Monthly Archives: December 2013

Morrison retreats from media on asylum seekers

December 28, 2013

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Ben Rushton

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has stopped holding weekly press conferences on asylum seeker boat arrivals, instead issuing a written statement with no opportunity for journalists to ask questions.

Mr Morrison put an end to the practice of the Immigration Department announcing asylum seeker boat arrivals in real time, saying this amounted to a ”shipping news service for people smugglers”.

Instead, he pledged to front weekly media briefings on the Coalition’s progress in stopping asylum seeker boats. But he provided his last briefing for the year a week ago.

For the first time since late September, Mr Morrison did not appear before the media despite his office insisting he was not on leave. His spokesman would not say when or whether the briefings would resume, saying the government would have more to say on this in the new year.


”Weekly reports will continue to be issued on arrivals and transfers and media conferences will be called as and when required to deal with any significant or serious events or announcements,” his spokesman said. ”The minister’s office will continue to field inquiries from the media on issues relating to his portfolio and provide responses as appropriate.”

Press gallery veteran Laurie Oakes has criticised Mr Morrison’s approach to the media, accusing him of arrogance. ”He sees it as getting at the press, but it’s not. It’s getting at the voters and eventually I think the voters will wake up,” Oakes said in November.

Mr Morrison’s office issued a statement on Friday saying no asylum seekers had arrived by boat in the past week. Over the week 42 asylum seekers were transferred to Nauru, bringing the population there to 841, with 1229 at Manus Island.

The statement said 355 asylum seekers had arrived in December, a 70 per cent decline on last December. Over the first 100 days of the Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders, 1106 asylum seekers arrived, an 87 per cent fall on the previous 100 days, the statement said.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Joe Hockey stood by his criticism of former prime minister Julia Gillard going on holidays last December before Wayne Swan announced Labor was unlikely to meet its pledge to return the budget to surplus, despite himself going on holidays shortly after announcing a multibillion-dollar emergency budget deficit in his mid-year economic update.

”According to Wayne Swan Julia Gillard agrees to ditch surplus then goes on holidays … that’s real leadership. Real courage,” Mr Hockey tweeted on December 21 last year.

But Mr Hockey’s spokeswoman said the circumstances were not comparable and any comparison would be a ”grave disrespect” to the former prime minister, who spent the holidays with her recently widowed mother.

”The Labor government promised a surplus 600 times, then called a snap press conference on the eve of the Christmas break to abandon this pledge,” Mr Hockey’s spokeswoman said.

”The Coalition waited until the third-quarter GDP numbers, which were only released in early December, to formulate a credible picture of the 2013-14 fiscal year. Treasurer Joe Hockey then informed the Parliament of the timing of the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook – giving a number of days’ notice.”

The spokeswoman said Mr Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann faced questions from the media and gave several interviews before going on leave.

Mr Swan accused Mr Hockey of hypocrisy. ”If Joe Hockey wants to be consistent then what’s he got to say about his leader, after proclaiming a budget emergency through MYEFO, then going on holiday to a French ski resort?”



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Filed under Asylum Policy, Australian Government and Opposition

Customs can’t be sure of ultimate fate of asylum boat that vanished in June

December 26, 2013

Bodies and debris were never recovered so authorities will never know for certain where they came from, internal review says.

The coast of Christmas Island, where the 46 refugees arrived between March 2009 and December 2010. The UN has said their indefinite detention was 'inhumane'.
The coast of Christmas Island: the report is one of three internal reviews into fatal sinkings which were released late last Friday. Photograph: John Pryke/AAP

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service admits it can’t be sure of the ultimate fate of an asylum seeker vessel it was searching for in June because bodies and debris seen floating in the water off Christmas Island were never recovered, and authorities will never know for certain where they came from, an internal review into the sinking has revealed.

The review into the tragedy, which occurred in June of this year, sought to assess the actions and procedures taken by customs officers and related search and rescue agencies after a boat carrying an estimated 55 people sank, with no known survivors.

The report is one of three internal reviews into fatal asylum seeker boat sinkings which were released late last Friday afternoon.

An entire chapter of the report discusses what happened to the boat – referred to as COI 0502 – and whether it was the source of the debris and bodies.

“The review found no formal identification of the debris and bodies observed as part of SAR 2013/3821 was made by BPC or RCC,” reads one of its findings. “Therefore, the review is unable to make any definitive statement as to the origin of the debris or bodies, including the ultimate fate of COI 0502.”

