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)

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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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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

Access and Equity Policy for a Multicultural Australia

From the Priority List inbox:

The Race Discrimination Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the report  and recommendations of the independent  Access and Equity Inquiry Panel.

The Access and Equity policy has been an important policy  that defines Government services obligations to culturally diverse  communities.  The review of this policy  arises from the recommendations of the Australian Multicultural Advisory  Council, which recommended the formation of the Australian Multicultural  Council and ‘The People of Australia’ policy.

Dr Helen Szoke said, “The Access and Equity policy is an  important focus for government departments in all interactions with Australia’s  culturally and linguistically diverse population.  A focus on cultural responsiveness is an  investment in ensuring that all people in Australia can participate equally in  the community and receive the services and responses that they need to be part  of the broader Australian community.”

The Panel’s recommendations call for the strengthening of  this policy, through identifying clearer and more specific obligations that  departments and agencies are required to meet. There is also an expectation  that the principles of Access and Equity will influence all Government social  policy areas.

The Panel has proposed some important core minimum  obligations for Australian Government departments and agencies in relation to  the Access and Equity policy, with an emphasis on a whole-of-government  approach to better engage with the country’s increasingly diverse community.  The recommendations, if adopted, will encourage better participation of people from different backgrounds in  Australian community life.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s research conducted  with African Australian and Arab and Muslim Australian communities has  identified that often members of these communities are reluctant to report on  negative experiences when dealing with programs and services due to a lack of  knowledge about the law and complaints processes, or the perceived difficulty  in making complaints.

Dr Szoke said, “The panel’s recommendation to review the  accessibility of complaints mechanisms, in consultation with communities, will  help to address some of these barriers and make the process of providing  feedback both easier and more effective.”

“I look forward to the Australian Government’s response to  the report and in particular, to learning what mechanisms will be identified to  enhance the governance, accountability and implementation of the policy,” Dr Szoke said.

The full report of the Access &  Equity Inquiry is available at  www.immi.gov.au/living-in-australia/a-multicultural-australia/government-approach/government-services/AandEreport.pdf