Monthly Archives: March 2012

Bowen cautious on asylum detention time limit

March 31, 2012

Deal unlikely as asylum talks collapse

for video please click hereImmigration Minister Chris Bowen says the Government will aim to ensure that asylum seekers spend no more than 90 days in detention, but has stopped short of making any promises.

A Parliamentary Committee yesterday recommended the 90-day limit for detainees in Australian centres, and says asylum seekers who pass initial health, character and security checks should immediately get a bridging visa or be moved to community detention.

Mr Bowen says the Government will aim for the time limit, but it is not always possible to process asylum seekers quickly.

He told Lateline that the Immigration Department has become more efficient, but there are “special cases” where asylum seekers cannot be identified.

“We do aim to process people as quickly as possible, hence all the reforms that we’ve put in place that have seen the number of people in detention fall despite a very big surge in boat arrivals at the end of last year, in the last few months of last year,” he said.

” There are people becoming more and more mentally ill, who are self-harming, who are attempting suicide on a regular basis, so yes, this is an urgent situation.”

      Rohan Thwaites, refugee advocate

“We’ve still seen a substantial reduction in the number of people held in detention as a result of the reforms that we have introduced.”

Refugee advocates are supporting the parliamentary inquiry’s recommendation of a time limit, but Refugee Council chief executive Paul Power says he would like to see the 90-day cap even lower.

“Our organisation has been advocating for a 30-day time limit to detention – the reason being, that within 30 days, the vast majority of asylum seekers who arrive by boat can have the identity, security and health checks completed,” he said.

The parliamentary inquiry, which made more than 30 recommendations, has also called for the Immigration Minister to be stripped of their role as guardian of unaccompanied children in detention.

It says the move is needed to remove the perceived conflict of interest that exists in having the same person responsible for detaining asylum seekers.

Multi-party inquiry

For video please click here

The committee’s chairman, Labor’s Daryl Melham, who is not a spokesman for the Government, said a 90-day detention limit should be set where possible.

“The committee’s fundamental conclusion is that asylum seekers should reside in held detention for as little time as is practicable,” he said.

“The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that prolonged detention exacts a heavy toll on people, and most particularly on their mental health and wellbeing.

“While academics and psychologists tell us that mental health begins to erode after three months in detention, there are people with adverse security assessments in Australia’s immigration system who have been detained for well over two years.”

The report recommends an international medical representative be present at detention facilities 24 hours a day and calls for an independent review of the appropriate qualifications for detention centre staff.

The committee also wants spy agency ASIO to come under much greater scrutiny, including periodic reviews of adverse ASIO findings.

They also recommended laws be amended to allow for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review ASIO’s security assessments of asylum seekers.

The majority of the report was supported by Labor and Greens members of the committee, along with independent MP Rob Oakeshott.

But the Coalition has supported only 16 of the 31 recommendations and has issued a dissenting report.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says problems in detention centres have increased because of the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia.

“Our detention network collapsed because simply too many people turned up on too many boats as a result of Labor’s border protection failures,” he said.

Mr Morrison says the committee was set up after immigration detention riots last year, but he does not think it has focused enough on that aspect of the detention system.

“I’ve focused very heavily on the riots in my statements today because they have not been focused on, I believe, in the majority report made public today,” he said.

“The Australian people particularly wanted answers as to how and why this happened, so firstly it was because of the Government’s decision to abolish the border protection regime of the Howard government.”

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-30/bowen-cautious-on-asylum-detention-time-limit/3924390

 

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Govt considers detention recommendations

March 31, 2012

Federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the government  wants to see fewer people in immigration detention and believes  they should remain there for as little time as possible.

The minister says the government will consider the  recommendations of a committee inquiry into Australia’s immigration  detention network it received yesterday.

The committee’s key recommendation is that asylum seekers be  held in detention for no longer than 90 days.

The government says there are now three-thousand-600 people in  detention, a reduction of more than two-thousand-500 since March  last year.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, who released a  dissenting report to the committee’s findings, says the coalition  believes mandatory detention should be in place until someone’s  status has been determined.