Because there were no survivors, no bodies recovered, nor any distinguishable wreckage retrieved, conclusive statements about the cause of the sinking were “not possible”.

“While the review notes the possible link between the debris and COI 0502, at the time of writing this report there has been no information to indicate that COI 0502 or some other specific vessel was the source of the debris and bodies.”

A spokesman for the service told Guardian Australia the internal review was “a comprehensive report that assessed and cross-referenced all operational logs, chronologies and key information to determine what occurred during the incident. The review is a considered representation of all operational information captured during the incident.”

The asylum seeker vessel was spotted by an RAAF patrol aircraft on the afternoon of 5 June, and was not reported to be in distress, despite it being stationary and with people waving from the deck. Two customs vessels, Glenelg and Warramunga, were tasked to other operations – transferring asylum seekers to Christmas Island and destroying a previously intercepted boat, SIEV 733, respectively.

Approximately an hour later the Warramunga was directed to intercept COI 0502. The Warramunga “expedited” the destruction of the SIEV 733 but did not leave for about another five hours. By the time it reached the last known position of COI 0502 there was no sight of it or its passengers.

When news of the sinking broke, the time taken between sighting the vessel and attempting to intercept it was criticised by refugee advocates. But the review found that all customs and SAR agencies acted appropriately, including when the search for the missing vessel was escalated.

The decision not to retrieve bodies from the water was also heavily criticised at the time, as disrespectful to the deceased and their loved ones left behind.

The review found that in one instance, a body found floating near debris could not be recovered due to a lack of light and aerial support. In other mentions of bodies discovered, no reason is given, although some were spotted by the Dash 8 customs aircraft only.

Among its findings relating to the non-recovery of the bodies, the review noted a rationale of “posturing of resources for ongoing activities to prevent further loss of life”.

“It also included the practical challenges involved with recovery activities based upon the likelihood of the deceased still being afloat, the condition of the deceased, and the potential impact on mission capability.”

The report said a number of bodies were spotted when searching for survivors was still a priority, and on further consideration the likelihood the bodies were in “an advanced state of decomposition” was also taken into account.

By the time survivor searches were over, no bodies could be found.

The office of the current minister for immigration and border protection, Scott Morrison, did not respond to requests for comment.


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Filed under Analysis, Boat Tragedy

Archbishop questions asylum seeker policy

December 24, 2013

Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide Jeffrey Driver. Photo: AdelaideNow

Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide Jeffrey Driver. Photo: AdelaideNow

In a Christmas message, Archbishop Driver says that in 2013, the holy family could be called internally displaced persons, travelling to Bethlehem to comply with a census ordered by a “super-power” that “wanted to impose its administrative structures”.

A few days later, fleeing across the border to Egypt to escape a massacre, they had become refugees.

Archbishop driver says recent decisions by the commonwealth on asylum seekers to call such people who flee their homes illegal arrivals and to limit the number of temporary protection visas, suggest that they would not be welcome if they arrived in Australia today.

Archbishop Driver said no one was arguing that Australia have an open-door policy for limitless arrivals.

But he said that policy must be humane.

“The story of Christmas and the holy family calls for something better than we are presently seeing, an extraordinarily expensive process that risks dehumanising even those lucky enough to get into it,” he said.

“Room at the Inn?

“Surely there must be, at least for some of the most frail and vulnerable no matter how they come.”


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Filed under Asylum Policy, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

Federal Court rules to prevent deportation of Iraqi asylum seeker

December 24, 2013

The Federal Court has made a ruling preventing the deportation of an asylum seeker.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison ordered the man be sent back to Iraq after he was refused a protection visa and missed the deadline to appeal.

The man was supposed to leave for Baghdad last week, but lawyers sought a Federal Court injunction stalling the move.

The Federal Court today ruled he should stay in Australia while the case is reconsidered amid new evidence his appeal paperwork was botched by an alleged con man.



Filed under Courts and Legal Challenges, Deportation

Woman who miscarried on Christmas Island told to lower her expectations

December 23, 2013

‘They keep telling me that you are in detention centre and should not expect a lot,’ says Iranian asylum seeker who begged for ultrasound – as doctors on island highlight systemic failures.

