Success in turning away asylum seekers’ boats

Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders, the policy of turning back the boats carrying asylum seekers has proven to be effective against people smuggling, at least, from the point of view of  Australia’s right-wing Coalition Government.

This explains why the government is unmoved by hunger strikes, self-harm, and suicide threats by detainees at the Manus Island Detention Centre in Papua New Guinea.

Human rights advocates have criticised the deplorable conditions of detainees. In Manus, two have been killed: Reza Berati, an Iranian, was murdered in February last year inside the facility, allegedly by members of staff who were supposedly keeping the detainees safe; and in September last year, Hamid Kehazaei, another Iranian,  died of a foot infection (septicaemia) due to apparent medical negligence.

Last week about 700 detainees launched another hunger strike drawing media attention worldwide. Desperate and hopeless, reports said they want to die. Some sewed their lips, ate razor blades, and attempted to hang themselves.

A detainee shows his lips in hunger strike. (Photo: Supplied)

A detainee shows his lips in hunger strike. (Photo: Supplied)

Abbott boasted the success of the operation 100 days after he took his oath of office despite criticisms from human rights advocates. His operation has also been causing strains on diplomatic relations with neighbouring Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and India.

The Prime Minister claimed victory with his no-boat policy. He said he had stopped boat arrivals.

“We can say to all of the people who scoffed, we can say to all of the people who said it couldn’t be done … that it was just a simple slogan – that it can be done,” Abbott said.

The Liberal Party also posted on its Facebook page a statistic comparing the number of boat arrivals in 2013 before Abbott took office against 2014 figure after he took office.

coalition-policy

Labor MPs are now seeking to unwind the Abbott Government’s successful border protection strategies that are stopping the boats.

SHARE if you think Labor should learn from their mistakes on border security.

Liberal supporters making comments on the post said asylum seekers are economic refugees who paid people smugglers to bring them to Australia by boat. They accused asylum seekersof being parasites looking for dole outs from the government. One supporter commented:

Most people I see on here who oppose what the libs have done with border control need to get out in the real world! Most of these people are economic refuges looking for had outs from our goverment… Anybody that does not believe there are no sleeper terrorist among these people, I have some fairies in my garden I want to sell you.Well done Morrison these people have no idea the great job you have done!

Dumping Ground

The Coalition government  can only reiterate that Manus detention centre was inherited from the previous Labor government of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Various dumping grounds have been considered since Abbott rose to power, including non-signatories to the UN Convention on Refugees, like Cambodia.

In early 2014,  Abbott struck a controversial $40m deal to resettle refugees in Cambodia. The deal was signed in September, but many of the details are still unknown or unclear. Under the deal, Australia pledged to provide refugees with settlement support for 12 months, including basic needs and daily subsistence, language and vocational training, education in local schools, and health services.

(READ MORE: The wrong kind of refugee: Australia exports its problems to Cambodia)

Critics lambast the deal, including human rights groups in Cambodia, who argue the country is poorly suited to accept and support refugees. For one thing, Cambodia remains one of the world’s most corrupt nations (156th on the Transparency International list of 175 countries) and has, according to Human Rights Watch, “a terrible record for protecting refugees and is mired in serious human rights abuses”.

India has also been considered as a dumping ground – causing uproar from “a proud and sometimes unruly democracy of 1 billion people, which is unlikely to appreciate being used as Australia’s people-dumping ground.”

A retired senior Indian intelligence official said, “We have tens of thousands of Tibetan, Myanmarese, Sri Lankan refugees and many millions of Bangladeshis, possibly an Australia in terms of numbers.”  A foreign policy expert and director of the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore also commented that Australia’s legalistic argument about a migration exclusion zone “does not befit a liberal democracy” and that he is “sympathetic to Australia’s need to prevent illegal immigration but this is a moral and legal sleight of hand.”

At least 558,600 individual asylum applications were registered in 172 countries or territories during the first half of 2014, some 18 per cent more than during the same period in 2013 (456,000). (Image:HCR)

At least 558,600 individual asylum applications were registered in 172 countries or territories during the first half of 2014, some 18 per cent more than during the same period in 2013 (456,000). (Image:UNHCR)

Barrister Julian Burnside wrote in the ABC Drum:

There is not much doubt that our treatment of asylum seekers in Manus constitutes a crime against humanity. This is a matter of legal analysis, not political rhetoric. The hard facts about the horrific conditions on Manus Island that I’ve outlined above may not be enough to shock us, but the one thing that really might shock us is to see Abbott, (Tony) Morrison and (Peter) Dutton prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for those crimes. That’s a pro bono case I would gladly prosecute.

Follow @DGreenJournal/ @rdelarosayoon

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A policy of death and horror for asylum seekers

Following the brutal murder of Reza Berati, 23, an Iranian asylum seeker detained in Manus Island detention camp last week, political observers said his death is inevitable, an example of  a policy that works—that is deterrence. Operation Sovereign Borders reiterates the message: Do not attempt to take a boat to Australia.

A migration agent who is working on the island said the detention center is intended for indefinite detention, not as a processing centre as promised. Liz Thompson, one of the agents hired by the Australian government to prepare the processing of applications, said the  process is fake.

Thompson said the facilitity is designed as “an experiment in the active creation of horror” to deter people from trying to take the chance to get into Australia. She spoke to Mark David on Dateline on Tuesday night to unveil more of the horror in the detention camp.