Source: http://www.skynews.com.au/politics/article.aspx?id=734878&vId=

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Parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention a positive step towards reform

March 30, 2012

In its preliminary assessment of the parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s immigration detention centres, Amnesty International has welcomed the Committee’s recognition that prolonged detention has a devastating impact on the mental health of asylum seekers.

The organisation believes the recommendation for a maximum time on asylum detention is a long overdue acknowledgement of the damaging psychological impact of indefinite detention, but reiterates its call for a 30-day limit.

“This report confirms what Amnesty International has been saying for decades – that the current policy of indefinite, mandatory detention is unsustainable and in desperate need of reform,” says Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International’s refugee spokesperson.

“Asylum seekers should not be held for any longer than necessary to complete initial health and identity checks, and in most countries, this is a process that does not take longer than 30 days.”

“The report mirrors many of the findings from Amnesty International’s visits to detention centres. We have seen overwhelming evidence that the lack of certainty around time spent in detention has the greatest impact on these already vulnerable people.”

“Time limits for detention must be legislated, otherwise we will continue to see this expensive and unnecessary system further traumatise people who have sought our protection.”

Amnesty International welcomes the cross-party support for an emphasis on adequate training of detention centre staff as an effort to improve detention conditions.

“We are pleased to see recommendations relating to ASIO reforms, which would provide an avenue for those refugees currently stuck in legal limbo, to have their cases reviewed.

The organisation also endorses the recommendation for an independent legal guardian for unaccompanied minors to replace the Minister of Immigration.

“Amnesty International calls on the Australian Government to implement the Joint Select Committee’s recommendations in full as a matter of priority,” says Dr Thom.

Source: http://www.amnesty.org.au/news/comments/28295/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+aialatest+Amnesty+latest#When:06:54:38Z

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Inquiry calls for 90-day limit on asylum detention

March 30, 2012

A parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s immigration detention centres is recommending asylum seekers be detained for no longer than 90 days.

A majority of members of the joint committee say asylum seekers who pass initial health, character and security checks should immediately get a bridging visa or be moved to community detention.

The inquiry also calls for a change to the current situation where the immigration minister is also the legal guardian of unaccompanied children in detention.

Committee chairman, Labor’s Daryl Melham, says where possible the maximum time in detention should be 90 days.

“The committee’s fundamental conclusion is that asylum seekers should reside in held detention for as little time as is practicable,” he said.

“The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that prolonged detention exacts a heavy toll on people, and most particularly on their mental health and wellbeing.

“While academics and psychologists tell us that mental health begins to erode after three months in detention, there are people with adverse security assessments in Australia’s immigration system who have been detained for well over two years.”

The report also recommends an international medical representative be present at detention facilities 24 hours a day and calls for an independent review of the appropriate qualifications for detention centre staff.

Reasons why

The report recommends that when people are held for more than 90 days, the reasons for their prolonged detention should be made public.

The committee also criticised the regular use of remote facilities, saying asylum seekers in detention should be accommodated in metropolitan areas wherever possible.

“There can be little doubt that, while the use of remote facilities has at times been necessary, they should be used only as a last resort,” the report said.

“This will not only better serve the needs of detainees, but save on some of the vast expense required to run large-scale facilities in extremely remote locations.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the deputy chair of the committee, has urged the Government to adopt the recommendations.

“The committee was able to agree to removing the guardianship of unaccompanied minors from the hands of the immigration minister, needing to replace that role with someone who will not be seen to be in a conflict of interest, time limits on detention, dealing with the mental health issues, getting people out of remote facilities.

“These are all very practical and much-needed steps.”

ASIO scrutiny

The committee wants spy agency ASIO to come under much greater scrutiny, including periodic reviews of adverse ASIO findings.

They also recommended laws be amended to allow for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review ASIO’s security assessments of asylum seekers.

Mr Melham, a lawyer who has worked in the criminal justice system, says there needs to be someone to guard the guard.

 

Failures

The majority of the report was supported by Labor and Greens members of the committee, along with independent MP Rob Oakeshott.

