Monthly Archives: July 2013

WA coroner rules sinking of asylum seeker boat an accident; cooperation of Australian and Indonesian officials inadequate

July 31, 2013

The West Australian coroner has found the deaths of more than 100 asylum seekers whose boat sank last year were an accident, but that more could be done by Australian and Indonesian authorities to prevent such tragedies.

The boat was carrying more than 200 people when it capsized 200 kilometres south of Indonesia in June 2012.

Coroner Alastair Hope was investigating whether swifter action by the two countries could have prevented the disaster.

Today, Mr Hope said communication between the Indonesian and Australian authorities was inadequate once Indonesian authorities took over the search.

He also said people smugglers contributed to the death of the asylum seekers, saying they acted with callous indifference.

Key points

  • Coroner hands down findings into asylum boat tragedy that killed more than 100 people in June last year
  • Coroner found communication between Australian and Indonesian authorities was inadequate
  • The findings reveal Australian Customs and Border Protection (AMSA) could have been more proactive
  • AMSA told the inquiry it takes distress calls seriously and it manages 8,000 incidents a year

 

During the inquest, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) rejected suggestions it did not respond adequately to a distress call.

A report, prepared by a number of agencies including Australian Customs and Border Protection, was tabled at the inquest pointing to a number of actions AMSA could have taken.

It says it could have made an emergency broadcast to shipping in the area to go to the aid of the boat, it could have been more proactive in remaining in contact with the boat, and it could have used a telecommunications provider to help locate it.

In a statement, AMSA said it acknowledged the coroner’s findings.

“AMSA has fully assisted the WA Police inquiry and coronial inquest and a considered response to the coroner’s recommendations will be presented in due course,” the statement said.

Distress calls to AMSA replayed to inquest

Those on board made dozens of calls to AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre to tell them they needed help but operators struggled to hear them above wind noise.

The calls were replayed to the inquest.

“I cannot hear you, you need to get out of the wind, you need to get away from the wind,” the call operator said.

The centre told the boat to turn back and passed responsibility for the search to Indonesia.

Under questioning, AMSA’s Alan Lloyd strongly rebutted claims the agency did not respond adequately when it received distress calls about the boat.

He told the court the authority had not determined if the calls were genuine.

“We want to be reasonably confident that a vessel is in distress before we issue an emergency broadcast,” he said.

“We have to confirm they are telling us an accurate story, it was an ongoing assessment and we were still in the gathering information phase.”

Mr Lloyd told the inquest AMSA took asylum seeker distress calls seriously, the agency managed 8,000 incidents a year and had a 99.6 per cent success rate.

Survivor gave evidence of final moments before capsize

Australia eventually took over the rescue when an Australian plane spotted the capsized boat, more than 30 hours after the initial call for help.

A survivor from Pakistan gave evidence of the final moments when the boat filled with water, lost power and capsized.

Appearing via videolink from Melbourne, the man said people were crammed on the deck of the overcrowded boat.

A person told him that the boat had a lot of water in it and he said he suddenly found himself in the ocean and could hear people crying “God” and “mother”.

The survivor said he has found it very hard for him to forget the accident.

Asked if Indonesia and Australia interacted so each knew what search and rescue resources the other had available, Mr Lloyd replied “on a daily basis, no”.

He said AMSA had a strategic understanding only.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-31/wa-coroner-critical-of-inadequate-asylum-rescue-cooperation/4856896

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Boat with 102 asylum seekers intercepted

July 31, 2013

Office of the Home Affairs minister has reported arrival of another boat load of asylum seekers near Christmas Island yesterday.

The vessel which was reportedly carrying 102 asylum seekers and two crew members had been given assistance by HMAS Maryborough north of Christmas Island on Tuesday.

On board people will be transferred to Christmas Island for initial health, medical and identity checks.

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Immigration Department says first transfer of asylum seekers under PNG plan has been delayed

July 31, 2013

Manus Island

Manus Island Detention Centre (Photo: ABC)

The Immigration Department says the first transfer of asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea under Labor’s new border protection policy has been postponed due to bad weather.