She initially stated:

Manus Island is…. the active creation of horror in order to secure deterrence. And that’s why I say again, Reza Barati’s death is not some kind of crisis for the department, it’s an opportunity to extend that logic, one step further – to say ‘This happens, but deterrence continues, Operation Sovereign Borders continues.

Riots broke out on Manus Island last week after detainees were briefed of resettlement to Papua New Guinea (PNG). In actuality, there is no processing going on. Thompson said the asylum seekers are smarter than the script they were instructed to say. About a hundred detainees were injured following an attempt by 35 to escape. Violent clashes followed leaving Berati fatally injured in the head. Local PNG residents were alleged to have attacked the detention center resulting in clashes between the detainees, the guards, and police.

Investigation is ongoing while Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been under fire from various groups for his “incompetence” to do a high profile job.

A shrine for Reza Berati during a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers in Brisbane, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The nationwide vigil was held to mourn the death of the 23-year-old Iranian who died in a detention centre on Manus Island after he sustained a fatal head injury outside the centre on February 18. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Waleed Aly, in his column at The Age, earlier said the death of Berati is the logic of the policy– to sanction horror.

This is the very logic of our asylum seeker policy – which is built on the sole rationality of deterrence – to create horror. We’re banking on it. That’s emphatically the point. So now, let us make this calculus finally explicit: whatever these people are fleeing, whatever circumstance makes them think they’d be better off chancing death on boats hardly worthy of that description, we must offer them something worse. That something is PNG.

The worse it is, the more effective it is destined to be, and the more it fulfils the philosophical intentions of the policy. Put simply, this tragedy is not any kind of evidence of policy failure. It is, in fact, the very best form of deterrence. This is what it looks like when the policy works.

Grassroots hold rally

Rallies and vigils were held nationwide to condemn the current government policy. Last Friday, more than 2,000 people marched in an emergency rally in Melbourne to press the government to shut down Manus detention camp.

Thousand of people march in Melbourne to condemn the death of an asylum seeker in Manus Island. (Photo: Daniel Taylot/Socialist Alternative

The demonstration began at the State Library and was culminated at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The crowd included Greens MP Adam Brandt; Mohammad Baqiri – a refugee detained on Nauru under John Howard; Michele O”Neil – state secretary of the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union; and Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Speakers condemned the policy as well as the complicity of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). The ALP, under the then Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd governments transacted the re-opening of Manus detention camp.

Protesters stormed the building of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Melbourne. (Photo: Daniel Taylor/Socialist Alternative)

Abbott nailed the fate of asylum seekers on Manus when he won the federal election in September last year.

O’Neil said what is going on in Manus is currently in the hands and responsibility of Abbott and his immigration minister.

Curr urged, “We have to maintain the rage because, if we don’t, they will just wipe over and Reza Berati will be just another victim of a brutal Australian regime….”

Protesters chanted “Close Manus now!” Some threw fake blood on the windows of the building while the crowd chanted “Abbott, Morrison: Blood on your hands”.

Protesters will hold another rally to demonstrate refugees rights March 1.

Candlelight vigils nationwide

On Sunday, about 20,000 people joined in candlelight vigils held in major cities and districts all over Australia. About 5,000 people turned up in Melbourne, while about 4,500 lighted candles in Sydney. Organized by Getup, Light the Dark is a demonstration of solidarity against inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. Participants said the brutal slaying of Berati does not speak of majority of Australians.

SamMcLean said Australians have been really shocked to see somebody who came seeking protection but to instead brutalized to death.

Candlelight vigil in Sydney (Photo credit: Amnesty Australia/GetUp)
Light the Dark vigil at Federation Square, Melbourne (Photo: from GetUp)

Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support Network spokeswoman Emily Conolan, who spoke at the Hobart event, says a message needs to be sent to policy-makers. She said the death is not the first under Australian care and what it represents is a “catalyst or a flash point” which has mobilised Australians “who are shocked and disgusted and outraged at the events that have led to this.”

UN’s response

The United Nations refugee agency highlighted the need to address “significant shortcomings” in the process by which Australia moves asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and called for a probe into the incident on Manus Island.

Babar Baloch, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that the agency is “very concerned” about the recent developments on the detention center.

Based on three visits to Manus Island, UNHCR has consistently raised issues around the transfer arrangements and on the absence of adequate protection standards and safeguards for asylum-seekers and refugees in PNG. The last visit was in November last year.

Baloch said that “significant shortcomings” in the legal framework for receiving and processing asylum-seekers from Australia remain, including lack of national capacity and expertise in processing, and poor physical conditions.

“We also highlighted that detention practices are harmful to the physical and psycho-social well-being of transferees, particularly families and children.”

He stated that UNHCR stands ready to work with the Governments of Australia and PNG on how best to ensure that asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons receive appropriate protection

Foreign Minister proposes Cambodian Solution

While tension over the death of an asylum seeker escalates, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop asked her Cambodian counterpart Minister Hor Namhong to take in some of the boat arrivals.

Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest nations also saw the exodus of refugees escaping war and starvation in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The ministers raised the possibility of Cambodia to return the favor of housing refugees.

However, Labor and Greens mocked the proposal. Australian Greens leader Christine Milne, while acknowledging Cambodia was a signatory to the UN refugee convention, is concerned about the country’s political climate.

