Scott Morrison adviser says asylum claim proposals put refugees at risk

November 20, 2014 | the guardian

Fast-tracking asylum claims could mean genuine refugees will be returned home, minister’s adviser tells Senate inquiry

Asylum seekers in the detention centre on Nauru.
Asylum seekers in the detention centre on Nauru. Photograph: Department of Immigration/AAP

Plans to fast-track asylum seeker claims could mean genuine refugees will be returned home, a member of the immigration minister’s advisory council has warned.

Associate professor Mary Anne Kenny, from Murdoch university, said in a submission to the Senate inquiry into the Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment Bill that the plans would make it harder for asylum seekers to have their cases heard.

The bill seeks to make sweeping changes to the way asylum seeker claims are processed. Asylum seekers will be given less time to put their cases to the department, and there will be limited review rights.

The Senate inquiry has received more than 5,000 submissions, many of them critical of the proposals.

Kenny is one of 10 members of the immigration minister’s council on asylum seekers and detention.

Her 11-page submission noted that if the proposed review model was adopted, it would prevent a number of matters being raised in asylum seeker reviews.

“The introduction of accelerated procedures has been problematic in other countries: claims involving credibility determination and/or those that involve complex questions of fact and law can be decided in a manner without due process safeguards such as the opportunity to seek legal advice, access to qualified interpreters, sufficient opportunities to prepare cases and a meaningful opportunity to appeal negative decisions,” Kenny wrote.

“The channeling of certain groups of applications through specific procedures with reduced safeguards creates the risk of refoulement if Australia is not careful to ensure that domestic provisions properly reflect its obligations under international law,” she wrote.

She drew particular attention to the limited review rights offered to asylum seekers after a decision been made on their asylum claim. Under the current migration framework, a decision by an immigration department officer can be appealed to the refugee review tribunal.

The new bill seeks to limit the circumstances of these appeals. The limited timeframes would affect how asylum seekers put their claims, Kenny wrote, and it would “clearly impact upon their ability to articulate claims at a primary level”.

“Applicants may not be aware of what is important to raise in respect of their claims due to a lack of understanding of the criteria for protection.”

The limited review rights might also prevent translation errors being picked up, Kenny wrote. She said the interpreting service in Australia “can have difficulty keeping pace with the need for skilled interpreters” and that “without an interview on review, errors in interpreting may never be discovered”.

Kenny wrote that delays in process were undesirable – about 30,000 asylum claims are still waiting to be dealt with – and she was aware the immigration department had “focused much time and attention on improving the quality of its primary decision making”.

But the fast-track review process “may not have the desired” effect, she wrote. She drew on experiences in the United States, where changes aimed at speeding up processing ultimately led to greater delays as a result of appeals.

Her concerns echo the comments of leading refugee lawyer David Manne, who told a Senate hearing into the bill last Friday that the fast-track process was likely to result in significant backlogs in courts.

A number of other organisations – including the NSW Bar Association, the Migration Institute of Australia, Amnesty International and the Refugee Council of Australia – have expressed concerns about the bill.


Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Asylum Policy

Al Jazeera zooms in on alleged abuse of refugees in Malaysian detention centres

November 20, 2014 | The Malaysian Insider

 An exclusive report by Al Jazeera claims children are among refugees in detention centres in Malaysia. – Pic courtesy of Al Jazeera, November 20, 2014.An exclusive report by Al Jazeera claims children are among refugees in detention centres in Malaysia. – Pic courtesy of Al Jazeera, November 20, 2014.Malaysia’s treatment of refugees has come under the spotlight again following an Al Jazeera news report which highlights the horrendous conditions and exploitation of refugees in prison as well as corrupt dealings by local United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) staff.

In a yet-to-be-aired 101 East programme, titled “Malaysia’s Unwanted”, senior presenter and reporter Steve Chao went undercover as a priest to gain access into the “notorious” detention centres where refugees who are arrested are placed.

According to UNHCR, there are some 150,000 refugees who have fled from their home countries to Malaysia, hoping to be relocated to a third country.

However, Malaysia, which has recently been elected as one of the UN Security Council non-permanent members, has refused to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol to recognise the status of refugees.

Therefore, refugees are not allowed to work or even go to school, which has prompted them to set up their own community centres for their children’s education.

They can also be detained at any time and placed into the already overcrowded detention centres where Chao found them living in squalid conditions.

The report showed Chao’s encounters with dozens of refugees inside these facilities, many of whom are chained and handcuffed and others who have not eaten for days.

He also found women who were hauled in just hours after giving birth and children, which is a violation of the UN Convention on Child Rights.

