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

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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)

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)

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

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.