Category Archives: Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

Australia’s selective mercy

June 06, 2015 | Jema Stellato Pledger

Barat Ali Batoor’s winning photo, “The First Day at Sea”. Source: Supplied

Barat Ali Batoor’s winning photo, “The First Day at Sea”.

I have pondered the amount of press, time and effort that went into trying to save Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’s lives. It was nothing short of exemplary in terms of who and what Australia can be. For once in a very long time I was proud of Australia; of the Australian people as the country was brought together towards a common goal to save the lives of these young Australian men

I was very interested in the social media outrage with posts stating that ‘Bali will not be my holiday destination’ and ‘we must cut arts collaborations with Indonesia’. The disgust aimed at Indonesia was palpable and from my perspective quite frightening. The anger is understandable but one must remember, if you break the rules of a country you are entering, there is a price to pay and unfortunately two young men paid the ultimate price.

I stand for mercy was an excellent campaign and one which crossed cultures, languages, generations and socio-political beliefs.  But what is Mercy? The dictionary definition is ‘compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm’ (Oxford Dictionary).

In respect to Mercy, let’s turn our attention to a 5 year old Iranian child who was on Nauru for more than a year. She came to Darwin’s Wickham Point Immigration Detention centre due to her father’s ill health but the family are to be returned as soon as he is well. The child has been diagnosed with severe PTSD. Her displays of sexualised behaviour are further evidenced by drawings of inappropriate sexual acts, which are indicative of either experience of, or witness to abuse or both (John Lawrence SC, 2015). Mr Lawrence, the family’s lawyer is appealing to keep the child in Australia. Can you imagine how the parents of the child feel? How impotent, helpless and disturbingly desperate because they could not and still cannot protect their child. One needs to put themselves in their shoes for moment and I’m sure there would be a need for retribution in your heart.

In the report the Forgotten Children- The 2015 Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention there was evidence supporting the fact that detaining children causes irreparable harm. “The overarching finding of the Inquiry is that the prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seeker children causes them significant mental and physical illness and developmental delays, in breach of Australia’s international obligations”.

The Immigration minister Morrison and Dutton respectively agreed that keeping children for prolonged periods in remote islands does not in fact deter people seeking refuge nor people smugglers offering their services. In short desperate people will do anything when there is a glimmer of hope, however faint.

On Christmas Island the right of all children to education was denied for over a year. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, as the guardian of unaccompanied children, has been derelict in his duties to act responsibly on their behalf. There are numerous issues, but one of the worst, that would appear to affect any action was the finding that incidents of “physical assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm involving children indicate the danger of the detention environment”. The children and their families were not immediately removed. I doubt this would have been so if it happened to an Australian child or family.

So I ask, where does Mercy come into these stories? We all stood for mercy when those poor young men were to be executed… Can one stand for mercy and ignore the plight of children and women being harmed in our name?

There is a story of a 23 year old young woman who was viciously attacked whilst on a day release from Nauru camp. The camp guards and her brother went looking for her when she didn’t arrive back to camp. She was was found in the police station, in severe shock and covered in bruises. She had clearly been sexually assaulted.

These stories are not uncommon. How can a 5 year old be sent back to her abusers or a 23 year old sexual assault victim be thrown in jail?  These are victims of Australia’s harsh and inhumane policy and there are many in this situation. Do we not have a responsibility to bring them to Australia for proper treatment?

How would anyone feel if it were their daughter who was raped and sexually abused? Would you sit silent? I doubt it! Would you want the perpetrators brought to justice? Yes you would. How is this child and young woman any different to one of our own? They are not. Their parents have the same fears and need for justices as any Australian.  As Australians we must ask ourselves “how could we have allowed this to happen, and worse, let it continue?”

Further, the thousands of Rohingya Muslims languishing at sea for months are in dire need of our help. Initially countries in the area pushed them back….but to where? They are escaping ethnic ceasing in Myanmar. They are stateless and no one wants them. Australia has stood firm on its pushing back the boats with Tony Abbott stating that “it would be ‘utterly irresponsible’ for Australia to do anything which may encourage people onto boats” (James Bennett, ABC News 2015).

Were is not for Malaysia and Indonesia who “relented on a hard-line policy of pushing back the boats, and said their nations would accept the migrants for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies” (Al Jazeera, 22nd May), the boatloads of Rohingya would have faced certain death. Currently the U.S. and Malaysia continue to search for the thousands still stranded at sea.  The Wall Street Journal reported on May 25th that Indonesia has joined the search. Where is Australia?

