Tag Archives: asylum seekers in australia

A Refugee Committed Suicide At Brisbane Airport An Barely Anyone Noticed

November 02, 2015 | Buzfeed Australia

Reza Alizadeh. Supplied

At around 4 a.m. last Tuesday morning, Reza Alizadeh, a 26-year-old Iranian man who had been living in Australia on a bridging visa since 2013, walked to the entrance of Brisbane International Airport.

He had been troubled for some time. Suffering from depression, he fled the Iranian city of Ahwaz by boat in 2013 and headed for Australia. He spent around three months in various detention centres before he was released into the community on a bridging visa and moved to Melbourne.

It was at this point that his already fragile mental health rapidly declined. Two troubled years, dotted with incidents of self-harm, emotional breakdowns, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts finally ended, alone at Brisbane airport when AFP officers found him hanging from a bag strap attached to a railing at around 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

How did it come to this? BuzzFeed News has spoken to Reza’s friends who tried desperately to get him the help he needed, as well as medical professionals who say Australia’s immigration system is giving birth to a crisis in the refugee community.

“At the end he got worse and worse. On a number of occasions he tried to harm himself and he had scars all over his body, and none of the authorities cared,” a friend of Reza’s says.

This is part of the new normal for Australia’s immigration system. For over a decade now – ever since former prime minister John Howard declared that “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” – “boat people” have become a political football.

“We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.” John Howard launching his successful election campaign in 2001. Den Lewins / AAPIMAGE

When Labor relaxed Australia’s border protection laws in 2007, a tide of refugees attempted to reach the country by boat. Tens of thousands were intercepted and put in detention centres to be processed.

Eventually the sea of humanity making its way to our shores became too much and in 2013 a new policy was formed: no one who tried to reach Australia by boat would be settled here.

As a result, there are around 30,000 refugees currently living in Australia on bridging visas, which allow a person to live – with conditions – in the community while their refugee claims are being processed or until a more permanent home can be found for them.

The bridging visas have an upside: they’ve helped to get many refugees out of detention and into the community, where they’ve got the freedom to form friendships and communities which in theory should make life in Australia a little easier.

But advocates say the visas leave refugees in a state of abject poverty. Asylum-seekers who arrived in Australia by boat on or after August 13 2012 and are granted bridging visas are not permitted to work, meaning many rely on charity just to survive.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd announcing that anyone who attempted to reach Australia by boat would have no chance of being settled here. AAP

People on bridging visas have no right to family reunion and cannot leave the country. They are given access to temporary accommodation but are ultimately responsible for their own lodgings. In an emergency, asylum-seekers are given access to the Community Assistance Support program which helps people to meet their basic health and welfare needs. But first there has to be an emergency.

The system is deliberately and transparently punitive. The government’s stated objective is to deter asylum-seekers from ever wanting to come to Australia by boat.

It’s these conditions which have led to many asylum-seekers suffering from severe mental health issues, advocates say.

“We lock them up and drive them crazy, then we set them free and expect them to be OK,” says Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Zachary Steele is the professorial chair of trauma and mental health at St John of God Hospital and a professor of psychology at UNSW. He tells BuzzFeed News asylum-seekers and refugees are among the most vulnerable people in our society and need our protection.

“Every survey that’s been done shows that they do have a very high rate of exposure to torture and trauma backgrounds that places them in a very high risk category for mental health problems,” he says.

“The stresses of insecure residency and the post-migration difficulties associated with the restrictions of bridging visas create a harsh environment that in turn is associated with poorer mental health trajectories.”

For Reza, this manifested in severe paranoia, depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. And while tragic, Reza’s story is not unique.

“We lock them up and drive them crazy, then we set them free and expect them to be OK.”

In February 2014 Rezene Mebrahta Engeda drowned himself in the Maribyrnong River upon notice of a failed asylum application.

In June 2014 a 29-year-old Sri Lankan man died as a result of self-immolation, suffering burns to 90% of his body. He had been living in community detention on a bridging visa awaiting the outcome of his refugee claim.

In March, Omid Ali Avaz, a 29-year-old Iranian man on a Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) visa, killed himself in Brisbane.

Earlier this month, Hazara man Khodayar Amini set himself alight while on a video call to two refugee workers.

Before his death, Khodayar reportedly told the refugee workers, “Red Cross killing me. Immigration killing me. I want to kill my life. I don’t have any option. They don’t give me chance. I can’t stay in detention centre.”

Khodayar Amini. Supplied.

