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

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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.

Children suffer at immigration prisons

……Let us be the ones to say we are not satisfied that your place of birth determines your right to life. Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold. – Brad Pitt

Hollywood actor Brad Pitt never visited Manus Island, but if he does, he will probably reiterate what he said to the children of Africa.

On Christmas and Manus islands, innocent children are not exempted from mandatory detention if they attempt to arrive in Australia by boat.

ChilOut revives a campaign to raise awareness on child asylum seeker (Photo: ChilOut Revived FB)

The Australian Human Rights Commission notes a disturbing number of children in detention centres, citing statistics from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. As of 31 December 2012, there were 1,953 children in immigration detention on the mainland and Christmas Island. Of these, 732 children were in community detention and the remainder (1,221) were in immigration detention facilities.

As of February 2013, there were around 30 asylum seeker children in detention on Manus Island. The Commission is concerned about the detention of child asylum seekers. People who arrive in Australia by boat after 13 August 2012 are to be transferred to designated regional processing countries– Nauru and Manus.

Children have limited places to play in Manus. (Photo: Supplied)

In Manus, children live with adults awaiting news of their fates. Nobody knows how long will it take before the Australian government steps up the processing of their immigration statuses.

According to a ChilOut youth who was locked up in the Pacific island as a child, children who live with adults see the chaos of the demonstrations all day. They also see older people committing self-harm and to the extreme — suicides. They lost years of their childhood waiting in prison witnessing horrendous human suffering.

The Australian Greens notes that experts have been warning that detention is an entirely unsuitable place for any child, particularly those who have already been forced to seek asylum. The mental effects of mandatory detention can be devastating for children.

Children face a significantly high risk of long term mental and physical consequences as a result of detention. Some of these children have spent their whole lives behind bars, having committed no crime other than being born in a country from which they are forced to flee.

There are stories behind bars. The immigration department tried to censor information through various means, including Internet restrictions or phone surveillance. It has also barred the media and human rights organisations from access, including AHRC.

But letters and art work from children have been able to arrive in the mail boxes of human rights supporters.

Art work by a 10 year old sent to Greens Senator Sarah Hanson- Young: “Here in our block, three people passed out and there is no doctor. …is laughing and others are crying.”

GetUp has already launched another campaign to consolidate support for children detained in Manus.

Out of Sight, a GetUp and ChilOut collaboration, aims to raise awareness of the plight of children and adult asylum seekers detained on Manus Island. ChilOut has also put up a Facebook page to provide updates on the issue.

The campaign aims to defy media bans and other forms of communication barriers that attempt to silence the stories of asylum seekers, especially children.

GetUp reiterates the need to give children a voice and put video campaigns on TV screens all around Australia.

“Let’s ensure these children can’t be tucked away out of sight, out of mind. ”

Australia has an international obligation to protect these children, being one of the signatories to the UN convention on refugees.

ChilOut Youth Ambassadors along with 4 other child detainees from around the world presented their stories to more than 25 Governments and 5 key UN agencies. (Photo: ChilOut Revived FB)

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

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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

Australia finds no deal to help asylum seekers

The Senate upheld a High Court’s decision to scrap an extra-territorial solution to  people smuggled by boat into Australia in a dramatic vote, 39 against 29.

This is a nail in the coffin of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s benchmark policy to solve human smuggling. It also puts to rest Gillard’s “Malaysian Solution”—a deal that allows Australia to take in 4,000 genuine refugees from Malaysia in exchange for the deportation and processing of 800 boat arrivals within four years.

The High Court ruled out the deal in August last year on the grounds that Malaysia has no legal obligation to protect asylum seekers, a requirement under Australia’s Migration Act.

Refugee coalition groups in Australia also noted Malaysia rejected any responsibility in the protection of refugees and asylum seekers.

In Malaysia, the Lawyers for Liberty based in Selangor earlier supported a memorandum endorsed by various organisations against Australia’s “misguided refugee outsourcing deal.”

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, wish to express our opposition to the proposed Australia-Malaysia bilateral agreement, in principle, to transfer the next 800 asylum seekers seeking asylum in Australia to Malaysia.

