Monthly Archives: November 2014

Asylum seekers ‘staying indoors’ after signing Federal Government’s code of behaviour

November 29, 2014 | ABC News

Refugee confusion

A Hazara refugee, using the alias Karim, says of the code: “It is very hard, it is stressful – you’re staying home all day with no certain future.”

Asylum seekers living in Australia are staying indoors for fear of breaching the Federal Government’s new “code of behaviour”, which they say is vague and confusing.

The operators of a refugee legal service in Sydney’s west said they expected a spike in queries related to the code, which was introduced by the Federal Government last year and must be signed by all asylum seekers on bridging visas.

Part of the code requires asylum seekers not to “engage in any anti-social or disruptive activities that are inconsiderate, disrespectful or threaten the peaceful enjoyment of other members of the community”.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the code was a way of protecting the Australian community and its values.

In a statement, Mr Morrison said the code was introduced to:

  • provide a strong and enforceable reminder of the behaviour that is expected of people living in the community on a bridging E visa (BVE);
  • provide the opportunity for early warning, educative and preventative measures to be taken before more serious behavioural problems can arise; and
  • encourage cooperation with the immigration department to resolve immigration status.

“It is government policy and will remain a condition of being granted a bridging visa,” he said.

However, asylum seekers such as “Karim”, a Hazara Afghan using an alias so as not to be identified, said he and his friends stayed at home most days out of fear of breaching the code.

The asylum seeker said he came to Australia by boat in 2012 after the Taliban killed his father and brother.

“I lost my family and I was targeted by the Taliban group who wanted to kill me,” he said.

It is very complicated, it is not very specific and you don’t know what is in it and what is not.

Hazara asylum seeker Karim

“I had no choice to come legally because there were no visas for Afghans.”

He said he had experienced increased stress levels since he signed the code.

“It is very hard, it is stressful – you’re staying home all day with no certain future,” he said.

“I’ve been here two years and I’m physically safe, but I’m not mentally safe.

“I have the fear with me all the time I don’t know what will happen.”

Mr Karim said he feared he could inadvertently breach the code, because it was so vague, and consequently be detained.

“It is very complicated, it is not very specific and you don’t know what is in it and what is not,” he said.

He said he was terrified of catching a train with the wrong ticket or driving a car in case he had an accident, which could be seen as a breach of the code.

“If you do something by mistake, you’ll probably breach the code, and you’re not sure that if you breach the code you’ll be back detained,” he said.

Lawyer says code confuses asylum seekers

The code covers six clauses, mostly relating to Australian law, but it was the section on public behaviour that had asylum seekers worried, lawyer Narjis Rajab said.

Ms Rajab from the Refugee Advice Casework Service (RACS) said the section was vague and left asylum seekers confused.

“As a lawyer, when I explain the code of behaviour it’s scary for me because I know little about it,” she said.

“It is very confusing and very daunting.”

She said many clients she had advised did not know what the code was and were afraid of the consequences of breaching it.

“When I explain to them what they have signed and how careful they should be with the way they act, they way they behave in Australian community, it’s very hard,” she said.

“It’s very scary. Sometimes it even makes a client cry and say ‘I don’t know what I have signed’.”

A free refugee legal clinic set up to service the increasing demand in Sydney’s west has seen about 100 clients in its first month, according to lawyers.

RACS, along with Auburn City Council, opened the weekly clinic in October.

Executive director Tanya Jackson-Vaughan said the service was running information sessions about the code, which she described as “unnecessary and unfair”.

“There was already a condition on the bridging visas that you had to follow Australian law,” Ms Jackson-Vaughan said.

“The code of behaviour is a bit wider. It talks about bullying and harassing, which is quite broad.

“I think asylum seekers living in the community should be treated like people who’ve got visas, and we’re all expected to adhere to the law.”



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Australian authorities turn back 37 Sri Lankan asylum seekers near Indonesian coast

November 29, 2014 | ABC News

Australian authorities have turned back a boat of Sri Lankan asylum seekers after intercepting them near the Indonesian coast, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said.

Mr Morrison said the asylum seekers, who were first spotted two weeks ago, were handed over to Sri Lanka’s navy and arrested on Thursday.

He confirmed that while 37 of the asylum seekers were transferred, one remains in the care of Australian authorities and will go through the process of being considered a refugee.

“There is one individual who is being transferred to offshore processing facilities to further look into information that he provided regarding his own situation but all 37 of the other passengers were returned,” he said.

“There is no greater deterrent to protecting our borders and stopping boats coming to Australia than by stopping the boats physically and returning those vessels from whence they came.”

Mr Morrison said he was confident those being returned would be safe in Sri Lanka.

“I’m very confident we’ve acquitted our obligations under the convention and various treaties as this Government has and as previous governments have,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s superintendent Ajith Rohana said investigations were ongoing.

“The boat left Sri Lanka on November 1,” Mr Rohana said, adding that six children were among the passengers.

“Investigations are being conducted by the anti-people smuggling unit of the CID (Criminal Investigation Department).

“They are being held in custody but will be taken before a magistrate shortly.”

Palaniappan Kumarasamy from the Australian Tamil Congress said there were fears the returning asylum seekers would be persecuted if they were linked to the separatist Tamil Tigers.

“If the Sri Lankan Government think that these people are involved in the past with the LTTE then of course their life will be in danger,” Mr Kumarasamy said.

“They may be imprisoned and tortured.

“We do not know what is happening to these people once they are taken to the Sri Lankan army camp.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the latest turn back raised concerns about the Government’s openness with the public.

“Yet again we see the Federal Government’s immigration boat turn back policies shrouded in secrecy,” Mr Shorten said.

