Monthly Archives: March 2014

Legal aid denied to asylum seekers who arrive through unauthorised channels

March 31, 2014

Immigration lawyers say fulfilling Coalition pledge to axe legal aid scheme may mean legitimate refugee claims are rejected.

Immigration minister Scott Morrison
Immigration minister Scott Morrison. Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images

The federal government has cut all taxpayer funded legal advice to asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia through unauthorised channels, drawing criticism from immigration law experts who say it will jeopardise thousands of refugee protection claims.

The Coalition pledged to make the cuts to the Immigration Advice and Application Scheme (IAAAS), which will save $100m, before last year’s federal election and it is understood cases have not been referred to the scheme since November.

The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said on Monday cutting legal access to asylum seekers lodging protection claims in Australia did not contravene obligations under international law.

“If people choose to violate how Australia chooses to run our refugee and humanitarian programme, they should not presume upon the support and assistance that is provided to those who seek to come the right way, and they should certainly not receive additional assistance, as they did under the previous government,” Morrison said.

But international standards written by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) say the right to legal advice during the claims process is an “essential safeguard”.

“Asylum seekers are often unable to articulate the elements relevant to an asylum claim without the assistance of a qualified counsellor because they are not familiar with the precise grounds for the recognition of refugee status and the legal system of a foreign country,” the UNHCR says.

Morrison said the government would offer a “small amount of additional support” to those the department of immigration considers vulnerable – including unaccompanied minors.

David Manne, chief executive of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said the cuts could endanger the lives of asylum seekers fleeing persecution.

“This is a complex process and people need legal advice and support to understand what’s required, and present their case in a way which can be properly assessed by the government. Without this advice, people will seriously struggle to understand the system or properly present their case,” he said.

“The bottom line is – it’s about the government getting the right decision on what are often life or death matters so that we don’t reject people whose safety is at risk.”

Morrison said asylum seekers would be free to access legal advice offered on a pro bono basis and would be assisted by the department of immigration.

But Rachel Ball, director of advocacy and campaigns at the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne, told Guardian Australia the department had already refused an offer to provide asylum seekers with a list of free legal services.

According to correspondence with the department seen by Guardian Australia, the department said it would be inappropriate to provide a list in case it was seen to be “favouring or endorsing particular persons or organisations”. Ball said this response was “nonsense”.

“There is a limited number of services that can provide pro bono assistance and they can’t possibly meet the demand. This is not a case where providers are competing with each other for lucrative business; they’re providing the services for free,” she said.

Tanya Jackson-Vaughan, chief executive of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, which is one of nine groups in receipt of IAAAS funding for boat arrivals, said the cuts would mean more asylum seekers “failed the test” for refugee status.

“Access to justice is a fundamental human right – there’s been a longstanding commitment from successive governments to provide legal assistance to asylum seekers in recognition of this right and that legal assistance assures an effective refugee status determination process,” she said.

Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, described the cuts as “mean-spirited” and “ripping away assistance for people who have been through traumatic experiences and are often vulnerable”.

“This is an unfair and harsh announcement from a government with twisted priorities,” Marles said.



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Filed under Asylum Policy, Australian Government and Opposition, Courts and Legal Challenges

Senate likely to vote down controversial visa plan

March 27, 2014

A controversial temporary visa that stops asylum seekers getting permanent residence is likely to be voted down in the Senate on Thursday.

The ”temporary humanitarian concern” visa was reintroduced by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison last month after a failed bid to resurrect the temporary protection visa in December.

The Coalition has consistently argued that temporary visas would effectively ”stop the boats”, describing it as a key plank of its hardline Operation Sovereign Borders policy.

Temporary visas ban asylum seekers from applying for permanent visas and were used for nearly a decade under the Howard government before being banished in 2008 by the Rudd government.

When the TPV was struck down in December by Labor and the Greens, Mr Morrison said he had to look at ”existing temporary visa options”. But the new visa is again expected to be scuttled on Thursday when a motion of disallowance is moved by the Greens, given Labors’ previous refusal to allow the TPV through the Senate, where it was quashed 36 votes to 26.

