I don’t say it’s a perfect country, not even Australia is that, but it is a peaceful country and all of us should be grateful that the horrific civil war is well and truly over,” he said.

The comments are profoundly concerning for prominent refugee lawyer and director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne.

“The fact is that independent, credible sources clearly indicate that human rights abuse is rife across the country [Sri Lanka] and that serious and systematic human rights abuses in Sri Lanka continue to occur on a daily basis,” he told ABC’s The World Today.

“What we need to see here in light of this is that every person individually have their claims assessed for protection under a fair due process, instead of a blanket assertion that people are under some truncated screening process.”

Mothership asylum processing ‘already rejected as illegal’

There have also been reports that asylum seekers have been assessed at sea through teleconference.

A former senior immigration official has told the ABC that the idea of processing asylum seekers’ claims at sea had previously been dismissed as unlawful.


Greg Lake, who worked as a manager at the immigration detention centres on Nauru and Christmas Island but quit his job early last year, says the idea of processing asylum seekers on a ‘mothership’ at sea was considered by government agencies in 2012.

He said the proposal involved smaller patrol boats delivering asylum seekers to the bigger ship, which would then move on to Manus Island or Nauru when it was full.

“The advice came back and said that holding pattern, if you like, where they are waiting [for] further people to fill the boat up, was not lawful,” he said.

“It was a technicality but it had huge practical implications.

“I guess the upshot is the Government has definitely explored, at least the public servants … the possibility of how this could work.”

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Christmas Island staff prepare for arrival of asylum seekers, according to Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan

June 29, 2014

Christmas Island

Staff on Christmas Island are said to be preparing for the arrival of asylum seekers.

Staff on Christmas Island have been told to prepare for the possible arrival of asylum seekers, according to Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan.

An asylum seeker vessel made contact with marine rescue authorities on Thursday night claiming to be leaking oil 300 kilometres west of Christmas Island.

The ABC understands that vessels is from southern India and has more than 150 people on board, including 37 children.

Ms MacTiernan said people onboard two asylum seeker boats were picked up by border protection authorities on Saturday evening.

She said staff on Christmas Island were “on standby waiting for instructions”, but do not know whether the asylum seekers will arrive on Christmas Island or “be taken elsewhere”.

“They’re saying that two boats have been intercepted and the ship on which they’re being loaded is in Christmas Island waters,” she told the ABC.

“And everyone is on standby waiting for instructions as to whether or not the boat is going to be unloaded here or whether or not it’s going to be taken elsewhere.

“They’re hearing the people are from south India but they’re not clear whether or not they’re originally Sri Lankan.”

Earlier on Saturday a man named Duke told the ABC he was onboard an asylum seeker boat in trouble about 250 kilometres north of Christmas Island.

However, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not confirm whether the Government was aware of the boat.

“It is our standard practice, as you know under Operation Sovereign Borders, to report on any significant event regarding maritime operations at sea, particularly where there is safety-of-life-at-sea issues associated,” he said.

“I’m advised that I have no such reports to provide … if there was a significant event happening then I’d be reporting on it.”

Boat has 37 children onboard, according to asylum seeker

Duke said the group are mostly Tamils from Sri Lanka, who left from India two weeks ago.

He said the group is determined to make it to Australia to seek asylum.

“[There are] 32 [women] and we have 37 children, 253 kilometres … from Christmas Island,” he told Saturday AM.

“We are refugees. We come from Sri Lanka – we stayed in India and we are unable to live there. That’s why we are coming to Australia.”

The man said the vessel was being buffeted by wild weather and needed assistance.

“It’s heavily raining also. We didn’t get help anywhere. The wind is blowing in high speed, and [there are] huge waves,” he said.

“The children and infants are also in the boat … We can see some boats lights, maybe fishing boats.”


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