More than 1,300 people have arrived in Australia since the Government announced that all asylum seekers arriving by boat would be transferred to PNG and resettled there if found to be refugees.

The first group of asylum seekers was expected to arrive at the Manus Island detention centre this morning.

But a spokesman for the Immigration Department says the group has not yet left Christmas Island.

The spokesman said arrangements are being made to transfer them as soon as possible.

Immigration Minister Tony Burke says initially, only single adult men will be initially sent to the detention centre.

“At the moment, the facilities on Manus in my view are not currently ready for family groups,” he said.

“So, at the moment, I’m only comfortable with single adult males going across.

“In my view you shouldn’t have family groups housed in the same area as where you’ve got single adult males.

“You need to be able to separate different groups and I want to be able to have the capacity to do that.

“I want to get the standards to a point where more can go across and I don’t believe it will take a long time to do that.”

The Greens say women and children should not be detained in PNG because they cannot safely take the recommended anti-malarial medications.

But Mr Burke says he will not exclude any category of asylum seeker from detention on PNG, because people smugglers would use it to their advantage.

“If, for example, I carved out children of a particular age, it would take about a fortnight … before we saw boatloads of children of that age being pushed across the Indian ocean,” he said.

“That is not a compassionate way to behave. My policy principle is that everyone will end up being sent offshore but they will be sent at a time that I am confident they are safe.”

Mr Burke says the men will only be sent to the island if their health checks are complete.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-31/immigration-says-first-transfer-of-asylum-seekers-to-png-delayed/4854810

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Border Protection Command assists vessel

July 28, 2103 | Media Release

HMAS Maryborough, operating under the coordination of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Rescue Coordination Centre, rendered assistance to a suspected irregular entry vessel north-north-east of Christmas Island on Thursday.

Initial reporting suggests there were 83 people on board.

Border Protection Command has transferred the people to Australian Government authorities on Christmas Island, where they will undergo initial checks, including health checks.

People arriving by boat without a visa after 19 July 2013 will be subject to the regional agreement with Papua New Guinea and won’t be settled in Australia.

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1267 boat people arrive since PNG deal

July 28, 2013

The number of asylum seekers arriving by boat since the Australian government announced a new resettlement policy more than a week ago has climbed to 1267.

Home affairs Minister Jason Clare issued two statements on Saturday revealing details of two more boats intercepted on Friday.

One had 94 passengers and two crew on board, while the other was carrying 123 passengers and two crew.

AAP reports people on both vessels were taken to Christmas Island for initial identity and health checks before they are transferred to Papua New Guinea.

A spokesman for Mr Clare confirmed a total of 1267 arrivals on 16 boats since the government introduced the new PNG policy on 19 July.

Under the federal government’s deal with PNG, people arriving by boat will be denied resettlement in Australia, taken to Manus Island for processing and if their refugee status is approved, resettled in PNG.

AAP reports more than 1000 asylum seekers are already waiting on Christmas Island to be transferred to PNG.

AAP also reports an independent investigation into riots that burnt down accommodation at the Nauru detention centre and accusations of asylum seekers being raped on Manus Island will be set up this week.

Immigration Minister Tony Burke said segregated areas would be set up on Manus.

He also said 151 asylum seekers on Nauru are facing criminal charges and potentially long prison terms following the riots which caused an estimated $A60 million damage. Mr Burke vowed to rebuild the facilities.

Source: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/world/215546/1267-boat-people-arrive-since-png-deal

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Asylum seeker boat intercepted

(Media Release)

HMAS Maryborough, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, intercepted a suspected irregular entry vessel north of Christmas Island on Friday.

Initial reporting suggests there were 123 passengers and two crew on board.

The vessel was initially detected by a RAAF maritime patrol aircraft, operating under the control of Border Protection Command.