“Here is Julie Bishop appeasing a regime engaged in human rights abuses,” she told reporters in Canberra adding there had been a crackdown on dissent.”

Blog Link: The Green Journal

Chaos, distress at Manus detention camp

This is a developing story at the Manus Island detention centre, Papua New Guinea, for asylum seekers. Riots erupted Sunday for two nights in a row with Monday night more brutal than Sunday. Mainstream and alternative media reported conflicting accounts, but Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed this morning of one death and scores of others critically injured.

Morrison can only say the situation is “distressing” while civic groups said the distress is expected. Human rights groups said Tony Abbott’s Operation Sovereign Border failed to uphold human dignity. 

Civic action against offshore processing outside the Department of Immigration, Melbourne. (Photo: The Green Journal)

Have they been told to rot in Manus without a hope to see the ray of day in promised land? Asylum seekers in Australia’s “Gulag” are reportedly informed they have to stay in the detention centre or they have to seek refuge somewhere else – but not Australia. The current policy reiterates Australia’s door is shut.

Last Sunday’s meeting with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison enraged detainees at the PNG island’s detention centre. Morrison reportedly announced that they would remain in limbo for good. Morrison, however, denies reports that he told the detainees they were not to be resettled in Papua New Guinea.

Thirty-five detainees tried to break out on Sunday but were rounded up by detention guards and PNG police. They clashed with the officers, smashed window panes, knocked down power poles, and breached security fences. Bunk beds and tents were also destroyed and 19 people sustained injuries.

(UPDATE: Asylum seeker dies in Papua New Guinea camp)

Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), said police used force “out of proportion” to contain the protestors. In the RAC website , he said “the number of broken hands and baton injuries indicate a use of force…. One asylum seeker has 70 stitches in his head. “ He is calling for an investigation.

Rintoul said that after the riot, they received reports that Manus Island locals have armed themselves with machetes, knives and guns while an insider fears sections of the perimeter fence have been torn down by locals. The detainees are growing increasingly anxious that they will be the victims of vigilante action.

The Refugee Action Collective join the protest against Manus Island’s detention centre. (Photo: The Green Journal)

There were also reports that local PNG G4S guards have pulled out of at least one compound and asylum seekers have been told that if there is any attack by the locals, G4S will withdraw totally.

The asylum seekers are fearful that there will be a repeat of the situation last October when they were left defenceless when G4S pulled out of the detention centre in the face of clashes between PNG army and PNG police. The RAC continued:

The imposition of the detention centre on Manus Island has created local tensions from the very start. The lack of transparency about resettlement has added to the tensions.

If those tensions are now turned on the asylum seekers themselves the responsibility will lie with the Australian government. The deal to establish a detention centre on Manus Island was always toxic.

The detention centre has shattered the peace on Manus Island. Peace will not be restored until the detention centre is closed. In the meantime Scott Morrison is responsible for the safety of the asylum seekers he has dumped on Manus Island.

Socialist Alternative long opposes Pacific Solution before Operation Sovereign Border. (Photo: The Green Journal)

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott enforced Operation Sovereign Border after he won the election in September last year. It is a hardline policy to stop the boats carrying asylum seekers to Australia. He said the only way to avoid disturbances at detention centres was to ensure asylum seekers didn’t try to come to Australia by boat.

“If you come to Australia illegally by boat this is, I’m afraid, what happens to you. As far as this government is concerned the way is shut,” he told a local radio.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International released a new report, This is Breaking People: Human Rights Violations at Australia’s Asylum Seeker Processing Centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, which uncovers the truth about Manus Island and the degrading conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to live.

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

New gov’t enforces military response to asylum seeker boats

Re-blogging:

Asylum seekers who attempt to land on Australian shores by boat will be turned away to Indonesia, effective Wednesday.

Tony Abbott is sworn in as Australia’s 28th prime minister in Canberra on Wednesday and has pledged to enforce Operation Sovereign Borders to combat people smuggling and the influx of ‘boat people’ arriving on Australia’s shores.

Australia’s new Prime Minister Tony Abbott attends the first meeting of the full ministry at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday. Pic: AP.

Abbott said the government of Australia has changed and will impose a conservative policy against asylum seekers with tighter border protection.

Operation Sovereign Borders sets out a military-led response to incoming asylum seeker boat arrivals led by a three-star commander. The new government will also enforce Operation Relex II, an operation to turn back asylum seekers’ boats “where it is safe to do so”. Op Relex II  is the Australian Defence Force operation that detects, intercepts, and deters vessels transporting unauthorised arrivals from entering Australia through the North-West maritime approaches.

Deputy Chief of Army Angus Campbell has been picked to head Operation Sovereign Borders. News of the impending appointment came ahead of the new Prime Minister’s trip to Indonesia on September 30.

Major General Angus Campbell speaks to soldiers in Afghanistan. Inset: Asylum seekers aboard a boat.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has also been changed to Department of Immigration and Border Protection to usher in the new era. Along with this, the Abbott government will stop granting permanent protection visas to undocumented boat arrivals and will reintroduce the processing of temporary protection visas which will deny permanent residency in Australia.

The Papua New Guinea Solution introduced by former PM Kevin Rudd has been criticized by human rights organizations as inhumane, and therefore not acceptable to provide a solution for displaced people.

Indonesian Solution?