”The Coalition has tried to bring Temporary Protection Visas in through the back door and today we will move to strike them out again,” the Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

Sarah Whyte


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Filed under Asylum Policy, Australian Government and Opposition

$150,000 tucker truck drive aims to feed refugees

March 23, 2014

Refugee advocates have turned to crowd-funding to help feed thousands of asylum seekers battling poverty.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre launched a campaign last week to raise $150,000 to buy, fit out and run a ”food justice truck”.

The social enterprise will sell fruit, vegetables and whole foods, such as grains and legumes and canned items, to the public. Money raised will offset the cost of providing the same products, at big discounts, to asylum seekers.

The centre says it will be able to cut grocery prices up to 75 per cent for 2000 asylum seekers a month.


”We’ll be able to provide essential food items to asylum seekers for a quarter of the retail price,” the centre’s Patrick Lawrence said. ”We predict the average customer will have between $10 and $20, and we’ll be able to give them $40 to $80 worth of food.”

The truck, which will be staffed by one paid co-ordinator and 50 volunteers, would help some of Victoria’s most vulnerable people. Asylum seekers living in the community while their applications are being processed receive government payments of about $220 a week and are not allowed to work.

Mr Lawrence said maintaining a healthy diet was ”out of reach” for most asylum seekers, who lived below the poverty line. ”There are so many asylum seekers in Melbourne who have an impossible task of stretching their meagre resources,” he said. ”We’ve developed this model around the knowledge that these people have some money but nowhere near enough. And we have a competitive advantage. We’re staffed by volunteers, and we’re mobile.”



Filed under Human Rights and Refugee Activists, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

Immigration ordered asylum seeker children out of Victorian schools at 18

March 19, 2014

Susan Ogden, the principal of Dandenong High School. Last year teachers at the school had been concerned students who were asylum seekers would be forced to leave school after they turned 18.Susan Ogden, the principal of Dandenong High School. Last year teachers were concerned that students who were asylum seekers would be forced to leave the school after they turned 18. Photo: Wayne Hawkins

Asylum seekers reportedly were kicked out of Victorian schools when they turned 18 last year, on the advice of the Immigration Department.

The Victorian Education Department has confirmed that last July it told state schools that 18-year-old asylum seeker students should no longer be enrolled on instructions from the Department of Immigration – which applied to those already 18 and meant the students could not complete the year.

But in November, the newly elected Coalition government reversed the policy, allowing teenage asylum seekers to complete their schooling after they turned 18, an Education Department spokesman said.

This came too late for some students, who had already left before they could finish high school.


Noble Park English Language School principal Enza Calabro said a small number of students had to leave her school after July. ”These students became very anxious and this created a sense of hopelessness amongst them,” she said.

They were entitled to an additional 10 weeks through Adult Migrant Education Services.

Centre for Multicultural Youth chief executive Carmel Guerra said she also knew of students who had been removed from schools after July and found it ”appalling”.

She said some principals were advised they were unable to keep 18-year-old asylum seeker students, despite wanting them to stay on. Ms Guerra said that such children had lost ”a space in which they feel safe and secure in a new country, while their status is being determined”.

Dandenong High School now has 12 students who are in community detention. Principal Susan Ogden said last year teachers had been concerned for seven students who were set to lose their entitlement to a high school place after they turned 18. These students are now allowed to complete school following the changes.

One of those students, who turns 18 this year, feared he would have to leave school during year 11 until the policy changed. He said he was delighted when he found out he could finish school. ”It made me want to do something for Australia,” he said.

A spokesman for the Education Department said it was unaware of how many students had returned to school after the Immigration Department’s policy changed.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said: ”Eligibility for access to public schools is set by state and territory governments.”

She confirmed the Department of Immigration reviewed its schooling policy in the second half of 2013, which she said was finalised at the end of the year to make the existing policy more flexible.