Refugees are kept in their cramped cells all day long and some revealed to Chao that they had been forced to strip naked in front of others and are then beaten, slapped and kicked while one former detainee tells the Al Jazeera journalist that he had been subject to abuse with a steel pole.

Although Malaysian authorities have admitted that abuse cases do happen in the detention centres, Putrajaya has maintained that the conditions are better than in other countries.

Chao also unearthed an illegal trade in UNHCR registration cards, headed by a local representative.

“All the money from this activity goes into the pockets of some top guys in the UN. We have been doing this with him for a long time. We are thieves, and we look for thieves above us,” a UN translator was quoted as saying.

The UNHCR mission in Malaysia have been overwhelmed with refugees seeking help as more than 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers come to their office every day.

“We’re like an accident and emergency hospital, not a general hospital. In an accident and emergency hospital you make tough decisions all the time about triaging and prioritising who is the neediest of the people in an already needy group of people,” Richard Towle, who leads the UNHCR mission, said. – November 20, 2014.


Leave a comment

Filed under Torturing and Health Issues, UNHCR

Ian Chappell, Ita Buttrose join campaign to remove children from detention centres

November 19, 2014 | smh

High profile Australian sports stars, actors and media personalities have come together in a slick television and online campaign with a simple message to the Australian government: remove children from immigration detention.

The movement “We’re better than this” includes former Wallabies captain George Gregan, former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell, journalist Ita Buttrose and businesswoman Janet Homes a Court criticising the incarceration of asylum seeker children, particularly in the offshore processing centre in Nauru and the detention centre on Christmas Island.

Actress Deborah Mailman, author Tom Keneally, film critic Margaret Pomeranz, Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs and activist Gail Mabo also feature in the short one minute advertisements, while Bernard Fanning from Powderfinger has lent his musical skills to the production.

Ita Buttrose is one high-profile figure involved in the campaign. Ita Buttrose is one high-profile figure involved in the campaign. Photo: James Brickwood

“I believe every child deserves a safe place to play,” Ian Chappell says in the video. “I mean Christmas Island, it’s a phosphate mine; it’s dangerous and it’s dirty and it’s got to affect the health of children. We’re better than this.”

Rosie Scott, an author and the founder of the movement, said she wanted to attract the attention of mainstream Australia through a campaign that could shine a light on the “horrors of children in detention”.

“I felt a different kind of approach could be to contact people whose expertise lies in communicating with the Australian public,” she said. Every participant gave their time and services for free, she said.

"I believe every child deserves a safe place to play.": Ian Chappell“I believe every child deserves a safe place to play.”: Ian Chappell

“This is just the beginning.”

Booker-prize winning novelist Mr Keneally said he wanted to take a stand against children being innocent objects of the current government’s “cruel policy”.

“I have never agreed that you can produce a policy outcome by being cruel to people,” he said. “It’s an insult to our ethos where we try to be as mentally cruel as tyrants are, to keep other people out. We’re better than this, most Australians are better than this.”

Children kept in immigration detention are shown to suffer from high rates of depression and mental health problems.

In July the government’s medical health group the International Health and Medical Service told an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention that the Immigration Department requested they withdraw alarming mental health figures of children in their report.

There are currently 603 children being held in Immigration detention, including on Christmas Island, and 186 children being held in Nauru, according to the Department of Immigration. The average length of detention is currently 413 days.


Leave a comment

Filed under Detention Centers, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in Indonesia after June no longer eligible for resettlement in Australia, Scott Morrison says

November 18, 2014 | ABC News

Asylum seekers who registered with the United Nations in Indonesia after June this year will no longer be eligible for resettlement in Australia, the Immigration Minister has announced.

The Federal Government said the move would hurt people smugglers.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would continue to resettle some refugees who registered with the UN in Indonesia before that point, however there would not be as many places allocated, meaning the waiting period would be much longer.

“These changes should reduce the movement of asylum seekers to Indonesia and encourage them to seek resettlement in or from countries of first asylum,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.

“The Government’s policies under Operation Sovereign Borders have not only saved lives at sea, but also allowed more places under our humanitarian program for the world’s most desperate and vulnerable refugees.

“It is important that these places are not taken up by people seeking to exploit the program by shopping for resettlement through a transit country.”

Greens leader Christine Milne described the decision as disgraceful.

“This is more cruelty, it’s unacceptable, and it just shows the rest of the world that Australia is a very hard-hearted, self-centred country, and that is a very bad place for us to be in a global context,” she said.

Mr Morrison said Australia’s humanitarian program in 2014-15 would provide 13,750 places, including 11,000 places for people overseas.