Australia has been vocal on its stance for Mercy. We stand against the death penalty yet we send children back to horrendous conditions in offshore processing centres. We allow the rape of young asylum seeker woman to go unpunished. We pay billions of tax payer dollars to keep innocent people locked up in camps. We stand by and literally watch children women and men perish at sea and allow poor countries shoulder the burden. Mercy is not selective- only in Australia, it seems.

Jema Stellato Pledger is a Human Rights Advocate and a PhD candidate at ACU Melbourne. She can be reached at kommonground8@internode.on.net

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Eight former Australians of the Year call for release of asylum seeker children

January 26, 2015 | the guardian

Indefinite detention of children, who are not accused of any crime, is ‘inhumane and unnecessary’, write former winners in an open letter.

nauru asylum seeker protest

A hundred and thirty-five asylum seeker children remain in detention on Nauru. Photograph: Supplied

Eight former Australians of the Year have used Australia Day to call for the immediate release of all refugee and asylum seeker children from immigration detention.

In an open letter published on Monday morning, the Australians of the Year write that the indefinite detention of children, who are not accused of any crime, is “inhumane and unnecessary”.

“We are a country of hope, with a commitment to the freedom and dignity of all people … that strives to protect the rights of the most vulnerable. Indefinite detention of children and babies is at odds with these hopes and principles.

“These children and their parents came to us in desperation, seeking our help. They came to us seeking safety, knowing of Australia’s reputation as a fair, inclusive and just society and knowing we are a people who are never afraid to lend a hand to those in need.”

The letter is signed by eight winners of the Australian of the Year Award: Prof Ian Frazer (2006), Prof Peter Doherty (1997), Ian Kiernan (1994), Prof Gustav Nossal (2000), Simon McKeon (2011), Geoffrey Rush (2012), Prof Fiona Stanley (2003), and Prof Pat McGorry (2010).

The letter, co-ordinated through Unicef, argues children are damaged when they are held in detention, often for years.

“We know that serious mental ill health is a frequent consequence of prolonged detention, especially for children. Such prolonged detention is clearly inconsistent with our hard-won reputation for humanity and fairness.

“If we continue to detain these children and their families, it would not only be inhumane but unnecessary, and diminish our reputation as a fair and mature nation.”

Currently 468 children are held in Australia’s immigration detention system. Of those, 135 remain on Nauru, while 333 are in “alternative places of detention” on the Australian mainland.

In December, then immigration minister Scott Morrison promised crossbench senators that all children and families held on Christmas Island would be released from immigration detention in exchange for the senators’ support for government legislation reintroducing temporary protection visas.

Those 94 children, and 100 family members, have been taken from Christmas Island, but they remain in detention, at Blaydin Point in Darwin. The government says they will be released from detention in “early 2015”.

Overall, the number of children in immigration detention has decreased from 1,038 to 468 over the last year, though the number of children held in detention on Nauru has increased by 19.

Fiona Stanley, the epidemiologist who was Australian of the Year in 2003, told Guardian Australia the letter was not a partisan attack, but rather a call for all Australia’s political leaders to reconsider policies that had proved ineffective, inhumane and harmful.

“People I speak to are anguished about the fact Australia is keeping children in detention. All the data, all the studies we have, show that children are seriously damaged by being held in detention, there is damage to their mental health, their physical health, their general wellbeing and chances for the future. We are causing long-term harm to these children.”

Stanley said Australia’s international reputation as a nation committed to human rights was being degraded by its holding asylum seeker children in detention.

She said Australia’s immigration detention regime for all asylum seekers should be reconsidered from a more humanitarian perspective, but that children should be released from detention immediately.

“As a mother and a grandmother, I feel anguished. No developed country, no country like Australia, with its respect for human rights, should have children, who have committed no crime, held behind wire. That should stop immediately.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jan/26/eight-former-australians-of-the-year-call-for-release-of-asylum-seeker-children

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NSW Premier Mike Baird tells Prime Minister Tony Abbott: ‘do more’ to help refugees

January 23, 2015 | smh

Friendly fire: NSW Premier Mike Baird, left, congratulated Tony Abbott on recently increasing Australia's humanitarian intake for refugees, but said he should "do more".Friendly fire: NSW Premier Mike Baird, left, congratulated Tony Abbott on recently increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake for refugees, but said he should “do more”. Photo: Getty Images

Premier Mike Baird has called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to “do more” to accept refugees, saying Australia’s economic strength means nothing unless we help the world’s vulnerable.

