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)

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UN raises concern on Australia’s new asylum policy

Following Australian Parliament’s passage of a bill to process asylum seekers offshore, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees held a press briefing in Geneva saying the new policy raises complex legal, protection, policy and operational issues.

UNHCR Spokesperson Adrian Edwards welcomes Australia Expert Panel’s Report as it encourages regional cooperation which the UNHRC has long supported. However, the report also emphasises on “strong deterrent elements reflected in the re-establishment of offshore processing in the Pacific raise concerns and many questions.” The briefing said,

The Government’s decision, enabled by legislation passed by Parliament, to allow offshore processing is an exception to this general practice. We do not want to see a return to lengthy delays in remote island centres for asylum seekers and refugees before durable solutions are found. We are also concerned about the psychological impact for those individuals who would be affected.

Edwards concluded the briefing saying UNHRC will study the amendment for possible discussion with the Australian Government.

Australia’s Governor-General speaks at an annual breakfast for UNHCR in Sydney as part of the World Refugee Week in 2011. (Photo: Office of the Governor-General)

Increased boat arrivals and “deaths at sea” sent the Australian Parliament in panic and railroaded the amendment to the Migration Act that officially shuts its borders from people arriving by boat in a heated deliberation Thursday.

The re-invented law tells asylum seekers to go back to third parties in the Asia-pacific region without specific time frames for legal processing. The law is now waiting for a royal assent.

The Coalition Government strongly voted the bill, 44-9 defeating the Greens into smithereens. Senator Christine Milne admitted her “shame” as a parliamentarian. She claimed she has not been provided with the details of the bill while the Government rushed its passage, SBS reported.

The public broadcaster also noted Opposition Leader Tony Abbott cheered to the new law and commended the asylum Panel the Government has appointed in June. The Panel highly endorsed the return of the landmark policy of the former Prime Minister John Howard to detain boat people in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard clenches fists alongside her Immigration Minister Chris Bowen as they meet the press. (Photo: AAP/Lucas Coch)

The Australian Parliament House has compiled statistics on the number of boat people seeking for asylum in Australia since 1976, year-by-year. It shows that the John Howard’s Pacific Solution has deterred boat arrivals in 2002-2008. But when the policy ended 2008 by Howard’s successor Kevin Rudd, massive influx of boats resumed and has dramatically increased from that time on. Latest figure during 2011-2012 shows that 7983 people have arrived in 110 boats.

The Australian Parliament House shows statistics on boat arrivals.

The massive boat arrivals in recent months alarmed the Government. Members of the Parliament have gone through lengthy and tedious deliberations in both Upper and Lower Houses to enact amendments to the Migration Act.

Following release of the asylum Panel’s 22 Recommendation on Monday, however, new boats carrying an estimated number of 200 boat people, more or less, have arrived.

Asylum seekers rallies inside a detention centre. (Photo: NTNews)

The Government has already dispatched a team to Manus Island in PNG to assess the details and magnitude of reconstruction works at detention centres. It is the same detention site used during the Howard’s Pacific Solution.

The Australian Government has recognised the magnitude of these global trends noting that the numbers of people seeking asylum in Australia are small compared to those seeking asylum in Europe and other parts of the world.

In the US, for example, it is estimated that more than 500 000 ‘illegal aliens’ arrive each year. Similarly, parts of Europe struggle to monitor and control the large influxes from Africa and the Middle East each year. In comparison, in 2010 134 boats arrived unauthorised in Australia with a total of about 6879 people on board (including crew). Though considerably more than the 7 boat arrivals in 2008 with 179 people on board, in comparison with Europe and the US this is still a small number.

The APH notes that although Australians in the past offered sympathy to displaced people, the rampant arrivals has now become a matter of concern – including border protection, rising unemployment, and selection of people who would become a member of society, among other issues.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has also launched a campaign to discourage people arriving by boats. It drumbeats a punch line: “No to People Smuggling.”

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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