One of the major problems, Pamela Curr says, is that many asylum-seekers suffering from mental health issues are afraid to reveal their troubles to the people who are supposed to help them.

“The asylum-seekers are really cursed. If they have an agency that’s looking after them and they go to that agency and say, ‘I’m feeling suicidal, I want to jump in front of a train, I can’t sleep, I’ve got voices in my head’ – all the marks of mental ill health – those agencies will notify the immigration department, and the next thing you know, the department will rock up and cart them off to detention. They’re in a real bind.”

Without any family in Australia, it was Reza’s friends who tried the hardest to get him help.

Reza took himself, or was taken to, at least three Melbourne hospitals or medical centres in the weeks before his death. Ten days before he died, Reza broke a mobile phone in half and attempted to slash his throat while in hospital. A short time later he was released to look after himself, friends say.

The hospitals contacted by BuzzFeed News were unable to comment, citing privacy concerns.

In Reza’s final weeks, friends say they contacted the immigration department, police, and Reza’s caseworker with AMES Australia, a government-contracted nonprofit which helps recently arrived refugees settle into Victoria.

A spokesperson for AMES told BuzzFeed News the organisation did all it could for Reza, but that his erratic behaviour in the period before his death made it very difficult to provide the care he needed:

“[Reza] was provided with the full range of services all of our asylum-seeker clients are afforded. As a person with a range of health issues he was given close case management and referred several times to healthcare providers.”

“It’s all black and white… on a number of occasions [Reza’s friend] has taken Reza to hospital, to police, to AMES, to his case worker, to immigration, and they basically said ‘he’s alright’.”

Shortly after Reza was released from the third hospital, he decided to fly to Brisbane. He felt this was the only place he was safe from the people he believed were following him. His friends helped him fly to Brisbane while informing anyone they could of their concerns for his wellbeing.

“He [Reza] got in touch with his cousin and he sent text messages that he was going to take his life. Then his cousin, on a number of occasions, contacted his case worker,” Reza’s friend says.

Melbourne police were informed of Reza’s situation, and Queensland police were subsequently informed.

It’s believed Queensland police officers contacted Reza after he arrived in Brisbane, meeting with him in a hotel room in Fortitude Valley to assess his mental health. After a conversation, Reza’s friends say, the officers left him alone, deciding he was not a danger to himself or others.

Following the meeting, Reza’s friend, also named Reza, says he contacted the department of immigration and AMES to warn them that Reza planned to end his life, but was told that nothing could be done.

“It’s all black and white… on a number of occasions [Reza’s friend] has taken Reza to hospital, to police, to AMES, to his case worker, to immigration, and they basically said ‘he’s alright’,” another friend says.

The two Rezas texted constantly over the weekend before final contact was made on Sunday evening. It’s not clear what happened between Sunday evening and Tuesday morning, but we may learn more when Queensland police hand over a report for the coroner.

It’s too late for Reza, but mental health experts say the system needs to be changed to look after people on temporary visas.

Reza in Melbourne before his death. Supplied.

“Your life is permanently on hold and you have a subjective fear that you may be returned to a situation where you fear for your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your family,” Prof Steele says.

“People do have to have their claims assessed and that does put enormous stress on them. There’s no way to solve that problem but there is a way to recognise it and to put a health and welfare framework around it that recognises that this is a vulnerable population.”

Michael Dudley, the chair of Suicide Prevention Australia, believes “torture” is not too strong a word for Australia’s current immigration system.

“The way in which the policy is giving rise to harm that the government and the department are aware of – it’s collateral damage of which they are fully informed. It’s a direct aim of the policy. It aims to cause suffering to make people leave the country.”

Dudley says the solution is at once complex and simple: time and money. He believes refugees have a sword of Damocles hanging over their head which could be resolved if more funding was dedicated to processing refugee claims as fast as possible.

“The UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] needs proper funding by governments like Australia. We don’t actually have a system that is designed to do that. It’s not properly resourced,” he says.

“Mental health support could help people in these situations. Whatever support we can offer, whether mental or practical, in these dire situations, should be offered.”

Queensland police declined to comment for this story, saying it would be inappropriate as they prepare a report for the coroner.

The Department of Immigration declined several requests for comment, citing the Queensland police investigation.

Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/robstott/a-refugees-public-suicide-and-the-system-that-let-him-down#.sqqNxEJkw

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New visa types cannot be used until fresh legislation is passed

November 15, 2014 | the guardian

New visa was critical to gaining Palmer United party support but it is unclear how it would work or how many would be granted

Asylum seekers at Manus Island
Asylum seekers at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea.Photograph: Eoin Blackwell/AAP

The federal government will need to make more changes to immigration laws before asylum seekers can move from proposed working visas to other visa classes.

The migration and maritime powers amendment would make significant changes to the assessment process for asylum seekers to “fast-track” decision making, and would also reintroduce temporary protection visas.

Part of the legislation – and critical to gaining the support of the Palmer United party – was the creation of a new type of visa called a safe haven enterprise visa (Shev).

But the legislation itself provides few details of how this visa would operate. There is little indication how many would be granted each year and what the criteria would be, with most details left to the minister to make regulations.

During the Senate hearing on Friday into the migration and maritime powers amendment, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection revealed that further legislation would be necessary to ensure asylum seekers could transition between different classes of visas.

The acting deputy secretary of the department’s policy group, Alison Larkins, told the committee: “I can talk about the current intention but there will be a whole other set of legislation that will need to be put in place to manage the access of other visas products for people who hold Shevs and that’s sometime down the track.”

Karen Visser, director of the department’s protection and humanitarian policy section, then clarified to the committee: “Perhaps raft is too generous a word … it’s more that we have to ensure that the pathway the minister intends to create works properly.

“What we have to make sure is the Shev interacts appropriately with those other visa classes, that the pathway is supposed to lead to. That may well require us to make some amendments to the application requirements.”

Labor senator Jacinta Collins and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young both expressed concerns that the visa plans did not appear to be progressing swiftly enough, with the government pushing the committee to report quickly on the legislation.

“Not only do we not have the details of the conditions people will be living under on a Shev, you don’t even have the detail as to how the Shev will work, which is all meant to be designed to have a pathway to permanent,” Hanson-Young said.

Visser responded: “It’s a technical matter that needs to be worked through”.

Collins asked the department whether the visas were a “charade”, but the department rejected this.

“Convince me from the department’s dealing with this matter … are these Shev provisions a charade?” she said.

Visser responded: “No, senator, we are working in good faith to put this product in place … it is not a charade.”

Collins said: “Well the lack of capacity to describe the product raises serious concerns about this bill.”

Liberal senator Ian Macdonald said he was sure the minister “having seen this interaction will write to the committee telling us what he can”.

The Refugee Council of Australia’s chief executive officer, Paul Power, told the committee the changes proposed in the bill would leave asylum seekers in limbo.

“Families known by the government to be experiencing the impacts of persecution will be indefinitely separated if parliament passes the asylum legacy case load bill in its current form,” he said.

“The family member will be trapped, having to decide whether to remain safely in Australia while providing support to other members of the family living in danger or return to situations the Australian government acknowledges would place them at a very high risk of persecution.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/nov/14/asylum-seeker-visa-changes-immigration-laws-must-be-altered

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Scott Morrison proposes releasing asylum seekers onto Australian mainland under TPV plan

September 11, 2014

Asylum seekers who arrived by boat last year could be offered temporary protection visas and allowed to live in the Australian mainland community, in a major policy backflip by the Abbott government.

The shift could signal a disintegration in the offshore processing policy that the government has vehemently defended, but now concedes has its “challenges”.

Until now, asylum seekers who arrived after July 19, 2013, were subject to offshore processing after a policy change by the Rudd Labor government, which meant they would be processed in centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

Onshore option: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday.Onshore option: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The policy was adopted by the Coalition and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has consistently maintained asylum seekers who arrive by boat after July 19 would be subject to offshore processing.

In November, Mr Morrison said: “I want to stress all those on Christmas Island who are there now – those who arrived after July 19 will be going to Nauru or Manus Island. There will be no exceptions, whether you’re Syrian, Iranian, single, married, adult, child, they will all be going to Nauru or Manus Island and will not return to live in Australia.”

But the minister told an audience at the National Press Club that the government was now looking at TPVs as an “alternative” option for the 2700 people, including 450 children, who arrived by boat and many of whom are being held on Christmas Island. He is currently negotiating with crossbenchers in the new Senate to reintroduce TPVs after Labor and the Greens twice blocked the controversial measure that prevents refugees from gaining permanent residence in Australia.

“Now while it will continue to be the policy of the government that anyone who arrives illegally by boat will be transferred to offshore processing … the government is open to alternatives for the earlier July 19 to December 31 caseload, but not those who may arrive now or who have already been transferred,” Mr Morrison said in the speech.