He said the Indonesian government had been briefed on the Government’s latest decision.

Refugee and immigration lawyer David Manne said the change would mean more refugees would be trapped in limbo.

“The fundamental problem with this is that it does nothing to improve the plight of refugees needing protection within our region,” he told PM.

“Instead, what it does is again propose a move which will involve Australia shirking its responsibility to refugees in the region and failing to shoulder its fair share of the responsibility to protect refugees.

“It is also the type of move which indicates to the region that Australia is intent upon deterring refugees from coming to Australia, even by way of resettlement, without taking up its fair share of responsibility for the protection of refugees.”


Leave a comment

Filed under Asylum Seekers in Indonesia, UNHCR

Refugees told by locals to leave Nauru or face ‘bad things happening’ again

November 17, 2014 | the guardian


In menacing letter, locals warn refugees against stealing jobs and fraternising with island women

The letter is the latest in a string of attacks and threats against refugees sent to Nauru by Australia. Photograph: Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images

Refugees on Nauru have been threatened again by locals, told to stop stealing jobs, having affairs with local women, and to leave the island or face “bad things happening”.

In an menacing anonymous letter left at the houses of all resettled refugees on Nauru, the “Youth of Republic of Nauru” warned refugees would continue to be attacked if they stayed on the island.

“Refugees are taking over all our job opportunities and spreading over our small congested community, making our lives miserable.

“Second big and very important issue is that Nauru is a conservative country, it is not a multicultural country so resettling refugees means that in[tro]ducing different culture from different countries [is a] mistake and the wrong decision of a few corrupt people from Nauru Government putting the lives, culture, customs, values of Nauru local people in danger.

“Our women, girls and teenagers are interested in refugees because of their skin, colour, face, and handsomeness. Our wives, sisters, and daughters are in contact with refugees and having affairs with them. We can never see our women having fun with refugees and neglecting locals.”

The letter is the latest in a string of attacks and threats against refugees sent to Nauru by Australia, including the bashing of a group of unaccompanied child refugees, which left one child in hospital.

Another man was stoned and then beaten by a group of local men, and taken to hospital with serious head injuries and his sight damaged.

“We warn refugees to go away of our country [sic] and just to hell with all you concerns, if not, get ready for the bad things happening and waiting ahead,” the letter said.

Refugees awoke on Monday morning to find the letter had been left at all the refugee camps, and at resettlement homes at Fly Camp, Anibare Lodge and Ijuw Lodge.

The threat is reflective of the growing tensions between local Nauruans and the transplanted refugees, many of whom are Iranian Muslims and Christians.

Local Nauruans resent the Australian government-funded accommodation given to refugees, which is luxuriant by island standards, with running water and 24-hour-a-day electricity.

As well, several refugees have found jobs on Nauru, mainly low-paying, manual labour positions. But on an island with 90% unemployment, this has been fiercely resented.

But the largest tension, Guardian Australia has been told, is over refugee men fraternising with island women, which has angered locals.

The letter is condemnatory of the Australian government dumping its “rubbish [refugees]” on Nauru, but is also reflective of Nauruans’ growing disaffection with their own government, widely seen as a corrupt cabal that has bankrupted the once-wealthy island state.

The Nauru government ran out of money in September and had its bank accounts frozen over unpaid debts. The government is almost entirely dependent on Australian aid to survive.

“We warn our corrupt government as well as Australian government to take away your rubbish [refugees] and leave our country, otherwise there can be worse situation for refugees [than] you can see these days. Our group network is working and keeps watching on all the activities of the refugees.”

The letter, which has been written on a computer and has no handwriting on any part of the document, issues an ultimatum to refugees: “We warn all the refugees working … to quit the jobs and stay back [out] of our community and also stop walking around in the island.”

One refugee on the island told Guardian Australia: “Refugees are so scared, frightened that nobody would leave the camp. All the parents … worry about their children because the kids need to go to school but safety and security … is a big concern.”

The Nauruan government has made efforts to defuse local hostility. The country’s president, Baron Waqa, told parliament after the child refugees were beaten: “I’m disheartened that the refugees are being attacked by the locals verbally and physically.”

The Australian government maintains that the welfare of refugees resettled on Nauru is a matter solely for the Nauru government.

But several arms of the United Nations, including the committee against torture, have told the Australian government that it is wrong, and that Australia has “effective control” of the camps and the living conditions, and that it is legally responsible for what happens to resettled refugees.

Victoria Martin-Iverson from the Refugee Rights Action Network said Nauruans were entitled to complain about their government’s deal with Australia, but that they should not take their anger out on the refugees.