Border Protection Command has now transferred the passengers to Australian Government authorities on Christmas Island, where they will undergo initial checks, including health checks.

People arriving by boat without a visa after 19 July 2013 will be subject to the regional agreement with Papua New Guinea and won’t be settled in Australia.

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United Nations refugee agency warns Australia its asylum policy may breach international law

July 27, 2013

The United Nations refugee agency has warned Australia that its decision to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea could breach international law and its human rights obligations.

Around 700 asylum seekers have arrived at Christmas Island since the deal was announced last week, and will be eligible to be resettled in PNG, not in Australia, if they are deemed to be refugees.

But, in its first comments about the so-called PNG solution, the UNHCR describes the deal as a significant shift which could be tantamount to Australia deflecting its responsibilities under the refugee convention.

In a strongly worded statement issued today, the UNHCR said it was troubled by the absence of adequate protections for asylum seekers who will be resettled in PNG.

The statement pointed to “significant shortcomings” in PNG’s ability to legally and humanely process asylum seekers.

“These include a lack of national capacity and expertise in processing, and poor physical conditions within open-ended, mandatory and arbitrary detention settings,” it said.

“This can be harmful to the physical and psycho-social wellbeing of transferees, particularly families and children.”

The UN agency said the assessment was based on recent visits to PNG by UN representatives.

“We’re concerned that the net effect of the measures is that for all intents and purposes Australia ceases to be an asylum country under the convention for anybody coming to the country other than by air,” UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle told The World Today.

“This is a very significant shift and change from the practices used by states around the world.

“We have yet to see how the arrangements will play out, because nobody under the new arrangements has been transferred across to Papua New Guinea.

“But what we can say, and what we know already, is that the transfer to the current physical and legal environment in Papua New Guinea will raise very significant and indeed formidable challenges.”

Doubts raised over whether non-Melanesian refugees can ever be settled in PNG

The UNHCR is also warning that efforts to try and integrate non-Melanesian refugees into the socio-economic and cultural life of PNG will be problematic.

“We’ve been operating and working very closely with the PNG government for more than 30 years dealing with west Papuan refugees, Melanesians who have been well received by their Melanesian brothers across the border,” Mr Towle said.

“We’ve also been trying to do our best with a small number of non-Melanesian asylum seekers and refugees coming into the country.

“To the best of our knowledge there is very, very little opportunity for non-Melanesians to find durable solutions in Papua New Guinea.

“We found it very, very difficult to find any kind of sustainable settlement options for people. And that’s why, in past years, Australia has been very helpful in actually receiving resettlement refugees from PNG, precisely because of the impossibility of integration there.

“We’re concerned now that this is reversing the logic with the assumption that somehow people who are determined to be refugees … can find a sustainable integration solution [in PNG]. There are many socio-economic and cultural issues in PNG that are particular to that country, and people from the outside, particularly non-Melanesians, would find it enormously difficult to find a sustainable integration.”

Australia could be called on to resettle refugees if PNG option falls apart

Mr Towle also warned that Australia could ultimately find itself obliged to accept refugees who had initially been settled in PNG under the deal.

“The act of transfer physically does not divest the transferring state, in this case Australia, of the responsibility for ongoing protection,” he said.

 

“If protection cannot be found in Papua New Guinea, and if protection can’t be found through any other resettlement options to any other country, then we would think it logical that the residual responsibility rests with Australia.

“It’s pretty clear that if the responsibilities under the convention maintain after the transfer, that those obligations will remain. If protection options can’t be found somewhere else, then the protection responsibilities rest with the transferring state.”

While recognising the significant problem of boat arrivals in Australia and associated exploitation of asylum seekers, including “families, unaccompanied children and other vulnerable individuals”, the UNHCR said Australia and PNG had a shared responsibility to adhere to the principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which both are signatories.

“This is important for the countries involved, for the global asylum system, and for all those in need of international protection,” the statement said.

Read more here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-26/unhcr-australia-png-refugees-asylum/4845628

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