The Coalition has supported only 16 of the 31 recommendations and has issued a dissenting report.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says problems in detention centres have increased because of the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia.

“Our detention network collapsed because simply too many people turned up on too many boats as a result of Labor’s border protection failures,” he said.

Mr Morrison says the committee was set up after immigration detention riots last year, but he does not think it has focused enough on that aspect of the detention system.

“I’ve focused very heavily on the riots in my statements today because they have not been focused on, I believe, in the majority report made public today,” he said.

“The Australian people particularly wanted answers as to how and why this happened, so firstly it was because of the Government’s decision to abolish the border protection regime of the Howard government.”

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-30/inquiry-recommends-time-limit-on-asylum-detention/3923532/?site=&source=rss

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Doctor reveals suicide attempts rife in detention

March 30, 2012

A doctor has spoken out about the shocking instances of suicide attempts, drug overdoses and self-harm at a Darwin immigration detention centre.

A gentlemen was in a room with the health staff and he stood up and apparently took out a light bulb and chewed it in front of them as a measure of desperation…

      Northern Territory doctor

 

The doctor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has told ABC1’s Lateline that at least one person a week is trying to take their own life and many more detainees are on prescription medication for insomnia and depression.

Darwin’s Northern Immigration Detention Centre is the temporary home for up to 116 asylum seekers.

The doctor, who has worked at the centre, says there is a communal sense of helplessness among inmates.

“A lot of them say, ‘I’m depressed. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I can’t find motivation to exercise or learn English or do anything constructive.’ But a lot of them in terms of the most severe people have asked me to end their life,” he said.

“After six to 12 months, most people have attempted some sort of self-harm, either due to complete loss of hope or because they hold on to the small hope that that might lead to a faster end to their detention.”

He says many detainees starve or cut themselves and many attempt hanging or to overdose on drugs.

The drugs most commonly prescribed are for depression, psychosis and insomnia.

“Normally they get one week’s supply at a time. If you know other people and you’re able to ask, ‘Can I have your tablets? Can I have one of your tablets?’ In time, you can collect quite a lot,” he said.

And he has told of disturbing cases of self harm.

“A gentlemen was in a room with the health staff and he stood up and apparently took out a light bulb and chewed it in front of them as a measure of desperation to show them how upset he was at his continued detention. This the second time he’s done this in a month and both times he expected to die as a result of it,” he said.

Enormous strain

 

As many as five detainees a day from Darwin’s three detention centres are sent to the Royal Darwin Hospital.

Paul Bauert, from the Australian Medical Association NT, says it is putting enormous strain on medical staff and resources.

“Many of the patients present with some mental health problems. They may be chronic anxiety, depression and many are on anti-depressant medications,” he said.

“Some are presenting with psychiatric illness and require admission to our psychiatric ward. Some are presenting with injuries from accidents, some are presenting with injuries from self-harm.”

They bear the scars of detention, all of them. Some of them are physical, but most of them are mental scars.

      Northern Territory doctor

 

Dr Bauert says it is a frustrating situation.

“We have a policy which is foisting unfortunate detainees onto us. The other frustration is the fact that once we recognise the mental health issues and once we’re able to exclude organic pathology, we are immediately sending these people back to exactly the same lock-up facility,” he said.

The doctor who has worked in Darwin’s detention centre says it is a situation that is doing untold damage to thousands of people every year.

“Ninety per cent plus are found to be refugees and that’s after sometimes two, three years in detention,” he said.

“And they bear the scars of detention, all of them. Some of them are physical, but most of them are mental scars.”

The Immigration Department has told the ABC: “We try to ensure people remain in detention for as little time as possible and ensure that they are treated humanely and have appropriate access to health and mental health care.

“We have introduced new mental health policies and expanded mental health staffing. We have a psychological support (PSP) which is in operation for all people in detention.”

The latest information detailing the severe mental health issues among detainees comes on the eve of a parliamentary report into the nation’s immigration detention network.

The inquiry has received more than 3,500 submissions.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is deputy chair of the inquiry.