Mr Baird’s critique of Coalition refugee policy came as Fairfax Media established Mr Abbott has been quietly ringing backbenchers since the start of the year as he manages growing anxiety over his government’s performance.

NSW stands ready … to take more than our fair share.

Premier Mike Baird

Speaking at an Australia Day Council of NSW lunch on Friday, Mr Baird said Australia was the lucky country, and should “open our arms to those around the world who are much less fortunate than us”.

Mr Baird, a committed Christian, congratulated Mr Abbott on recently increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake for refugees, but said he should “do more”.

“[There are people] in incredibly difficult circumstances with nowhere to turn,” Mr Baird said.

Under the former federal Labor government, the humanitarian program was set at 20,000 places, however the Abbott government dropped this to 13,750 places in 2013-14.

In December the government pledged to increase the annual humanitarian intake to 18,750 over the next four years.

The federal government has also attracted the ire of refugee advocates with its controversial “stop the boats” policy of offshore detention for any arrivals by boat people.

Federal Labor’s acting immigration spokesman Matt Thistlethwaite seized on the comments, saying it was clear the Abbott government had “turned its back on refugees”.

Fairfax Media has learned Mr Abbott’s calls have been made to selected backbenchers seen as influential in the party room or whose judgment Mr Abbott respects.

Two of those involved said the talks had been both free-ranging and constructive with the Prime Minister eager to hear the unvarnished truth about voter and party-room sentiment.

The revelation comes as discontent tending towards outright anger simmers within the Liberal party room over what many MPs see as government bungling and political mismanagement.

More than 20 MPs have confirmed privately that they harbour grave concerns over their government’s botched handling of Medicare reform, higher education changes, and over unscripted “kite flying” exercises such as talk of changes to the politically toxic, goods and services tax.

“These announcements come and go with no warning and no instruction or explanation to the backbench as to how to explain them to voters,” complained one marginal seat MP.

But a source close to Mr Abbott denied the calls were an attempt to shore-up flagging support, insisting they were for information-gathering purposes and had always been part of Mr Abbott’s plan for wider prime ministerial consultation in 2015.

The insider said the Prime Minister had flagged a “reset at the end of 2014” which would inevitably involve a broader advisory structure than had been the case last year and that he planned to use the feedback to inform his political strategy to be outlined at the National Press Club in just over a week.

Mr Abbott offered a sharper defence of his leadership and of government policy on Sydney’s 2GB radio on Friday, name-checking four ministers as stand-out performers but conspicuously leaving out his top economic minister, Treasurer Joe Hockey.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work of my ministers, all of them, whether it be Scott Morrison or Julie Bishop or Malcolm Turnbull or Andrew Robb, I’m very proud of all of them,” he told 2GB’s Ben Fordham.

He said he could always do better but criticism was exaggerated.

“We haven’t jeopardised our relationship with our neighbours, we haven’t put people at risk in leaky boats on open seas, our main fault is that we haven’t been able to get legislation past the opposition-dominated Senate,” he said.

“Maybe if I’d had more dinners with the cross-benchers, maybe if I’d spoken more sweetly to Bill Shorten, this would’ve been different but in the end, this country does have to live within its means.”

Mr Baird said Australia was part of a global community and “as a lucky country we have a responsibility to play in helping others as part of that community”.

“NSW stands ready … to take more than our fair share. Yes, we have strength in our finances but my strong sense is that means nothing, unless we offer help to those who are vulnerable amongst us.”

Mr Baird’s father, Bruce, was a former federal Liberal MP who objected to the Howard government’s mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Mr Baird snr is now chair of the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council, which advises the federal government on refugee and humanitarian settlement in Australia.

Refugee Council of Australia spokeswoman Lucy Morgan welcomed Mr Baird’s call.

“In the current global context, it’s really imperative that countries like Australia start stepping up and providing more places to people fleeing persecution,” she said.

“We are really at a point now, internationally, where needs are multiplying and there is a need for a more targeted and comprehensive response from countries like Australia, which are not at the front line of these crises and are not yet doing the heavy lifting.”

Mr Abbott’s office did not respond to request for comment.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the government was “strongly committed to a well-managed humanitarian programme and Australia remains one of the top three refugee resettlement countries in the world”.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/nsw-premier-mike-baird-tells-prime-minister-tony-abbott-do-more-to-help-refugees-20150123-12wwcj.html

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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.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/ian-chappell-ita-buttrose-join-campaign-to-remove-children-from-detention-centres-20141118-11p57b.html

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Activists attempt to prevent Hazara man deportation at Perth airport

October 30, 2014 | ABC News

Refugee activist Sally Thompson

Refugee activist Sally Thompson

Activists have been campaigning at Perth International Airport to try to prevent a man from the minority Hazara community in Afghanistan being deported.