Abbott earlier unveiled his plan to turn back asylum seekers who boarded boats from Indonesia. The $440 million scheme includes buying old Indonesian fishing boats, paying coastal village heads for information, and deploying Australian policemen to Indonesia to arrest people smugglers.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natelegawa said the policy is problematic and Indonesia is sure to reject it. He said Indonesia would have to differentiate between the political campaign Abbott was trying to win and what the reality would be once he is sworn in.

Australia’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, and Australia’s only female Cabinet member, Julie Bishop said the Coalition will negotiate with Indonesia on all aspects of its asylum seeker policy where possible. Bishop said Indonesia’s perception of the policy is immaterial and what is needed is ‘understanding’ on how Australia tries to work out a solution. It will be discussed during upcoming formal bilateral meetings with Indonesian officials.

In Indonesia, local observers were already displeased with the plan, saying Abbott insulted the country’s sovereignty. Local newspapers such as the Straits Times and the Jakarta Globe have quoted observers including Professor Hikmahanto Juwana, dean of Universitas Indonesia’s law faculty, who said in a statement, “Mr Abbott came up with these programmes as if Indonesia is a part of Australia, without sovereignty… He insults the government of Indonesia, making us mercenaries doing his dirty work for the sake of money.” Juwana called on the Indonesian government “to speak out against these plans lest it lose the trust of Indonesians.”

Mahfudz Siddiq, head of Parliament’s foreign affairs commission, also described the proposals as “degrading and offensive to the dignity of Indonesians”.

Tasmanian Solution

At home, prominent barrister and asylum seeker advocate Julian Burnside has proposed that the entire state of Tasmania be turned into an immigration detention centre.

He has rejected Rudd’s Papua New Guinea solution as well as the Coalition’s plan to process asylum claims in the Pacific.

“If politicians are obsessed with the idea that asylum seekers must be kept in detention then that could be legally satisfied by declaring the island of Tasmania a place of detention,” he said.

He said it would save Australia about $3 billion a year. He suggested the Federal Government can give the Tasmanian Government $1 billion a year as “a thank you”.

The response in Tasmania has not been positive. The We say NO to Declaring Tasmania an Immigration Detention Centre  Facebook group has gained more than 11,000 members in just one week after Burnside’s comments. The other camp, We Say Yes to Asylum Seekers in Tasmania, had almost 1,000 fans at time of writing.

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

Manus, S Pacific – the new “promised land” for refugees

The new Kevin Rudd’s Government has not only sealed the deal with Papua New Guinea to be the recipient of incoming boat people, but it is also considering South Pacific countries who are signatories of the UN convention on refugees, including New Zealand, Samoa, Christmas Island, and the Philippines.

Re-blogging Friday’s post:

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has come up with his own Papua New Guinea Solution to deal with boat arrivals containing people seeking asylum in Australia. In doing so he has scrapped predecessor Julia Gillard’s Pacific Solution Mark II and embarked on a bold move towards border protection while still operating within the parameters of the UN refugee convention.

Rudd sealed the deal with his counterpart, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, in Queensland on Friday in a mutually beneficial pact: PNG will take in asylum seekers in exchange for a wide range of economic and social benefits, including funding assistance for education and health reforms, as well as security. The pact is reported to cost billions of dollars.

PNG will be the asylum seekers’ processing hub and refugees will be resettled in PNG. They will not be reverted back to Australia.

“Asylum seekers who are determined to be genuine refugees will therefore have a country of settlement, namely Papua New Guinea,” Rudd announced.

Rudd also projected a positive economic outlook for PNG as a result of the deal, although local people are reported to be pessimistic on the impact of overcrowding and severe “culture shock.”

Can this tiny island (red spot) accommodate all displaced people trying to arrive in Australia?

Located in the north, Manus Island is the smallest province in PNG with an area of 2,100 square kilometres. As of a 2011 Census, it had a population of 50,321.

Rudd said the new pact would set ”no limit” to the number of people who will now be diverted to PNG, ignoring the fact that it is estimated that more than 15,000 asylum seekers have sought to arrive in Australia in the first six months of 2013.

Detention centres in Manus have been criticised for their poor living conditions. About 215 people live there in makeshift shelters and tents. The expansion of facilities on Manus Island is underway, including a 600-bed facility due for completion in January 2014. Manus Island can only accommodate a maximum of 3,000 people.

Anti-Muslim election campaign gone berserk

As political campaigns for this year’s federal election kicked off, an unorthodox political party emerged to attack Muslim immigration and multiculturalism.

Sri Lankan-born Pentecostal Pastor Daniel Nalliah launched his Rise Up Australia Party (RUAP) early this week to unite and urge Australians to protect “Australian way of life” which he said is being destroyed by Muslim immigrants. The slogan: “ Keep Australia Australian.”

RUAP candidate Daniel Nalliah with Lord Christopher Monckton during the party launch. (Photo: RUAP)

RUAP already boasts about 1,500 members and plans to field 65 candidates in the upcoming federal election slated in September.

RUAP is fighting against multiculturalism, gays and lesbians, abortion, carbon tax, asylum seekers, and other left-wing issues.

Nalliah said multiculturalism is assimilating the “silent majority” to accept minority culture. This, he said, has never worked in many countries in the West. He declared “Australia for Australians” to the cheers and uproar of supporters at the National Press Club in Canberra.

Supported by UK-born climate sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton,  RUAP has also launched the Victoria State Campaign on September 16.