“Both the citizens of Nauru and the asylum seekers are victims of the Australian government’s appalling human rights violations. Refugees are not safe on Nauru and must be brought back to Australia.”


Leave a comment

Filed under Life after detention, PNG/Pacific Solution

New visa types cannot be used until fresh legislation is passed

November 15, 2014 | the guardian

New visa was critical to gaining Palmer United party support but it is unclear how it would work or how many would be granted

Asylum seekers at Manus Island
Asylum seekers at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea.Photograph: Eoin Blackwell/AAP

The federal government will need to make more changes to immigration laws before asylum seekers can move from proposed working visas to other visa classes.

The migration and maritime powers amendment would make significant changes to the assessment process for asylum seekers to “fast-track” decision making, and would also reintroduce temporary protection visas.

Part of the legislation – and critical to gaining the support of the Palmer United party – was the creation of a new type of visa called a safe haven enterprise visa (Shev).

But the legislation itself provides few details of how this visa would operate. There is little indication how many would be granted each year and what the criteria would be, with most details left to the minister to make regulations.

During the Senate hearing on Friday into the migration and maritime powers amendment, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection revealed that further legislation would be necessary to ensure asylum seekers could transition between different classes of visas.

The acting deputy secretary of the department’s policy group, Alison Larkins, told the committee: “I can talk about the current intention but there will be a whole other set of legislation that will need to be put in place to manage the access of other visas products for people who hold Shevs and that’s sometime down the track.”

Karen Visser, director of the department’s protection and humanitarian policy section, then clarified to the committee: “Perhaps raft is too generous a word … it’s more that we have to ensure that the pathway the minister intends to create works properly.

“What we have to make sure is the Shev interacts appropriately with those other visa classes, that the pathway is supposed to lead to. That may well require us to make some amendments to the application requirements.”

Labor senator Jacinta Collins and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young both expressed concerns that the visa plans did not appear to be progressing swiftly enough, with the government pushing the committee to report quickly on the legislation.

“Not only do we not have the details of the conditions people will be living under on a Shev, you don’t even have the detail as to how the Shev will work, which is all meant to be designed to have a pathway to permanent,” Hanson-Young said.

Visser responded: “It’s a technical matter that needs to be worked through”.

Collins asked the department whether the visas were a “charade”, but the department rejected this.

“Convince me from the department’s dealing with this matter … are these Shev provisions a charade?” she said.

Visser responded: “No, senator, we are working in good faith to put this product in place … it is not a charade.”

Collins said: “Well the lack of capacity to describe the product raises serious concerns about this bill.”

Liberal senator Ian Macdonald said he was sure the minister “having seen this interaction will write to the committee telling us what he can”.

The Refugee Council of Australia’s chief executive officer, Paul Power, told the committee the changes proposed in the bill would leave asylum seekers in limbo.

“Families known by the government to be experiencing the impacts of persecution will be indefinitely separated if parliament passes the asylum legacy case load bill in its current form,” he said.

“The family member will be trapped, having to decide whether to remain safely in Australia while providing support to other members of the family living in danger or return to situations the Australian government acknowledges would place them at a very high risk of persecution.”


Leave a comment

Filed under Asylum Policy, Australian Government and Opposition

Ian Macdonald: asylum-seeker law changes aimed at avoiding high court

November 15, 2014 | the guardian

Australia ‘doesn’t want to be beholden to the high court who will pick every comma in the wrong place to allow someone in’, says Liberal senator

ian macdonald coalition senator
Ian Macdonald called for refugees to be dealt with in an ordered way. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

The Liberal senator Ian Macdonald has said Australia was introducing sweeping changes to asylum-seeker processing laws because it did not want to be beholden to the high court.

The comment was made in the course of a Senate inquiry on Friday into the migration and maritime powers amendment, which would makesignificant changes to the assessment process for asylum seekers to “fast-track” decision making, and would also reintroduce temporary protection visas.

Leading lawyers and human rights experts had earlier warned the changes were likely to cause major delays in courts and increase the risk that legitimate refugees would be returned to their countries of origin.

Macdonald’s admission was made in an exchange with the Migration Institute of Australia member Nicholas Tebbey.

Macdonald asked Tebbey why the government was introducing the legislation. Tebbey said: “Australia doesn’t want to feel like it is beholden to a 1951 convention any longer.”

Macdonald interjected, and told the inquiry: “No, it doesn’t want to be beholden to the high court who will pick every comma in the wrong place to allow someone in.”

“That’s the purpose of it. If what we deal with are refugees who we used to deal with through UNHCR in an ordered way, none of this will be important.”


Leave a comment

Filed under Asylum Policy, Courts and Legal Challenges