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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A policy of death and horror for asylum seekers

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

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

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

She initially stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grassroots hold rally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candlelight vigils nationwide

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

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

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

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

UN’s response

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Minister proposes Cambodian Solution

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

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

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

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

Blog Link: The Green Journal

Chaos, distress at Manus detention camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

New gov’t enforces military response to asylum seeker boats

Re-blogging:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indonesian Solution?

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

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

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

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

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

Tasmanian Solution

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

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

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

Australia Day focuses on Aborigines, refugees

This year’s Australia Day has seen both old and new issues come under the spotlight, including indigenous culture, asylum-seekers, gay marriage, and climate change.

These issues, however, cannot be solely discussed through political means but through the arts.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard poses with Geoffrey Rush

Academy-award winning actor Geoffrey Rush was named the 2012 Australian of the Year in a ceremony at the Parliament House, Canberra. In his acceptance speech, he urged Australians to consider the importance of arts to nurture and uplift the spirit of the nation. Rush spoke of urgent issues that affect the nation which can find solutions in the arts.

Rush says Australia is one of the oldest nations on earth where inspiration abounds. He noted that going back to the root of the nation through aboriginal history, culture and performing arts, Australians will be able to find “our dreaming” which leads to the heart of the nation’s being, the ABC quoted him in his speech.

The ABC added, “In the past, Australians of the year have used the spotlight to focus on social, political or environmental issues, but Rush does not see it as a automatic megaphone.” As a performing artist, the event is an opportunity to spotlight current issues through the arts.

SBS, a multicultural public broadcaster, also noted Rush of his support to local writers to write stories about people who come to Australia by boat.

“I put a call out to the writers of Australia, we’ve had a bumper year in television drama, people are starting to watch it in great numbers..I  would love a writer to write a fabulous great miniseries,” the SBS quoted him in his speech before reporters.

Six Australians are featured in the SBS documentary :Go Back to Where You Come From"

SBS has produced a documentary last year entitled Go Back to Where You Come From” which featured six Australian volunteers who were challenged to take part in an adventure to experience life as a refugee. The script took them to the local communities where refugees have settled down, then flash backward to the horrific journeys by sea, asylum-seeker camps, and to the tricky and dangerous places on earth. Featured places include refugee camps in Malaysia, war-torn Jordan, Iraq, and Congo. The mini-series has elicited various reactions from televiewers while Fairfax media lambasted the series claiming it as a story for the manipulated and gullible participants.

Rush is a stage and film actor. His first film Hoodwink was featured in 1981. He rose to global fame in 1996 with the film Shine for which he won an Oscar. More recently, he appeared on Munich, Pirates Of The Caribbean and The King’s Speech, for which he earned a BAFTA. Rush is an ambassador for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and UNICEF Australia, as well as patron of the Melbourne International Film Festival.

News Link: Asian Correspondent

Alternatives to the Ill-fated Malaysian Solution

Holidays rush in and with the latest boat people tragedy, the government is re-thinking what went wrong. The ruling party is coming to the roundtable to consider the alternatives. News Limited has this illustrated summary:

And here’s the link to the Care Factor: Missing the boat of an ssylum seeker solution. The Journo will endeavour to review the report.

Prosecute people smugglers, but how?

Shipwrecks will not deter refugees or asylum seekers to take the boat off to Australia- the metaphorical Utopia or Promise Land where people can play cricket or surf the net all day.

About 200 people or more from Arab countries, are feared dead at sea 200 km off Java Island of Indonesia when the overloaded boat they boarded sunk on Saturday. Only three dozens of survivors are so far accounted for, but do not rely on numbers which government statisticians can easily tweak. These people are reportedly come from Dubai and flew into Jakarta to be transported to Australia by boat.

A survivor wails after being rescued

Depending on which media you are reading, each Arab paid $500 each to Indonesian airport authorities and $6,000 each to board an Australian-bound boat. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Editorial wonders if the Indonesian authorities did not notice these Arab-looking people entering Jakarta without valid visas. Then all these desperate people queued on a port where they took the boat with a capacity of 100– there were 200 passengers.

The ABC reports that this latest tragedy costs over $600,000, a hefty amount which went into the pockets of people smugglers.

The boat captain and crew members are said to be safe. Before the boat sank, they grabbed their life vests and swam away.

Australian media say this exemplifies another well-organised people smuggling stirring further debates on Australia’s immigration policies.

This latest tragedy also coincides with the first death anniversary of about 50 asylum seekers who were shipwrecked on the stormy waters off Australia’s Christmas Island. Two weeks ago, another boat tragedy took place nearby.

A statistics from the Australian Parliament House shows that this year, 28 boats carrying 1675 people have been intercepted on Australian waters (as of June)– a sifnificant decrease from 124 boats loading 6879 people in 2010.

Earlier this year, the Julia Gillard Government approved the so-called Malaysian Solution, a policy to process asylum seekers offshore in exchange for the intake of genuine refugees. Gillard pinned hopes that this solution will stop people smuggling. The latest tragedy, however, proves she is wrong.

Other survivors receive treatment at a temporary shlter in Indonesia (Photo AFP Getty)

Time and again, boat tragedies tell stories of lost lives and broken dreams. News Limited reports an account of a survivor: 

Esmat Adine, 24, a Hazara refugee from Afghanistan said he “tried to find a suitable and legal way” but after being told he wouldn’t be eligible for a student visa to Deakin University until 2013 – and fearing for his life – he fled to Jakarta.

“I was arrested by the Taliban last year and imprisoned for 16 days where they beat me and made me sleep on a dead body,” he said.

“I registered with UNHCR in Jakarta who said it could take one year but I have a wife and three-month-old daughter at home and this is the quickest way.

“We had to go so we decided to go the quickest way. There are many, many people. They are waiting in Jakarta, waiting for the boat. Most of them, they are sure they will get to Australia.

Refugees and asylum seekers have nothing to lose and nowhere to go to. Adine was quoted further by News Ltd as saying, “If Australia does not accept our request now, we will do (it) again because we have nothing.”

If the inter-governmental solutions are not workable, can’t the governments arrest and prosecute human smugglers? They should, but how?

News Link: Asian Correspondent