“It is not for me as a Brit to endorse any Australian political party, … but I’m going to anyway, ” Monckton said.

Many are wondering how the two are related.

Monckton has been invited to speak about climate change before the congregation of Nalliah’s Catch the Fire Ministries in the past.

The political platform of Nalliah resonates with the political interest of Monckton – anti-carbon tax, pro-mining, and pro-small businesses, to name a few.

Official logo of RUAP

Morbid commentator Adrew Bolt can only expressed a deep sigh labelling the two as “fringe dwellers”.

Why on earth was Christopher Monckton endorsing the nationalist Rise Up Australia Party? Great chance for warmists to paint climate sceptics as fringe dwellers.

Demosblog puts it that Bolt is rather distracted:

….rather than denouncing the extremist views of Pastor Danny Nalliah, Andrew Bolt instead is most immediately concerned that Lord Monckton’s endorsement of Rise Up Australia might be bad PR for climate sceptics

Another blog commented on the party launch:

It was hard to tell what was a more pitiful spectacle at the launch of Pastor Danny’s new rabid party of zealotry and prejudice – Monckton or the aging grey-haired audience of true believing loons.

If there is Monckton and Bolt, the people’s watchdog called Getup is sure to be watching.

GetUp is mobilizing a multitude to stop what it calls “madness.” RUAP’s political platform runs counter to what GetUp has been advocating- violation to human rights.

“Rise Up” ….is waging a war against multiculturalism, marriage equality, climate action, and pretty much everything we stand for. Best of all, cringe-worthy climate denier Lord Monckton is touring our country again. Appalling? Yes. It’s time to rally the troops…. Now more than ever we need to mobilise and prove that racism, intolerance and hate isn’t the norm. Among the rising tide of intolerance, let’s show Australia that these people don’t speak for us.

Pro-Muslim, pro-diveristy candidate – Dr Ahmed Berhan (Photo: Dr Ahmed Berhan FB Page)

Pro-Muslim Candidate

Does Nalliah know a pro-Muslim Independent candidate is running for Senate? Dr Berhan Ahmed is a former refugee who came to Australia over 25 years ago.  He was awarded the Victorian of the Year in 2009 for his work as an African community leader in which he is a lead think tank.

Ahmed is neither a pro or anti-assimilation. He sees a great mix of people who need a voice in State Parliament. He said, “The political system has become clogged by the same people with the same voice.”  He wants to show the people on the margins they  can participate and get involved.

Ahmed’s political agenda calls for the improvement of housing, employment and transport infrastructure.

Born in Eritrea, Ahmed’s first jobs were a tram conductor and taxi driver. He spent 10 years in Fitzroy public housing studying for his PhD and masters degree. He now works as a Senior Research Fellow in forest and ecosystem science at the University of Melbourne.

Freedom of Speech and Truth

Candidates for the upcoming election are truly diverse.

Julian Assange on live telecast from the UK. He tells his supporters in Melbourne, “To the Internet generation, this is our moment.” (Photo: R. Yoon/The Green Journo)

WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange will also run for the Senate in Victoria. He is the lead candidate of a newly formed WikiLeaks Party.

Assange’s application for electoral enrolment in Victoria was handed to the Australian Electoral Commission in Melbourne this week by WikiLeaks supporters including his father, Sydney architect John Shipton, who has been active in the initial organisation of the party.

Shipton said Assange’s enrolment was ”a first step” in a political campaign that would focus on ”the democratic requirement of truthfulness from government”.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Gillard fights offshore, onshore human smuggling

As of this writing, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has negotiated a deal with New Zealand for the intake of 150 asylum seekers a year from Australia. This is insane. The Gillard Government cannot face its responsibility and passing it on to third parties, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Nauru, Manus, and now New Zealand. Why not simply revoke the commitment made to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and admit Australia does not want to take them?The Green Journo reiterates that neither Pacific Solution Mark 2 nor Kiwi Deal can stop human smuggling.

Reposting yesterday’s blog entry:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard will stand by the advice of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to enforce Pacific Solution Mark 2 as a way to deter people smuggling.

The solution, which took effect in September last year, sends a clear message to people who are arriving by boat: No advantage. They will to be locked up in the tent city of  Nauru or Manus in the Pacific.

Boat people are assigned to live in these tents in Manus or Nauru. (Photo: DIAC)

ABC’s Lateline on Tuesday aired a testimony of Marriane Evers on the deplorable conditions endured by asylum seekers in Manus. Evers is a trained counsellor and a veteran nurse with more than 40 years experience. She signed up to work in Manus but quitted on the third week.

Nauru is like a concentration camp, she said, except that the Australian Government has not exterminated the detainees. The asylum seekers instead resort to self-harm, while others have turned suicidal.

New Matilda also published open letters of asylum seekers in Manus providing minute details of their harrowing experiences.

Human rights activists stage a rally at the DIAC building in Melbourne. (Photo: R. Yoon/ The Green Journo)

Human rights activists took the streets in October-November following a prolonged hunger strike of detainees in Nauru. Several groups staged protests nationwide to lambast the return of Pacific Solution Mark 2, which violates human rights. This also underscores Australia’s inability to meet its obligation under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

Australian Parliament admits the number of unauthorized people arriving by boat is small compared to the numbers arriving in other parts of the world, like the USA, Canada and Europe.