“It is a system that is inherently broken. The Government needs to act and needs to act on the recommendations in this report,” she said.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-30/doctor-reveals-shocking-suicide-attempts2c-self-harm-in-detent/3922024

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Australian unions say Welcome to Australia to asylum seekers and new migrants

March 29, 2012

Australian unions are proud to support the Welcome to Australia campaign to make asylum seekers and new migrants feel welcome to our country.
ACTU President Ged Kearney was today announced as an ambassador of Welcome to Australia, which aims to develop diversity, compassion, generosity and a commitment to give all individuals a fair go in our communities, workplaces and institutions.
Ms Kearney said she was proud to support the initiative, which celebrated the fact that Australia’s cultural diversity has helped shape our nation’s story.
“Migrants have made an enormous contribution to Australia’s economy and workforce, and continue to do so,” she said.
“Australian unions extend a warm welcome to everyone who has come to our shores from afar, and pledge  to continue to fight prejudice, bigotry, and xenophobia wherever we encounter it.
“Welcome to Australia is a wonderful initiative that seeks to promote wider understanding of our rich diversity.
“It also aims to support newly-arrived Australians to feel welcome here, by helping to familiarise them with Australia’s culture.
“We know we can learn so much from each other and our experiences no matter where we were born.
“Australians were lucky to be born into a nation as prosperous as ours, while many of those who seek asylum here come from vastly different lands and experiences.
“We are fortunate to be able to open our communities and our hearts to these people who deserve the same opportunities.
“In turn, we can learn and gain wider experiences by welcoming into our communities those from other cultures.”
Ms Kearney encouraged all Australians to support Welcome to Australia’s “Walk Together” event on Saturday, June 23 to start Refugee Week.
The event, to be held in capital cities and regional centres, recognises Australians all share a common journey,

Source: http://www.actu.org.au/Media/Mediareleases/AustralianunionssayWelcometoAustraliatoasylumseekersandnewmigrants.aspx

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Java focus for people-smuggling probe

March 29, 2012

POLICE will investigate whether two Australians charged as part of a multinational people-smuggling ring helped organise passage for asylum-seekers on the boat that sank off Indonesia last year, drowning hundreds.

Court documents include transcripts of intercepted phone calls between Sydneysiders Ali Zedan, 32, and Fadhill Raghib Khana Zangana, 37, in which the men talk about the sinking that claimed the lives of about 200 people on December 17.

In a call on the same day, Mr Zangana asked Mr Zedan to “call me urgently, the group will be leaving today, I have to tell them what to do”.

In another call on December 19, Mr Zedan asks: “Have you heard about it?” Mr Zangana responds: “Yes it was a disaster, there were 250 on the boat.”

It is unknown whether the passengers the two Australians had allegedly arranged to board the vessel — Hazim Mahdi Zgaiher and Omar Hatem Mahdi — were among the 200 dead.

Australian Federal Police commander Jenny Hurst could not confirm the men were involved in the Java crash, but that it was being explored.

Ms Hurst added that search warrants yielded “quite a lot of information and intelligence” that may result in further arrests.

Details of financial transactions revealed tens of thousands of dollars had allegedly been transferred between the two men’s accounts since February 2010.

Mr Zedan and Mr Zangana are among four Australians arrested in Sydney and Melbourne after an eight-month probe by the AFP working with police in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

Mr Zedan — an Iraqi who came to Australia illegally with the large flood of boats in 2001 and was granted citizenship in 2008 — was arrested at his home at Wiley Park in Sydney’s southwest on Monday. Yesterday he was granted bail with conditions by magistrate Julie Huber.

A fifth person was arrested in Thailand with false passports that Ms Hurst said would have been used to help asylum-seekers transit through the region without attracting the attention of the law.

Wasim Buka, 41, and Hossain Mahmod Akbar, 18, were granted bail on Tuesday in Melbourne Magistrates Court, after being charged with people-smuggling. Mr Zangana appeared in Sydney Central Local Court on Tuesday.

He was refused bail but is expected to make a bail application in Bankstown Local Court on April 2. Both will appear in Bankstown Court on June 18.

Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/java-focus-for-people-smuggling-probe/story-fn9hm1gu-1226312914572

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