“Combined with other measures, TPVs will also give the government an alternative option for those who arrived after July 19 and before the end of last year, including over 450 children. Seventy five per cent of this group, including children, turned up under the previous government and had not been transferred to offshore processing centres.”

Until now, only asylum seekers who arrived before July 19 have been considered eligible for TPVs, if such a measure is reintroduced.

Mr Morrison told Fairfax Media on Wednesday it was no secret he was in negotiations with the crossbenchers, including Clive Palmer, to allow the use of TPVs.

The policy change would not affect any boats that arrived this year. The only asylum seekers travelling by boat who reached Australian shores this year arrived in July. All 157 asylum seekers have since been transferred to Nauru.

Mr Morrison acknowledged that the processing on Papua New Guinea was “challenging”.

“Offshore processing and resettlement has also been implemented. However, this has not been without its challenges,” he said.

Until now, not one asylum seeker has been resettled in the country. There are 1084 asylum seekers being detained on Manus Island.

He also said negotiations with Cambodia, which the government hopes will resettle refugees, were ongoing.

Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles said: “It is clear that the Minister is seeking to use Temporary Protection Visas as a band aid to hide his failure in managing the Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said on Wednesday the government’s offshore policy was “falling apart”.

“Dumping the government’s commitment to offshore processing like this is a major policy backflip from the Coalition on the back of a serious policy failure,” she said.

“The Abbott government has conceded that it has to process these people’s claims in Australia and is simply using TPVs as a distraction.”

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/scott-morrison-proposes-releasing-asylum-seekers-onto-australian-mainland-under-tpv-plan-20140910-10eznj.html#ixzz3D0CccoRH

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Canberra stops Australian Rights boss from off-shore detention centres

March 06, 2013

Human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

The Australian government’s top legal adviser has told the Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs she cannot visit Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea

Professor Triggs wanted to assess and act on complaints from asylum seekers about conditions on the islands.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that she was told by the Solicitor-General that she had no jurisdictional power on Manus Island and Nauru to hear the complaints.

Professor Triggs’ office says it is still seeking further information about the implications of the legal advice.

The camps have been set up by Canberra in a bid to deter boatpeople from Asia trying to reach Australia.

The conditions in the camps have been stronly criticised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Source: http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=74438

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Asylum seeker work rules to be relaxed

November 26, 2012

Paris AristotleThe Gillard government’s new asylum seeker regime is inconsistent with Australia’s international treaty obligations … Paris Aristotle. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

NEW rules denying asylum seekers the right to work for up to five years will be relaxed after a backlash from Labor MPs and one of the principal architect’s of the Gillard government’s policy to stem the number of boat arrivals.

In comments on Monday, the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said he wanted ”over time” to work out how people arriving by boat had ”appropriate support and care, and where appropriate they have some mechanism in place to be able to support themselves”.

Mr Bowen announced last Wednesday those people who have arrived in Australia by boat since offshore processing resumed in August and could not be sent to Nauru or Manus Island would be released into the community with ”no work rights”.

Asylum seekersWorking it out … Chris Bowen wants to see that asylum seekers have “some mechanism in place to support themselves”.

Under the ”no advantage” test, Mr Bowen said they would have to survive on a meagre payment of about $220 per week for up to five years, the same period it would take them to be resettled if they stayed in a refugee camp elsewhere in Asia. The move was forced by a surge of almost 8000 asylum seekers since the offshore processing regime was put in place on August 13 and provoked criticism that it would create a new refugee underclass.


Paris Aristotle, a member of the expert panel headed by former defence chief Angus Houston, has described the new regime as inconsistent with the policy’s controversial ”no advantage” test, punitive and in breach of Australia’s international treaty obligations.

After representations from Mr Aristotle and others, Mr Bowen asserted on Monday that the new rules were ”not actually linked to the no-advantage principle as such”, and were more about the surge in numbers from Sri Lanka and the belief that many were ”economic migrants” and not refugees.

He also vowed to work with those in the refugee sector to work out ”how we will deal” with those found to be refugees under the new system, where asylum seekers whose claims are upheld must wait for as long as they would have waited to be resettled if they had stayed in a transit country – a period Mr Bowen concedes could be five years.

Writing exclusively for Fairfax Media, Mr Aristotle argues the correct response to concerns about economic migration from Sri Lanka is to ”properly and quickly” establish if this is the case by processing applications. ”Those that are refugees should be protected and those who are not can be returned,” he writes.

”The announcements last week to disallow asylum seekers work rights and timely access to family reunion, even after they have been found to be a refugee, were not recommendations of the panel,” Mr Aristotle says.

”The measures are highly problematic because they are a punitive form of deterrence in response to a specific and new phenomenon in people smuggling from Sri Lanka which the government believes is for economic reasons as opposed to refugee protection.”

Mr Aristotle also expresses dismay at the opposition’s proposal to slash the humanitarian quota back to 13,750 places and reintroduce temporary protection visas, saying it makes little sense.

Lamenting that debate on asylum seekers issues continues to be on a ”destructive and combative course”, he appeals to all sides to show leadership to end ”this destructive cycle”.
Source: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/asylum-seeker-work-rules-to-be-relaxed-20121126-2a3ng.html

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Orphaned by Taliban murderers, Hussain finds better life

Asylum seeker Hussain

Asylum seeker Hussain who’s story reduced greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young from to tears in parliament today. Source: The Daily Telegraph

HE is 17, learning English and dreams of becoming an electrician – and yesterday Hussain’s struggle brought a federal politician to tears.

During the debate on the asylum seeker bill in the senate, the Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Youngbroke down as she spoke about the teenager’s plight.

Ms Hanson-Young revealed that when Hussain was just five years old, the Taliban raided his village in Afghanistan – killing his parents, sister and brother.

Hussain survived, as did an older sister and younger brother.

Hussain hid with his brother and an uncle in Pakistan. But it wasn’t safe, so his sister worked on a plan to help in any way she could.

She got married and moved to Iran – “her gateway to safety”, Ms Hanson-Young said, before crying as she revealed the sister sold everything she had, including her jewellery, so she could pay for Hussain to find a better life.

Hussain flew to China, then Thailand and then Malaysia, but none of those countries would accept him as a refugee.

And so in Malaysia he boarded a small and crowded fishing boat and came to Australia. “He was one of the 500 people that we detained for up to three months last year while we debated the ‘Malaysia Solution’,” Ms Hanson-Young said.

“He was terrified as a 15-year-old on his own — without his family, his parents had been killed, he was an orphan — locked up for three months on Christmas Island with the threat that he would be sent back to Malaysia.”

After the Malaysia people-swap deal was scuttled by the High Court, Hussain was settled on the mainland, and is now living in Brisbane, where he works as a fruit picker and studies at TAFE. He now has a protection visa, and is working to bring his younger brother to Australia.

The teenager said he was emotional while watching the speech on TV.

He said he wanted to stay in Australia and one day start his own family here.

“She was very kind,” he said of Ms Hanson-Young. “I like the people of Australia — they are very kind, they have been very good to me.”

Reflecting on Hussain’s boat journey, Ms Hanson-Young said: “This situation where people have to risk their lives on a boat to seek protection should not be the only option that they have.”

The story was originally published here: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/orphaned-by-taliban-murderers-hussain-finds-better-life/story-e6freuy9-1226411575904?sv=8932f083ce89bce4f355b0e37e3606c2

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$1bn to keep asylum-seekers in detention

THE Federal Government has been handed a $1 billion bill for the running of Australia’s detention centres.

Foreign-owned global security company Serco secretly renegotiated its contract with the Department of Immigration just before Christmas.

The new four-year contract to manage immigration detention centres – including Maribyrnong in Melbourne – has quadrupled from the original figure of $280 million.

The Opposition labelled the blowout a failed “stimulus program” for asylum seekers.

The number of detention centres has increased from 12 to 20 under Labor.

While the centres accommodate visa overstayers and illegal workers, the Government admits they make up a small number compared with asylum seekers.

“When Labor came to office there were just four people in detention who had arrived illegally by boat,” Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said.

“After four years of policy failures on our borders, this grew to more than 5600.”

The variation to the contract with Serco – from 2009 to 2014 – was made on December 2 last year.

It had been revalued in July last year to $712 million, meaning the cost blowout in the past nine months is almost $400 million.

“The original contract did not cover the number of sites we have now expanded to,” Immigration Department spokesman Sandi Logan said.

“It has been driven by a simple reason – the expansion in the number of centres in the network.”

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the new contract would not affect the Budget.

Greens senator Sarah Hansen-Young said boat people should be immediately released from detention into the community.

Read more: http://www.news.com.au/national/bn-to-keep-asylum-seekers-in-detention/story-e6frfkvr-1226266204926#ixzz1lqckzvgp

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