The Refugee Action Coalition Sydney said:

It would take 20 years to fill the MCG with the number of refugees who come to Australia. The United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, estimates that there were 10.4 million refugees worldwide at the start of 2011. In 2010–2011, Australia’s refugee intake was just 13,799 people, less than 0.14%. Australia was one of the only countries in the world to have fewer refugee claims in the first half of 2011. In those six months alone, the USA received 36,400 applications for asylum; France 26,100 and Germany 20,100.

The Coalition added most new migrants in Australia are not refugees. Latest statistics available shows that boat arrivals constituted less than two percent of Australia’s total migration program and much less than one percent of the increase to the Australian population by birth and migration in a given year.

The Government turns frantic every time a boat is spotted heading towards Christmas Island. It accuses asylum seekers who arrive by boat of being queue jumpers, an accusation that human rights organisations reject.

Can Pacific Solution Mark 2 effectively deter human smuggling?

The answer is no. While the Gillard Government has given much attention to offshore smugglers, it misses the large-scale operation of onshore smugglers who are bringing more people into Australia.

Onshore human smugglers are underground intermediaries who are luring people offshore to come to Australia– with promises of jobs, better education, and excellent living conditions, among other promises of a “dream destination.”

These intermediaries are linked to a complex chain of networks such as those arranging sham marriages, forged English-language exams, bogus courses, and other immigration rackets. The DIAC have found these are often involved in various frauds such as taxation and welfare, breaches of industrial, health and safety laws and other unlawful conduct.

Student visas are reported to be the most common form of visa and it is being exploited to smuggle people into Australia via a network of unscrupulous migration and education agents, landlords and employers. Students are promised to get a visa as a launching pad to get into Australia.

The Australian interviewed Tony Pollock, the chief executive of IDP Education Australia, the main recruiter for Australia’s $16 billion industry in foreign students. Pollock described the operation as a “chain of exploitation” which “could be construed as people-smuggling.”

The Herald Sun reported hundred of international students are buying the right to live in Australia by paying criminals for fake work references in a racket worth millions.

The massive scam, based in Melbourne and involving local restaurant and small business owners, has been described by officials as “an organised and lucrative criminal enterprise

In August last year, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) announced the Migration Amendment (Reform of Employer Sanctions) Bill 2012 which sets out the penalties for employers hiring illegal workers. This amendment bill opened a can of worms exposing the extent of onshore people smuggling. The number of illegal migrants could now be over 100,000.

Stephen Howell who led the review of the bill suggests that non-citizens working in Australia has been growing since 1998. These people do not have permission to stay and work and their presence is very often organised by intermediaries who exploit their legal status.

As part of the strategy to encourage compliance, DIAC has planned to ramp up an awareness campaign and help employers to gain access to information about prospective employees’ visa work status.

Is DIAC ready to launch a crackdown after announcing the bill?

Eye witnesses to a big-time smuggling operation, who requested anonymity, said DIAC is not interested in doing a crackdown. Underground operations in the suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, for example, appear to be insignificant. These agents ran immigration-related businesses, including an English-testing system to bridge the requirements in fixing illegal statuses of migrants and their families.

While people who arrived by boat languish to death in the Pacific islands, people who made it onshore en route the aid of well-connected agents continue to multiply and flourish– degrading the integrity of Australia’s immigration system.

Activism against offshore processing at the DIAC, Melbourne. (Photo: R. Yoon/The Green Journo)

Demonstration at the DIAC building Melbourne. (Photo: R. Yoon/The Green Journo)

Go Back to Where You Come From

While chilling up a bit, here’s from GetUp!

It’s 11 years this month since Tampa, and Australia’s refugee debate seems like a bad tape stuck on loop.  So what do you do when you have an issue that’s become this polarised and politicised?

The cast of Go Back to Where You Come From. (Photo: SBS)

You reach out to the other side.

We’re not going to achieve humane and common-sense refugee policy by preaching to the converted. But each of us can, through our own networks and actions, help open the minds of those we know who might not understand the big deal about offshore processing and indefinite detention.

This week, there are two great opportunities to do just that. Starting tonight is a show that every Australian should see. It’s the new series of the SBS documentary, ‘Go Back to Where you Came From’, which takes Australians with “outspoken views” and invites them to see the world through the eyes of a refugee – retracing real journeys all the way back to places like Somalia and Afghanistan.

Last season it not only achieved hit ratings, but it was a life-changing experience for those who took part. With politicians from both sides of the aisle hoping we’ll just accept soundbite solutions, a show like this that puts human stories and hearts in the spotlight and changes the minds of even the most ardent hardliners is more important than ever.

Tune in tonight, Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm on SBS. Invite your friends and family over to watch, and join the live chat with fellow GetUp members on our site by signing up here:   http://www.getup.org.au/gobacksbs

In the meantime, we’ve also developed an arresting new infographic that helps explains where ‘boat people’ really come from and why; and we need your help to share it far and wide.   Check it out, and share it all this week on Twitter and Facebook.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” History shows us that policy and laws become more just when a tipping point of hearts and minds are opened, and the differences we’ve used to justify denying the humanity of another no longer seem that vast. That’s where sharing stories, culture and sharing are so important.

Don’t forget to tune in, the GetUp team

PS – This morning, the horrid news of 17 Afghans reportedly beheaded by the Taliban is an acrid reminder of the circumstances that drive so many desperate asylum seekers to our shores. We’ve produced a new infographic showing the conflicts and crisis that drive asylum seeker movement.