The immigration detention centre on Christmas Island
The detention centre on Christmas Island. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

When Elham, an asylum seeker from Iran who was 13 weeks pregnant, complained of pain, nurses and doctors told her there was nothing wrong. When she asked for an ultrasound “to see how is my foetus”, she was told there was no ultrasound on Christmas Island.

“But unfortunately one night about 8pm my pain came on again and made me shout very loudly and I couldn’t tolerate it anymore,” she said.

“I was going unconscious sometime and I got bleeding – and even with this situation they didn’t pay attention to me and told me it’s normal, no need to go to hospital.”

Elham told Guardian Australia that one of the detention staff, taking pity on her, had driven her to hospital. An ultrasound revealed she had miscarried. She says her husband was told at the hospital the baby might have been saved “if they could bring your wife earlier”. This happened in September.

Weeks later Elham contacted Guardian Australia because, she says, she had been given no further ultrasound to find what had gone wrong. “Every time I am asking them, they keep telling me that you are in detention centre and should not expect a lot.”

The 15 doctors whose “letter of concern” has been reported exclusively by Guardian Australia put failures of antenatal care among the most serious of the “unsafe practices and gross departures from generally accepted medical standards” experienced by asylum seekers on Christmas Island.

The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, told Guardian Australia on Monday that the doctors report was“chilling in its objective scientific clarity” and reinforced her belief that “Australia appears to fail to meet international legal standards of humane treatment of asylum seekers”.

When doctors arrive on Christmas Island they are told that antenatal care is to be provided to detainees as per “standard practice”. But the 15 doctors say the care offered by their employer, International Health and Medical Services, “is unsafe and inadequate and does not comply with Australian standards.”

Ultrasounds are a big problem. The island’s hospital has a machine but the doctors say there are rarely specialists available who know how to use it. Ultrasonographers visit the island only every few months and, according to the doctors, they “cater primarily for local residents”.

Women like Elham who may miscarry are put at risk. So are women who may need a termination. The doctors write of the helplessness of women who conceive soon after being given live vaccines or face other reasons for needing to assess the risk of carrying a foetus to term.

A woman known as C14 was “very distressed that her child may have foetal abnormalities. She was considering a termination. Specialists advised ultrasound morphology scan and specialist review. No ultrasound was provided and she was not transferred for review. She has now passed the point where a termination is likely. Her situation has resulted in considerable distress.”

When Labor revived the “Pacific solution” in 2012, pregnant women were not sent to Nauru. But the new Coalition government operates under a “no exceptions” rule that means all asylum seekers who have arrived at Christmas Island since mid-July – even women with high-risk pregnancies – are sent to the immigration detention centre on Nauru.

“The previous government sent very few people to Manus Island and Nauru for offshore processing because they didn’t really believe in it,” the new minister for immigration, Scott Morrison, said in October. “The difference between the Coalition government and Labor is that the Coalition is actually implementing offshore processing properly.”

The pregnancy of a 30-year old Rohingyan woman known as Latifa was assessed by doctors on Christmas Island as “very high risk”. She had a history of caesareans and was thought to be carrying twins. Despite this she was sent by the Abbott government to Nauru where she was expected to give birth.

Guardian Australia broke that story in October. The doctors allege they were told the political objectives of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection outweighed their concern for Latifa. They write: “IHMS management stated to staff the DIBP were ‘setting an example’.”

In the end, Latifa had to be flown to Brisbane to give birth. There it was found she was not carrying twins but her baby remained in hospital for some weeks with respiratory problems. She was locked in immigration detention, unable to be with her child at night. According to press reports the boy’s father was not allow to visit the hospital at all after the birth.

Morrison refused to take questions about Latifa’s case at his press conference last Friday while IHMS investigates the doctors’ report: “We are working through the issues of that letter.” A fortnight ago he confirmed there are 14 pregnant women now in detention on Nauru.

Latifa’s child Farus has joined more than 1500 asylum seeker children in detention. The doctors on Christmas Island have called for an immediate end to this and charge IHMS with the failure to advocate for the immediate removal of children from detention.

“IHMS appears complicit in plans to detain children and adolescents on Christmas Island long term (indefinitely),” the doctors write. This is despite “warnings from key medical bodies such as the Royal Australasian College of Physicians regarding the likely consequences of prolonged detention in this vulnerable group”.

The doctors condemn the confiscation of medications, glasses and hearing aids from children when they arrive on Christmas Island. “This results in numerous children within the camp living with visual/hearing impairment.”

They condemn “minimal preventative care and no regular monitoring of child health”. They claim dental services for children are at best “variable” and claim there are “none of the scheduled physical and developmental assessments that would normally occur in the community (typically by a maternal child health nurse), occur at Christmas Island.”

Perhaps their most scathing criticism is reserved for the failure of Australian authorities to put in place systems to deal with the known impact of prolonged detention on the mental health of young detainees.

“Children within the camp have demonstrated signs of acute stress including enuresis [bed wetting] and marked behaviour changes,” the doctors write. “However, despite this evidence there are no effective systems in place for detecting children at risk.

“Furthermore, there are no child-specific mental health services on the island (ie no paediatric psychologist or psychiatrist).”

IHMS declined to address issues raised in this Guardian Australia report. “IHMS remains in frequent discussion with the signatories of the letter, and with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection about the matters raised in the letter,” it said.


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Filed under PNG/Pacific Solution, Torturing and Health Issues

Minister announces intellectually disabled woman detained in Perth to be moved into community care

December 23, 2013

The Immigration Minister has announced an intellectually disabled woman who is being detained in Perth will be reunited with her family and moved into community detention.

The woman is being held at an immigration facility with her father, while her mother and three other siblings are on Christmas Island.

Scott Morrison says he made the decision after receiving an independent psychiatric assessment of the woman.

Mr Morrison says his department believes moving the woman and her family into community detention is the best course of action for her care.

The move is expected to happen within a fortnight.


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Filed under Detention Centers, Torturing and Health Issues

Asylum seeker deaths: Authorities took two days before launching search for doomed boat

December 22, 2013 | the Sydney Morning Herald

It took two days after an asylum seeker boat was seen near Christmas Island in June for Australia’s maritime authority to mount a co-ordinated search and rescue effort for the boat.

But by the time authorities found the boat it was debris, having sunk. It is believed the 60 people on board, including women and children, died. Australian authorities did not recover the bodies.

Data interactive - Asylum seeker drownings since 1990Drownings reach a grim milestone: Explore data on asylum seeker deaths at sea.

An internal review by the Customs and Border Protection Service review found authorities had ”demonstrated an appropriate and timely approach” to locating the stricken boat.

With no distress call issued from the boat and two naval vessels in the region engaged with other asylum seeker boats, Border Protection Command instead monitored the situation for two days before upgrading its response.

The report comes 18 months after Australia’s search and rescue agency was criticised in a classified government report for not being proactive enough in helping an asylum seeker boat that had made more than 16 calls for help over two days before eventually capsizing, killing 104 men.

The latest report, released late on Friday, was one of three internal reviews into Australia’s responses to three sinkings that killed at least 73 people in June and July.

It said Australian authorities responsible for searching for the boat were in different buildings, and used different communication systems, creating ”communication challenges” and increasing the risk of miscommunication. It recommended Customs and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) work better together, and ”consider a more integrated approach”. To help this happen, BPC should consider introducing a ”modern automated case management system” to monitor separate incidents simultaneously with other agencies. A BPC spokeswoman said this recommendation would be implemented, but could not say how or when this would be done.

The report said an RAAF plane first reported seeing the asylum seeker boat at 5.43pm on June 5, just 28 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island.

As they flew above, crew members took photographs of asylum seekers waving their arms above their heads on the desperately overcrowded wooden fishing boat. Only three were clearly wearing life jackets. It was the last time they were seen alive. Three days later, HMAS Warramunga found nine bodies floating about 60 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island.

The fate of the others on board is not known, although the report cautioned that it could not confirm the bodies were from the boat photographed earlier because the bodies were not recovered and identified.

Before the rescue effort was launched officially, Warramunga, an RAAF plane and merchant vessels had tried to find the boat.

By 8.30am on Friday, June 7, a co-ordinated search and rescue was launched and by that afternoon bodies and debris had been discovered in two areas 10 nautical miles apart. The search for survivors was called off on Sunday night.

Australia’s border protection responsibility covers 11 million square nautical miles, which is equivalent to about 11 per cent of the Earth’s oceans.

The review found BPC and AMSA struggled with ”communication challenges”, with one supervisor at the Australian Maritime Security Operations Centre having to contend with seven different operations systems to find and distribute information about the vessel.


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