“The whole story of the last year and a quarter of the Abbott Government is that they just don’t trust Australians or bring them into their confidence.”

Minister defends asylum policies from UN criticism

The Immigration Minister brushed off criticism of Australia’s hardline asylum seeker policies after stinging criticism from the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

The Geneva-based organisation has released a report expressing concerns on several policies including Australia’s use of offshore processing and mandatory detention.

It has raised concerns about the impact these policies have on asylum seekers, and recommends using detention as a last resort and giving people access to legal assistance.

But Mr Morrision insists Australia is meeting its international obligations.

“Well we’ll look at these matters as they’re invariably raised but what I want to assure Australians is [that] Australia’s border protection policies are made in Australia, nowhere else,” he said.

Morrison announces new Myanmar border deal

The Sri Lankan asylum seekers turned back were the first since July, when a boat loaded with 41 nationals was intercepted by Australia.

Sri Lanka charged them with illegally leaving the country, and their cases are due to be taken up by a court next May.

Australia has gifted two vessels to Sri Lanka’s navy to patrol its shores and stop boats leaving the island, as part of Canberra’s border protection policy.

Australia faces international censure over its treatment of asylum seekers who are denied resettlement in Australia and sent to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison announced Australia would help review Myanmar’s border management plans under a new deal.

The Immigration Minister said the review was part of a five-year Memorandum of Understanding that has been agreed to by the two nations.

The plan would be developed with the assistance of Australia’s Immigration Department.

Mr Morrison said that when the region has stronger borders, then Australia has stronger borders.



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Asylum seekers beg Barack Obama to be saved from ‘Australian Guantánamo’

November 28, 2014 | the guardian

In extraordinary move, asylum seekers held on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea plead for US and Canada ‘to take us out of this miserable situation’

Manus Islane
Asylum seekers held by Australia on Manus Island. Photograph: Eoin Blackwell/AAP Image

Guardian Australia has received copies of letters sent by asylum seekers to US president Barack Obama and to the Canadian immigration department, asking to be resettled in those countries.

The letter to Obama, signed by 10 Pakistani asylum seekers and written in English, pleads for American intervention in their cases.

“You are the only hope for us to give us a new life … we beg for your help to take us out of this miserable situation.”

The asylum seekers mention the deaths of detainees on Manus this year, of Reza Berati, who was beaten to death in a major disturbance between asylum seekers, guards and local Manusians, and of Hamid Kehazaei, who died from an infected foot that turned septic.

“People here are getting worst (sic) mentally and physically as the facilities are insufficient and on some occasions we are provided with expired medicine and contaminated food. We are treated just like animals with inhumane and immoral responses by the management. Authorities and immigration officers … compel us to go back to the country of our origin.”

The men say they fled Pakistan because of the threat of terrorism by Taliban extremists.

They have signed the letter with their names, signatures and the ID numbers issued to them in detention.

Another letter, signed by more than 40 Iranian asylum seekers, has been sent to the Canadian immigration department.

“It has been 15 month that we are detained in the Australian version of Guantánamo prison in an extremely inhuman condition indefinitely and with no awareness of our future,” it says. “We have spent 15 month in here and have witnessed the death of two of our friends.”

Picture of Reza Berati
An asylum seeker held in detention on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea holds up a picture of slain Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati. Photograph: Eoin Blackwell/AAP Image

The letter shows an acute awareness of Australian government policy and its aims, particularly the deterrent factor of offshore detention in “stopping the boats”.

“We think the end of this abusement (sic) by the Australian government which is used as a tool will end by your help,” the letter says. “Currently we are used as a deterrent signboard for the refugees of the world used by the Australian government which tells them this is what is going to happen to you if you come to Australia.”

Neither letter has received a reply yet. However, the asylum seekers do not regard the letters as attempts to seek attention, but as genuine cries for help.

This week, several refugee status determinations have been handed down by PNG authorities.

Some asylum seekers have been found to be genuine refugees, in need of protection, and will be resettled within the Manus community.

Others have been told they will be deported back to their home countries.

One asylum seeker told Guardian Australia that PNG staff working at the detention centre had warned refugees resettled in the community would be attacked.

“They said ‘if you are coming to Manus we will beat you’.”

Several are having their assessments and determinations made next week.


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Asylum seeker boat lands on small Micronesian island of Yap; passengers told by people smugglers they would be transported to Australia

November 24, 2014 | ABC News

An asylum seeker boat has turned up on a small Micronesian island, with those on board reportedly saying they were told they could get to Australia from there.

Sanian Bamngin, the police chief on the island of Yap, said the boat carrying 35 people arrived on Monday.

Mr Bamngin said those onboard were men from India and Nepal as well as two Indonesian crew members.

He said the passengers claimed to have boarded the boat on November 10 in Indonesia in the hope of seeking asylum.

“Some of them are thinking that they’re heading to Australia, and some of them are thinking that they’re heading to New Zealand … and to the US,” he said.

The police chief said the asylum seekers had been staying on the boat and that they would remain onboard until Saturday when national police were due to arrive to assist local authorities.

Phillipe Dor, an Australian citizen and clam farmer living on Yap, said he spoke to the boat’s crew who told him they had been sent by Indonesian “agents” or people smugglers who told them they would get taken to Australia or another country from Yap.

Mr Dor said the boat’s captain told him they had been offered the equivalent of about $1,500 to take the asylum seekers to Yap, guided by a GPS unit.

“It’s a total disaster created by those Indonesian people smugglers,” Mr Dor said.

He said island authorities did not know what to do.

“This is a completely first event for Yap and nobody exactly knows what’s going to happen,” he said.

Mr Dor said he gave bananas to those on board because they did not have any food or water.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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