The Refugee Rights Action Network said the 20-year-old man, who has been held at a detention centre in Northam for two years, has been moved to a facility near the airport.

The network said the refugee tribunal found the man to be in genuine danger of persecution if he returned to Afghanistan, but had still been ordered to leave Australia.

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection would not confirm if the man was being deported but released a statement .

It said: “People who have exhausted all outstanding avenues to remain in Australia and have no lawful basis to remain are expected to depart”.

Activist Sally Thompson said the tribunal found the man would be in danger if he returned to his home district but not if he was sent to Kabul.

“The last Hazara who was sent back was tortured in September,” she said.

“He was sent back by the Australian Government in August.

“He’s from the same area in Afghanistan and within a month of his arrival back there he was captured by the Taliban and tortured.”

Activists and about 40 members of Perth’s Hazara community confronted passengers at the airport and handed out about 600 leaflets in an attempt to prevent the man being deported.

Ms Thompson said they hoped to raise awareness of his plight.

“A hopefulness that someone on the plane may actually take action in a passive way by keeping their seatbelt undone and explaining why or standing up on the plane and saying why,” she said.

“Under law that means the plane can’t take off.”

The statement from the immigration Minister said: “People who do not hold a valid visa and are unwilling to voluntarily depart may be subject to detention and removal from Australia.

“Australia does not return people to their country of origin where this would contravene our obligations under international human rights instruments that Australia is party to, including the Refugee Convention.”

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-29/activists-attempt-to-prevent-man-being-deported/5849432

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Asylum seeker policy immoral: Vic church

October 18, 2014 | news.com.au

ABOUT 800 Victorian church leaders have openly deplored Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.

MELBOURNE’S Anglican diocesan parliament on Thursday night declared the government’s policy contrary to Christian teaching and morals, and a vast majority of the 800 clergy and representatives committed to actively conveying their concerns to MPs and the public.

The group will interrupt their debates on Saturday to gather outside Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral, under a banner declaring “Let’s fully welcome refugees”.Bishop Philip Huggins urged the government to lift Australia’s refugee intake from 13,500 to 30,000 a year.He said it was good that fewer people were dying at sea, but international conflicts meant an influx of refugees and the present deterrence-based policy amounted to human rights abuse.The church’s vote was not unanimous, with Cranbourne minister David Powys saying efforts on both sides of parliament shouldn’t be dismissed.It comes as about 30 Edmund Rice Education Australia school communities carry out national silent protests against the detention of asylum seeker children, arguing they should be allowed to live in the community.About 200 people gathered at Essendon’s St Bernard’s College on Friday with their mouths taped and wrists bound, including 17-year-old student Thomas Monaghan who said he felt strongly about the issue.”We wanted to be the voice for those people that don’t have a voice,” he told reporters.”Kids that grow up in detention centres end up have a high chance of having mental illness when they’re older, so we are trying to put a stop to that and allow these children to be children.”

Source: http://www.news.com.au/national/breaking-news/ayslum-seeker-policy-immoral-vic-church/story-e6frfku9-1227093830815

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Call to abandon ‘harsh’ asylum seeker policies: Coates

August 25, 2014

PROCESSING of asylum seekers could reach the Ballarat City Council chamber.

Councillor Belinda Coates will put forward a notice of motion hoping to get the council to join a statement to the federal government requesting it abandon its “harsh” asylum seeker policies.

“We have to be proactive about human rights and this sends a strong message from local government,” Cr Coates said. “The core of the issue is relevant to Ballarat. We have a strong community of support for refugees in groups and organisations who are well aware of the challenges they face.

“This says Ballarat is signing up for the bigger picture, what we do here and how we treat asylum seekers is important.”

Cr Coates, who is a member of the Greens party and has previously been criticised for bringing Greens policies into the chamber, said it was an issue that expanded further than one party.

“It’s an issue much of Australia feels very strongly about,” she said.

The joint statement, which has already been endorsed by 11 Victorian councils, requests visa applications of asylum seekers currently living in the community on bridging visas be processed as soon as possible.

It also asks for permanent residency to be made available to these asylum seekers.

Cr Coates said the joint statement ties in with the declaration of the Ballarat municipal district as a refugee welcome zone.

alicia.thomas@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Source: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/2509621/call-to-abandon-harsh-asylum-seeker-policies-coates/?cs=62

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