— We aren’t affiliated with SBS, but like Amnesty, the Refugee Council of Australia and a range of school and community groups we’ve chosen to promote this show because we think it’s courageous and important. We hope you’ll tune in and join the live GetUp chat on our website, starting tonight: click here to register —

UN raises concern on Australia’s new asylum policy

Following Australian Parliament’s passage of a bill to process asylum seekers offshore, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees held a press briefing in Geneva saying the new policy raises complex legal, protection, policy and operational issues.

UNHCR Spokesperson Adrian Edwards welcomes Australia Expert Panel’s Report as it encourages regional cooperation which the UNHRC has long supported. However, the report also emphasises on “strong deterrent elements reflected in the re-establishment of offshore processing in the Pacific raise concerns and many questions.” The briefing said,

The Government’s decision, enabled by legislation passed by Parliament, to allow offshore processing is an exception to this general practice. We do not want to see a return to lengthy delays in remote island centres for asylum seekers and refugees before durable solutions are found. We are also concerned about the psychological impact for those individuals who would be affected.

Edwards concluded the briefing saying UNHRC will study the amendment for possible discussion with the Australian Government.

Australia’s Governor-General speaks at an annual breakfast for UNHCR in Sydney as part of the World Refugee Week in 2011. (Photo: Office of the Governor-General)

Increased boat arrivals and “deaths at sea” sent the Australian Parliament in panic and railroaded the amendment to the Migration Act that officially shuts its borders from people arriving by boat in a heated deliberation Thursday.

The re-invented law tells asylum seekers to go back to third parties in the Asia-pacific region without specific time frames for legal processing. The law is now waiting for a royal assent.

The Coalition Government strongly voted the bill, 44-9 defeating the Greens into smithereens. Senator Christine Milne admitted her “shame” as a parliamentarian. She claimed she has not been provided with the details of the bill while the Government rushed its passage, SBS reported.

The public broadcaster also noted Opposition Leader Tony Abbott cheered to the new law and commended the asylum Panel the Government has appointed in June. The Panel highly endorsed the return of the landmark policy of the former Prime Minister John Howard to detain boat people in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard clenches fists alongside her Immigration Minister Chris Bowen as they meet the press. (Photo: AAP/Lucas Coch)

The Australian Parliament House has compiled statistics on the number of boat people seeking for asylum in Australia since 1976, year-by-year. It shows that the John Howard’s Pacific Solution has deterred boat arrivals in 2002-2008. But when the policy ended 2008 by Howard’s successor Kevin Rudd, massive influx of boats resumed and has dramatically increased from that time on. Latest figure during 2011-2012 shows that 7983 people have arrived in 110 boats.

The Australian Parliament House shows statistics on boat arrivals.

The massive boat arrivals in recent months alarmed the Government. Members of the Parliament have gone through lengthy and tedious deliberations in both Upper and Lower Houses to enact amendments to the Migration Act.

Following release of the asylum Panel’s 22 Recommendation on Monday, however, new boats carrying an estimated number of 200 boat people, more or less, have arrived.

Asylum seekers rallies inside a detention centre. (Photo: NTNews)

The Government has already dispatched a team to Manus Island in PNG to assess the details and magnitude of reconstruction works at detention centres. It is the same detention site used during the Howard’s Pacific Solution.

The Australian Government has recognised the magnitude of these global trends noting that the numbers of people seeking asylum in Australia are small compared to those seeking asylum in Europe and other parts of the world.

In the US, for example, it is estimated that more than 500 000 ‘illegal aliens’ arrive each year. Similarly, parts of Europe struggle to monitor and control the large influxes from Africa and the Middle East each year. In comparison, in 2010 134 boats arrived unauthorised in Australia with a total of about 6879 people on board (including crew). Though considerably more than the 7 boat arrivals in 2008 with 179 people on board, in comparison with Europe and the US this is still a small number.

The APH notes that although Australians in the past offered sympathy to displaced people, the rampant arrivals has now become a matter of concern – including border protection, rising unemployment, and selection of people who would become a member of society, among other issues.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has also launched a campaign to discourage people arriving by boats. It drumbeats a punch line: “No to People Smuggling.”

Family Deception

Safety Gear

More videos HERE.

Amnesty International

Human rights advocates react with disdain at the reincarnated Pacific Solution.

Dr Graham Thom of the Amnesty International speaks on the boat arrivals. (Photo: Alex Ellinghausen)

Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International’s refugee spokesperson, said the Gillard-Abbott policy delineates Australia’s lack of moral obligation by sacrificing protection in favour of deterrence and punishment.

“If we outsource our international obligations in such a flagrant manner, where refugees are left to languish indefinitely – we send the dangerous message to the region that refugee protection is expendable and avoidable…”

The AIA also submitted proposals for consideration to the Panel, but said it is appalled with the Report.

In response to the offshore processing, AIA came up with an impassioned campaign against the so-called window dressing. The group said the Abbott-Gillard’s claim of “saving lives” is just a political spin.

Howard’s Pacific Solution was condemned and dismantled for a reason – it destroyed the mental health of some of the world’s most vulnerable people; leading to self-harm and suicide. It was estimated to cost taxpayers over $1 billion. It broke international law. And it even failed to “stop the boats….There is no way to dress it up. Warehousing desperate asylum seekers on tiny, impoverished islands with no adequate protection is unacceptable….Join us in telling Abbott and Gillard: your refugee policy does not represent me.

Migration Act stripped of human rights protections

President Gillian Triggs of the Australian Human Rights Commission acknowledged the efforts of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to respond to the tragic loss of life at sea. She also welcomed the recommendation to encourage regional cooperation to help Australia in resettling refugees.

However, she admits her concern on the Parliament’s act of fast-tracking the amendments giving the High Court no opportunity to review whether the processing will be conducted according to human rights standards. She said it is alarming to note the amendment to the Migration ACT violates human rights protection and non-adherence of Australia to its international obligation.

She noted the principle of “no advantage” which could mean stripping asylum seekers of any protection while they await their fate in third countries. In addition, the new policy does not guarantee the protection of unaccompanied children.

“Australia must also be satisfied that each person transferred will have access to an effective refugee status assessment procedure and won’t be returned to a country where their life or freedom is at risk. These are core obligations under international law and should be respected,” she said.

Relevant links to Australian policies on asylum seekers and refugees:

United Nations Convention and Protocols Related to the Status of Refugees Australian Human Rights Commission

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Asylum experts advise return to ‘Pacific Solution’

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard beamed when she met the Press in Canberra looking as if she is out of the asylum conundrum. The Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, which her Government appointed prior to Parliamentary break in June 28, released a Report early today outlining 22 Recommendations on how to deal with people arriving by boat non-stop.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen meet the press in Canberra. (Photo: AAP/Alan Porritt)

The Report is a rehash of earlier solutions, among other things. Spectators even call it “mixed nuts.”  Topping the list is the restoration of a policy espoused by former Prime Minister John Howard: offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Notoriously known as the Pacific Solution, it was scrapped in 2008 due to reported human rights’ abuses. The Australian Human Rights Commission has disagreed with offshore processing as it may revisit a terrifying history:

….the Government’s announcement about Manus Island may herald a return to the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’, a policy that was extremely expensive to administer, caused significant hardship and mental harm, and greatly damaged Australia’s international reputation as a responsible humanitarian nation.

“When the Manus Island detention centre was operating between 2001 and 2004 under the former government’s ‘Pacific Solution’ some people detained there suffered serious mental harm because of their prolonged and indefinite detention and the uncertainty about what would happen to them”

Gillard introduced the Malaysian swap deal when she rose to power in 2010 and was approved in July 2011.

Children are among the survivors in the risky voyage of ayslum seekers to Australia. (Photo: Daniel Wilkins)

The Malaysia Solution proposes the dispatch of 800 unregistered boat people from Australia to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 genuine refugees from Malaysia within four years. The asylum seekers will then live in limbo in detention centres while waiting for a change of status–  as certified refugees.

The Panel’s advise to restore Nauru and Manus Island does not disappoint Gillard as it also upheld her Malaysian Solution. The Panel also recommended to take more refugees under the nation’s Humanitarian Program. This includes an increase of the current  refugee intake from 13,000 to 20,000 per annum; and in five years this number could leap to 27,000. See Recommendation 2 & 5.

The Prime Minister backs the recommendations: Nauru, Manus Island in PNG, and Malaysia while seeking for other third parties in the region, including Indonesia where boat smuggling is rampant.

The Panel advised the importance of building a stronger biateral relations with Indonesia and particularly in relation to an increased resettlement places allocation. The Panel believes both countries can enhance joint surveillance, response patrols, law enforcement, and search and rescue coordination. Changes to Australian law in relation to Indonesian minors and others crewing unlawful boat voyages from Indonesia to Australia are also recommended. Read the Panel’s Full Report.

While Gillard is happy with the Panel, the Report ignored recommendations from the AHRC submitted on 12 July 2012.

The AHRC suggested ways how to stop asylum seekers from risking their lives at sea, along with a list of preventions are Australia’s international obligations on refugees and asylum seekers, among other things.

“Boat people” hold on dear life as they are shipwrecked off the coast of Christmas Island. (Photo: News Ltd)

The Commission has argued sending asylum seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea “may not be a humane, viable alternative to an arrangement with Malaysia. “  It said  that although both countries are signatories to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 1967 (the Refugee Convention), Nauru is a newcomer. “

It has only been a party to the Convention as of June 2011 and has not had an opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which it can comply with the international obligations under the treaty. Papua New Guinea has posed numerous reservations to the Convention which specify that it does not intend to comply with many of the obligations that it contains.

The Commission strongly recommends against a revival of former arrangements involving transfer of asylum seekers to third countries as occurred under the “Pacific Solution‟.

Malaysian High Commissioner Dato Salman Ahmad

Meanwhile, Malaysian High Commissioner Salman Ahmad expressed  his disappointment over Australia’s misrepresentation of Malaysia.

He admitted Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations’ human rights protocols and conventions on refugees; however, it does not necessarily mean Malaysia is not helpful in dealing with the issues of asylum seekers.

In a letter accessed by the ABC signed by the Commissioner addressed to Senator Mark Furner of Queensland dated 6 August, he said Malaysia has been instrumental in helping to resettle refugees and asylum seekers. It is, therefore, unfair for the Australian Parliament and other organisations vilifying Malaysia as immune to human rights.

The Commissioner admitted the complexity involved in dealing with boat people issues while Malaysia itself struggles in dealing with thousands of illegal aliens.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent