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.

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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

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)