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Margaret River farmer wins award for work with refugees

March 13, 2014


Margaret River grape grower and agricultural training consultant Jackie Jarvis has been awarded the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Award for Western Australia.

She was one of four WA finalists and took out the award at a ceremony in Perth on March 12.

Ms Jarvis is the state manager of MEDAC training and employment service and led a pilot program in 2013 to help new migrants and refugees find work in agriculture.

She will receive a $10,000 bursary to put towards her project to create a series of video postcards, which will detail the work the resettled migrants have done in the first six months of their agricultural placement.

Ms Jarvis says many people she worked with had CVs created by urban support agencies and discounted subsistence farming experience.

“A lot of the existing agencies seem to be based in the city and they probably don’t know how to access those farming jobs.”

Ms Jarvis will go into the running for the Australian RIRDC Rural Women’s Award, which is announced in Canberra in October.

Margaret River-based Jodie Lane was the runner-up for Western Australia.

Ms Lane runs Fair Harvest Permaculture and is an advocate for eating local, sustainable produce.

She will receive $5000 for her project, a national Eat Local Week.


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

Australia artist evokes Hazara persecution

March 12, 2014

A new exhibit connects an ancient Persian poem with a bombing that affected the artist’s family.

The demons in Khadim Ali’s exhibition are manifestations from the Shahnameh, a 50,000-verse poem written in 1010 by the Persian poet Ferdowsi [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]
Sydney, Australia – On August 31, 2011, a car laden with 40kg of explosives detonated in front of a mosque in Quetta, Pakistan, killing 11 and injuring about 20. Among the injured was Amina Amina, a member of Central Asia’s long-persecuted Hazara minority who became trapped under the rubble of her home – one of two properties decimated in the blast.More than 11,000km away in Sydney, her son Khadim Ali, an art student at the University of New South Wales (NSW), watched with horror via Internet streaming media as rescue workers searched through the rubble for members of his family.

“Whenever they pushed aside a big piece of wood or mud, trying to pull the rubble out, I saw glimpses of the red carpet in our house,” recalls Ali, now residing permanently with his parents in Australia. “The only material object to survive was that red carpet. It inspired me to create art on a medium that could actually survive a bomb blast.”

Ali likens the demons to the Hazara [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

Starting this week until June 1, the fruits of Ali’s work will be showcased at Sydney’s prestigious Art Gallery of NSW. Entitled The Haunted Lotus, the exhibition comprises of nine resilient works: five paintings rendered with ink and gold leaf on wasli paper; four wool rugs made in collaboration with weavers in Afghanistan; and a looping 10-minute video showing the elaborate process where vegetables and other naturally occurring dyes were utilised to give the wool its rich earthy colours. But these are no ordinary Afghan rugs. In place of the octagonal elephant’s foot pattern or hunting and war scenes that normally adorn them, Ali’s rugs feature images of pensive donkey-eared, bearded demons.

The demons are manifestations from the Shahnameh, a 50,000-verse poem written in 1010 by the Persian poet Ferdowsi. Blending mythology and history, the book tells the story of the epic battles between a hero named Rustam, who represents humanity’s brighter side, and demons that personify our darker side.

Among the many priceless family heirlooms destroyed in Amina Amina’s home by the 2011 bomb attack in Quetta, was a copy of the Shahnameh featuring miniature illustrations by Kamal al-din Bihzad. It was one of two books, the other being a Quran, that Ali’s grandfather, a well-known singer, took with him when he fled Afghanistan’s Ghazni province in the 1920s to evade the pogroms and persecution that have dogged Afghanistan’s Hazara since the 1500s.

“The more I learned about the Hazara and myself, the more I realised there were an incredible number of similarities between the demons in the Shahnameh and my people,” Ali says. “For example, the rebellious demons lived in caves just as Hazara people have been living in the caves at Bamiyan, the site of giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The demons were seen as infidels, just as the Hazara are. And the demons ate rats, while Hazara are called ‘rat-eaters’ in Afghanistan. So I started painting demons.”

The result is an eye-catching coalescence of an ancient handmade material and iconography used to express the ongoing persecution of the Hazara. In Quetta alone, 2,000 Hazara have been assassinated by Sunni armed groups without a single criminal conviction; Ali claims the 2011 attack that destroyed his family’s home specifically targeted the Hazara.

In the Shahnameh, Rustam, the hero, fights the demons          [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

“In order to translate the images from their original ink paintings into textile form, Khadim has developed a new way of working where each knot in the rug equates with a pixel from a digitally enlarged image,” says curator Macushla Robinson.

“It’s common for artists to have tapestries made, but this was not an outsourcing situation,” she adds. “Khadim was deeply involved with the rug-makers in Afghanistan. He worked closely with them over many months to refine and develop the technique.”

Complicating the process further, the work had to be done in secret because of the Afghans’ widespread deference to Aniconism – an Islamic proscription that forbids the creation of images of humans and all sentient living beings.

“One of the weavers in Herat got really offended and reported it to the religious scholars. They ordered him to burn them,” Ali says. “Fortunately, I managed to smuggle them out to a village on the outskirts of Kabul where another group of weavers finished the work.”

“We also faced enormous difficulty finding someone to shave the rug. When we finally found someone willing to do it, he made me take an oath with him that I will incur any punishment coming to him in the afterlife for sinning. Even getting them out of the airport in Kabul was difficult. We had to bribe customs officials not to unroll them in case they confiscated them and had them destroyed.”

Asked if he fears a fatwa – the Islamic legal term commonly used to describe a declaration of death on an individual as famously happened to British author Salman Rushdie in 1989 following the release of his bookThe Satanic Verses – Ali doesn’t blink: “As a Hazara, I have been living under a fatwa my whole life,” he says. “It wouldn’t make any difference.”


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Julie Bishop grilled on ‘inhumane’ asylum policy

 March 11, 2014


Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been forced to respond to suggestions by the BBC that Australia’s asylum seeker policy is uncivilised.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has faced accusations that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is “inhumane and uncivilised” during a hostile BBC interview in London.

Ms Bishop is in the United Kingdom for the annual AUKMIN meeting with her British counterpart William Hague and the defence ministers of both countries.

But on Tuesday morning, BBC Radio 4’s John Humphrys questioned her about Canberra’s “inhumane” detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

LISTEN: BBC4 Interview with Julie Bishop

The presenter noted they’d been described as having the look and feel of concentration camps and suggested Australia was “effectively operating a sort of Guantanamo Bay … only in some ways even worse”.

Ms Bishop defended Australia’s policy, stating the federal government had taken a “tough line” to deter people making the journey by sea with consequent drownings.

“Our aim is to dismantle the people smuggling trade that flourished in South East Asia,” the foreign minister told BBC radio.

“We’ve done this before and it worked.”

Ms Bishop said people in detention centres were treated with respect and dignity and given healthcare and schooling.

On Manus Island the standard of accommodation and support people received “in many instances is better than that received by the people of Papua New Guinea,” the foreign minister said.

A Senate inquiry has been established into the violence on Manus Island that led to the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati in mid-February.

Humphrys on Tuesday asked Ms Bishop: “Why can’t you have these detention centres in Australia?”

“That’s not a very civilised way of going about it,” the presenter said of offshore camps before questioning Ms Bishop about the recent death on Manus Island.

“Yes well 1200 people have died on boats trying to get to (Australia),” Ms Bishop replied before the radio host interrupted to ask if that justified the PNG death.

“No I didn’t say it justified it at all, I just said we are trying to stop people coming by boat,” Ms Bishop said.

“This is what happens in unruly behaviour when violence occurs – and it’s tragic.”

Immigration is a hot issue in the UK with anti-immigration party UKIP gaining popularity on the back of concerns about a potential influx of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals.

The ruling Conservative Party has also increasingly appealed to voters’ perceived prejudices on immigration since Australian strategist Lynton Crosby was put in charge of the Tory election campaign.


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Filed under Asylum Policy, PNG/Pacific Solution, Torturing and Health Issues