Although the terms of the joint agreement remain vague, we are of the view that the Australian Government is making a mistake in arranging this joint agreement with the Malaysian Government which is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Convention”). This proposed exchange is a misguided approach in dealing with a complex issue that will cause serious ramifications as Malaysia has a long record of abuse and mistreatment of people seeking protection. This arrangement, if implemented, may lead to the violation of the rights of transferred individuals to Malaysia.

Two boatloads of asylum seekers arrived on Christmas Island, north off Australia in just 10 days.  Media reports counted about 130 people were rescued, one body was recovered and three people went down with the vessel. Wednesday’s incident came just days after another boat capsized, with 110 people saved but an estimated 90 killed.

Toddlers are among the latest boat arrivals. (Photo: Danile Wilkins)

The twin tragedies alerted the Federal government. The Lower House convened and passed a bill on Wednesday to allow offshore processing of asylum seekers. However,  the breakthrough was immediately dashed off by the Senate on Thursday. Heated debates lasted up to the wee hours of Friday morning.

The bill authored by Independent Rob Oakeshott is called the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. It allows Australia to send asylum seekers to Malaysia and the island of Nauru in the South Pacific for processing.

The Opposition reached a compromise, but the Australian Greens were against the proposed deal and therefore voted against the bill in both houses.

The Parliament will go into a winter recess while more boats are expected to arrive within the next few weeks.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen pronounced a macabre prediction that more boat people are expected to die while politicians are having a 6-week holiday break, the SBS reported.

A boatload of people is spotted approaching Christmas Island. (Photo: Express MV Bison)

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie also said parliamentarians should not be going into recess when such an important matter remained unresolved.

“We should be sitting today, we should have continued sitting last night, we should sit next week, we should sit until we get a solution,” he told state broadcaster ABC.

“I think there is every chance in the world that more people will die during this six-week recess,” he said.

Gilliard earlier blamed the High Court for Australia’s failure to deal with human smugglers. She said the High Court-Senate is sending a message to people smugglers to load more people to come to Australia.

Amid prolonged parliamentary processes, Gillard announced the formation of a panel composed of “experts” such as former defence chief Angus Houston, former top diplomat Michael L’Estrange and refugee advocate Paris Aristotle. She said the panel will assess all asylum policy options. The “Multi Reference Group of MPs” will also work in consultation with the panel.

Since 1976, more than 27,000 people have risked their lives on boats in a desperate bid to arrive in Australia, a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

Lower House passes offshore asylum processing

Risky arrivals of boat people are non-stop–usually with a tragic end. (Photo: AAP)

Human smuggling is unstoppable. Two incidents of capsized vessels near the Christmas Island are reported this week. Rescue operations have been dispatched to look for survivors.

It has became all-too-ordinary when people are crammed into a boat and sail on treacherous waters with high hopes of reaching Australia— then the boat sinks before it reaches the northern shores.

The Parliament convened this afternoon and grappled with a long-awaited solution. The Lower House finally passed a bill to allow the offshore processing of asylum seekers, a move the Julia Gillard’s Labor Party has been pushing for.

Authored by Independent Rob Oakeshott, the legislation passed 74 votes to 72 following a heated and emotional debate that lasted for almost six hours. Even crossbenchers are reported to have sided with the Government.

Independent MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott, and Tony Windsor listen during the bill deliberation. (Photo: Alex Allinghausen)

Gillard said a law is needed for the border protection and to assure the legal certainly of offshore processing of asylum seekers.

She told the Parliament it would an act of destruction not to pass laws removing the legal uncertainty over offshore processing of asylum seekers.  ”We are on the verge of getting the laws we need….It would be tremendous act of destruction and tremendous denial of the national interest … to conduct yourself in a way which means there are no laws, ” the Age reported.

The bill is aimed at bridging the government’s proposed changes to the Migration Act to allow offshore processing in Malaysia against opposition demands for humanitarian safeguards.

It will allow an immigration minister to designate any nation as an ”offshore assessment country” as long as it was party to the Bali Process, which includes Malaysia.

The coalition had wanted to ensure refugees were only sent to countries which had signed the UN refugee convention, which would exclude Malaysia.

The Australian Greens, however, are not amenable with the proposed legislation. Media reports say they will block the bill in the Senate, and want all parties to take part in a committee to find a long-term solution that respects human rights.

Greens MP Adam Bandt said he would not support the bill ” [because] it rips up the Refugee Convention”.

The bill is now scheduled to face the Senate.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent