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.

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Immigration minister agrees to free children from Manus?

GetUp resumes its campaign against Pacific Solution Mark II. Now the group is pressing the Federal Government to release about 34 children detained in Manus Island.

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NewsLtd

Children asylum seekers detained in Nauru. (Photo: News Ltd)

GetUp said,

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor finally pulled his head out of the sand, admitting that asylum seeker detention centres are “not only expensive, [they] take a toll on people’s mental health and wellbeing.” 1 Amen.

The announcement will mean newly arrived asylum seeker families would be eligible to be released into the community on bridging visas. Prompting the question GetUp members have been asking for months:

Why is Manus Island Detention Centre still open at all?

The condemnation of the Manus Island detention centre couldn’t be stronger, and it’s coming from all directions. A recent report from the Immigration Department found its own facility poses health risks. In an ABC Four Corners report, Dr John Vallentine said medical treatment in the centre was inadequate. The Coalition have called it a waste of money. The number of boat arrivals shows it doesn’t even work as a deterrent.

 Sign and share this petition so we can demonstrate widespread public support demanding the Manus Island detention centre be shut down once and for all.

SHUT DOWN MANUS!

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The public needs to hear of some breakthrough.

Anti-Muslim election campaign gone berserk

As political campaigns for this year’s federal election kicked off, an unorthodox political party emerged to attack Muslim immigration and multiculturalism.

Sri Lankan-born Pentecostal Pastor Daniel Nalliah launched his Rise Up Australia Party (RUAP) early this week to unite and urge Australians to protect “Australian way of life” which he said is being destroyed by Muslim immigrants. The slogan: “ Keep Australia Australian.”

RUAP candidate Daniel Nalliah with Lord Christopher Monckton during the party launch. (Photo: RUAP)

RUAP already boasts about 1,500 members and plans to field 65 candidates in the upcoming federal election slated in September.

RUAP is fighting against multiculturalism, gays and lesbians, abortion, carbon tax, asylum seekers, and other left-wing issues.

Nalliah said multiculturalism is assimilating the “silent majority” to accept minority culture. This, he said, has never worked in many countries in the West. He declared “Australia for Australians” to the cheers and uproar of supporters at the National Press Club in Canberra.

Supported by UK-born climate sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton,  RUAP has also launched the Victoria State Campaign on September 16.

“It is not for me as a Brit to endorse any Australian political party, … but I’m going to anyway, ” Monckton said.

Many are wondering how the two are related.

Monckton has been invited to speak about climate change before the congregation of Nalliah’s Catch the Fire Ministries in the past.

The political platform of Nalliah resonates with the political interest of Monckton – anti-carbon tax, pro-mining, and pro-small businesses, to name a few.

Official logo of RUAP

Morbid commentator Adrew Bolt can only expressed a deep sigh labelling the two as “fringe dwellers”.

Why on earth was Christopher Monckton endorsing the nationalist Rise Up Australia Party? Great chance for warmists to paint climate sceptics as fringe dwellers.

Demosblog puts it that Bolt is rather distracted:

….rather than denouncing the extremist views of Pastor Danny Nalliah, Andrew Bolt instead is most immediately concerned that Lord Monckton’s endorsement of Rise Up Australia might be bad PR for climate sceptics

Another blog commented on the party launch:

It was hard to tell what was a more pitiful spectacle at the launch of Pastor Danny’s new rabid party of zealotry and prejudice – Monckton or the aging grey-haired audience of true believing loons.

If there is Monckton and Bolt, the people’s watchdog called Getup is sure to be watching.

GetUp is mobilizing a multitude to stop what it calls “madness.” RUAP’s political platform runs counter to what GetUp has been advocating- violation to human rights.

“Rise Up” ….is waging a war against multiculturalism, marriage equality, climate action, and pretty much everything we stand for. Best of all, cringe-worthy climate denier Lord Monckton is touring our country again. Appalling? Yes. It’s time to rally the troops…. Now more than ever we need to mobilise and prove that racism, intolerance and hate isn’t the norm. Among the rising tide of intolerance, let’s show Australia that these people don’t speak for us.

Pro-Muslim, pro-diveristy candidate – Dr Ahmed Berhan (Photo: Dr Ahmed Berhan FB Page)

Pro-Muslim Candidate

Does Nalliah know a pro-Muslim Independent candidate is running for Senate? Dr Berhan Ahmed is a former refugee who came to Australia over 25 years ago.  He was awarded the Victorian of the Year in 2009 for his work as an African community leader in which he is a lead think tank.

Ahmed is neither a pro or anti-assimilation. He sees a great mix of people who need a voice in State Parliament. He said, “The political system has become clogged by the same people with the same voice.”  He wants to show the people on the margins they  can participate and get involved.

Ahmed’s political agenda calls for the improvement of housing, employment and transport infrastructure.

Born in Eritrea, Ahmed’s first jobs were a tram conductor and taxi driver. He spent 10 years in Fitzroy public housing studying for his PhD and masters degree. He now works as a Senior Research Fellow in forest and ecosystem science at the University of Melbourne.

Freedom of Speech and Truth

Candidates for the upcoming election are truly diverse.

Julian Assange on live telecast from the UK. He tells his supporters in Melbourne, “To the Internet generation, this is our moment.” (Photo: R. Yoon/The Green Journo)

WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange will also run for the Senate in Victoria. He is the lead candidate of a newly formed WikiLeaks Party.

Assange’s application for electoral enrolment in Victoria was handed to the Australian Electoral Commission in Melbourne this week by WikiLeaks supporters including his father, Sydney architect John Shipton, who has been active in the initial organisation of the party.

Shipton said Assange’s enrolment was ”a first step” in a political campaign that would focus on ”the democratic requirement of truthfulness from government”.

Blog Link: 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)

Go Back to Where You Come From

While chilling up a bit, here’s from GetUp!

It’s 11 years this month since Tampa, and Australia’s refugee debate seems like a bad tape stuck on loop.  So what do you do when you have an issue that’s become this polarised and politicised?

The cast of Go Back to Where You Come From. (Photo: SBS)

You reach out to the other side.

We’re not going to achieve humane and common-sense refugee policy by preaching to the converted. But each of us can, through our own networks and actions, help open the minds of those we know who might not understand the big deal about offshore processing and indefinite detention.

This week, there are two great opportunities to do just that. Starting tonight is a show that every Australian should see. It’s the new series of the SBS documentary, ‘Go Back to Where you Came From’, which takes Australians with “outspoken views” and invites them to see the world through the eyes of a refugee – retracing real journeys all the way back to places like Somalia and Afghanistan.

Last season it not only achieved hit ratings, but it was a life-changing experience for those who took part. With politicians from both sides of the aisle hoping we’ll just accept soundbite solutions, a show like this that puts human stories and hearts in the spotlight and changes the minds of even the most ardent hardliners is more important than ever.

Tune in tonight, Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm on SBS. Invite your friends and family over to watch, and join the live chat with fellow GetUp members on our site by signing up here:   http://www.getup.org.au/gobacksbs

In the meantime, we’ve also developed an arresting new infographic that helps explains where ‘boat people’ really come from and why; and we need your help to share it far and wide.   Check it out, and share it all this week on Twitter and Facebook.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” History shows us that policy and laws become more just when a tipping point of hearts and minds are opened, and the differences we’ve used to justify denying the humanity of another no longer seem that vast. That’s where sharing stories, culture and sharing are so important.

Don’t forget to tune in, the GetUp team

PS – This morning, the horrid news of 17 Afghans reportedly beheaded by the Taliban is an acrid reminder of the circumstances that drive so many desperate asylum seekers to our shores. We’ve produced a new infographic showing the conflicts and crisis that drive asylum seeker movement.

— We aren’t affiliated with SBS, but like Amnesty, the Refugee Council of Australia and a range of school and community groups we’ve chosen to promote this show because we think it’s courageous and important. We hope you’ll tune in and join the live GetUp chat on our website, starting tonight: click here to register —

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.

Asylum seekers to experience homestay

Delayed posting of one of the top news stories of the week:

Following the launch of the Community Placement Network (CPN) on May 3, about 5000 asylum seekers will be able to experience a decent life in a homestay program. The 6-week refugee homestay, an initial scheme to ease overcrowded detention centres, is expected to kick off two weeks from now. CPN is designed to accommodate asylum seekers released from detention centres on a Bridging Visa.

Australian Homestay Network (AHN) CEO David Bycroft told ABC more than a hundred applications have been lodged on the first day. Eligible refugees, mostly males of 18-25 years of age, will have the opportunity to stay at accredited Aussie homes. AHN is privately-run homestay accommodation network intended for international students costing $300 per week. Bycrfot said this scheme is the “best model” for processing eligible asylum seekers while waiting for their bridging visas and to eventually transition into community life.

Detainees stage a protest on a rooftop of the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney in March. (Photo: AP)

Australian media, including News Corp, reported that the Australian Government has offered AHN-member home owners $250-$300 a week to accommodate a refugee guest. It will also pay a weekly stipend of between $220 and $300 to families to cover food and board for detainees. Almost 1000 detainees have been released into the community over the past two months, the paper added.

However, the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group website clarified media reports on the costs. Quoting Pamela Carr, campaign coordinator of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, the guest by the Name of G Winston says, asylum seekers will pay$120- $140 per week for board in an Australian home under the CPN for the first six weeks and they will pay extra for food. “They will pay this out of their CAS payment which is around $215 per week. Asylum seekers get a CAS payment for the first 6 weeks when they leave detention. The CAS payment is the equivalent of 89% of Sickness Benefit (the lowest Centrelink Payment).”

The website also said, costs in detention centres range from $160 – $ 850 per person per night depending on the detention centre’s location. Over 90% of asylum seekers coming by boat are found to be refugees, get visas and will settle in Australia, Carr was also quoted as saying while the Amnesty International confirmed, “we have to remember that ultimately 90% of asylum seekers will be found to be genuine refugees.”

Detainees stage a riot at a Christmas Island detention centre last month. (Photo: Seven News)

Praise for homestay

AI welcomes the CPN initiative as a positive shift to more community-based processing of asylum seekers in Australia. Dr Graham Thom, AI’s refugee spokesperson said the scheme will provide refugees with an opportunity to be introduced to the Australian community.

“We are pleased to see these positive steps relating to the processing of asylum seekers in the Australian community…Community processing initiatives like the CPN are much cheaper than detention, and much more humane, giving asylum seekers the chance to start contributing to Australian society while they wait for their refugee status to be assessed,” says Dr Thom.

The AI has done a research trip to some of the most remote detention facilities across the country and found that the detention centres “incredibly difficult for asylum seekers to understand and engage with the system.” Dr. Thom said once the asylum seekers are released from detention, they often feel isolated and disconnected within the community.

“This is a step forward and it honours Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention, but the Government must now continue to work towards increasing the number of bridging visa releases.”

A typical homestay student accommodation facility advertised by a private home owner. (Photo: elsa.sa.edu.au)

Opposition slams homestay

While the CPN is fully supported by human rights organisations, the Federal Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison slammed the plan, claiming it shows the Government’s desperation, recklessness of policy and out of control. He said Australians have been complaining about the rising costs of living and Julia Gillard offered to supplement household incomes by offering rent to asylum seekers.

“Labor’s decision to house adult male asylum seekers released on bridging visas in the spare rooms of Australian families is a desperate, reckless policy from a government that has lost control….The fact Australian families are now being asked to house asylum seekers who have arrived illegally by boat, including those whose claims have been rejected, shows just how desperate Labor have become over their failed border protection policies which have seen almost 17,000 people now arrive on 301 boats.”

However, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, said: “This is yet another cheap shot from the Coalition, who like to demonise asylum seeker issues.”

The Refugee Advocacy Network is convinced the CPN will not offer accommodation but also a helping hand to get the refugees start learning the Australian way of life. It said this is a great initiative to complement the Australian Red Cross in its search for short-term accommodation support to eligible asylum seekers coming out of detention

The CPN is an initiative of the AHN to offer short-term homestay accommodation to eligible asylum seekers leaving detention centres on a Bridging visa. The AHN has been commended by both the Senate Inquiry into the Welfare of International Students (2009) and the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into International Student Accommodation (2011). It is the only operating homestay organisation with benchmarked national standards, and is the leading homestay provider within Australia. The CPN operates under these national standards.

Blog Link : ASIAN CORRESPONDENT