A possie in Aussie

March 17, 2010

Sri Lankan asylum seekers in limbo:first video

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This is the first video available of the group of nearly 240 Sri Lankan asylum seekers who have been stranded in an Indonesian port for five months, since their boat was intercepted by the Indonesian navy following a tip-off from Australia.

Refugee advocates are preparing to make submissions to the Senate Inquiry into the Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill.

Jack Smit of Safecom thinks that the Bill is “superfluous, not necessary, and does not target “people smugglers” any more than the previous Bills”.

“The Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2010 further victimises one of the most powerless citizens’ groups in Indonesia: fishermen who have lost their age-old livelihood following Australia’s re-drafting of its northern maritime boundaries during the Whitlam years. It is the fishermen who consistently find themselves as ‘recruits’ to sail boats to Ashmore Reef and Christmas Island: their fathers, grandfathers and earlier relatives and members of the communities have done so for centuries, as the surrounds of Ashmore Reef have been their favoured fishing grounds since longer than they can remember.

“In almost every case where Australia apprehends and brings before the courts those who are skippers and crew of boats arriving in our waters, the convicted ‘people smugglers’ turn out to be these young, broke, generally illiterate, non-English speaking members of the fishing communities of Roti and surrounding islands.”

Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre points out that the new law could punish people trying to support friends and family in Indonesia.

“What is the difference in money for food, medicine and shelter and money for a boat- who decides? “

If you wish to make a submission to the Inquiry, the deadline is the 16th of April. The report is due 11th of May.


February 22, 2010

Games may be fun for the Australian Navy – but they kill asylum seekers

Australian Customs and Navy procedures for boarding illegal vessels will be reviewed in an ‘effort to make interceptions safer’, as a result of the Siev 36 explosion, in which five asylum seekers died. Boarding of illegal vessels for review

The review will examine changes in the types of boats and technologies used by people smugglers and illegal fishermen, and possible improvements to the equipment used by customs and defence.

But no mention of the most dangerous and nasty practice of all – the game of ‘cat and mouse’. The coronial inquiry into the Siev 36 affair heard that boarding parties ‘tease’ passengers and crew by talking about turning the boat around and back to Indonesia, even when they are fully aware that the boat is in Australian waters, and so they will not be able to do so. It is likely that the Siev 36 was set on fire by desperate asylum seekers who fell for the ‘trick’.

The Inquiry heard that the Chief Petty Officer of HMAS Albany handed one of the crew a notice in English and Bahasa, the last line of which read: “You should now consider immediately returning to Indonesia with your passengers and not enter Australian territory.”

The Commander of the Albany was ‘surprised’ when he heard of the notice. The SIEV 36 had crossed into Australian territorial waters long before. “This guy could see Ashmore Reef. He could see land,” the Commander said. “It was my expectation that a warning notice would not be issued.”

A senior policeman investigating the explosion asked: “Why is this sort of cat and mouse game played and not telling them where they are going?” Cat and mouse; the deadly game on our borders

Pamela Curr says that this sort of ‘game’ has been happening for years:

“I have asked four people from four different boats — rescued by Navy and Customs since the SIEV 36 disaster —   if they were informed about what was happening to them. I asked specifically if they were told that they were being taken to Christmas Island. In each case they said no. The most recent person was rescued in November 2009”. Navy leaving asylum seekers in the dark about their final destination

November 11, 2009

The Wall: Ex-East German guards patrol new asylum seeker wall

The wall.It’s been in the news a great deal recently, as Berlin and the world commemorate the 20th anniversary of  the falling of the wall that divided East and West Berlin.

The new wall hardly makes it to the news at all – that is, the walls, both physical and virtual, that have been erected all over the world to keep people out.

Not just any people: people too poor to have skills or wealth that nations in the Global North (the ‘Western’ nations’) need, and people fleeing persecution. These are walls that are dividing the Global North and Global South.

Peter Andreas points out that many of the guards who were employed by East Germany to prevent East Germans escaping via the old Wall are now employed to keep people from entering Germany. The wall after the wall

Asylum has been externalised over the pas few decades.

That is, instead of people arriving in safe countries and applying for asylum, they are prevented from arriving at all. Some of these means include aggressive visa regimes, detention and interdiction practices, airline carrier sanctions, off-shore screening of passengers by airline liaison officers and visa restrictions to exclude asylum seekers. (See Asylum seeker crowd control: Australia and Europe hire 3rd world bouncers)

IN the EU there are ‘bilateral readmission agreements’. In order to be accepted into the EU nations such as Poland had to sign such an agreement, which means that Poland must accept any asylum seeker found in the ‘western’ EWU nations who has gained entry to the Union through Poland. Many of the less- western EU nations are signatories to such agreements.

As a consequence, Andreas says, “Poland hired thousands of border guards, built more border stations, purchased new equipment, and implemented tough new laws against unauthorized migration.”

‘Externalisation’ of asylum allows nations not to contravene the requirement of non-refoulement – that is, the obligation not to return asylum seekers or refugees to the situations from which they are fleeing.

Jennifer Hyndman and Alison Mountz have coined the term ‘neo-refoulement’, the geographic exclusion of asylum seekers before they come under the ambit of non-refoulement.

November 4, 2009

Let’s stop talking about asylum seekers and do something – want to come to Indonesia with me?

James Hathaway is something of a hero of mine (yes, I know, I’m a nerd).

He is the sort of academic expert you refer to almost as you would holy writ – “if he says it it must be so”- for issues of refugee and international law.

He has been dean of Melbourne University Law School for just over a year, and now he has quit.

Hathaway says that his mother Bernice had recently asked him when he was going to “quit being a bureaucrat and starting doing good things for the world again”.

He quit so he could devote himself to promoting a “globalised” system whereby countries would take on obligations to accept refugees regardless of where they have fled to, to share the burden more equitably

The Sri Lankan refugees who were refusing to leave their boats had “crystallised” his thinking.

“This is a unique opportunity to really engage with decision-makers and judges on an issue that I felt, after 25 years, I had something to offer,” he said. Law school head quits to seek global help for refugees

I had something of the same impulse after reading the report Behind Australia’s Doors. I was so upset by the report of the conditions in which refugees are held in Indonesia that I am intending to go and see for myself, and see what I can do. I am now looking for an NGO that I would attach to, or at least someone to go with.

Any ideas?

November 3, 2009

“Indonesian Solution” is sickening, degrading: new report


What does the ‘Indonesian Solution’ look like?

And why do people try to escape by risking their lives on rotten boats?

Jessie Taylor has today released a comprehensive report on immigration detention facilities in Indonesia.

She visited 11 facilities in July 2009. Her report, Behind Australian Doors: Examining the Conditions of Detention of Asylum Seekers in Indonesia, is available at  http://www.law.monash.edu.au/castancentre/news/behind-australian-doors-report.pdf

Extracts from the report are below, but a warning, they are sickening and upsetting:

“Generally water is rationed at around 500mls per person per day. A number of detainees at Kuningan are suffering an aggressive skin disease.  It is dark purple in colour, and has the appearance of an allergy or fungal infection, and causes great discomfort to those who suffer from it. It is apparently brought on by lack of each person’s ability to maintain an acceptable standard of personal hygiene, and the cramped and filthy conditions inside the cells.”

“As there are 13-15 adult males in each of the irregularly shaped 3x4m cells, sleeping is very difficult.  Detainees inform us that they sleep in rows, on their sides, as there is not enough room to lie flat.

“The kitchen is open to the elements and covered in fungus and mold.  The shower is a hose over a filthy toilet.  The water supply is polluted and contaminated.  There are problems with rodents and snakes in the kitchen and living areas.

“The filth in this accommodation is difficult to describe, and constitute by far the worst conditions I have seen human beings living in.

“Almost all of these detainees have been accepted as refugees by UNHCR, many of them in mid-2008.  Needless to say they are anxious as to when they might be resettled elsewhere in a country where their children can get on with life.

“Medical treatment was utterly lacking.  There was a man who had broken his ankle very badly a number of weeks previously. The ankle was inflamed and infected around the primitive stitches, and he depended on another detainee to dress the weeping, pus-covered wound once or twice a day.  Fluid seeped through the bandage and was visible from the outside of the dressing.  He had been supplied with weak painkillers by IOM, but no further attention had been paid to him and he was in significant pain.

“I’ve been waiting nine years now.   How much longer will it take?” – MDK, 26, Cisarua

Also released today: results of a News poll on asylum seekers:

“Question: The Federal Government is currently working with the Indonesian government to stop asylum seekers entering Australian waters. For each of the below statements that have been made about current incident of asylum seekers, please indicate your level of agreement.”

October 2, 2009

Asylum seeker boat blast: Who dunnit?

The inquiry into the blast on the boat that killed five asylum seekers off north-west Australia earlier this year was caused by arson, the Northern Territory Police inquiry has found. Sabotage behind refugees’ boat blast: Australian police

I receiver the following email from Pamela Curr this morning, who says that the inquiry in fact raises more questions than answers as to the cause of the fire.

Pamela’s email is as follows:

“While strongly exonerating the Navy from any wrongdoing, the inquiry claims that film footage of the events showing Naval personnel kicking victims away from rescue boats cannot be seen or considered.

The inquiry concludes that an unnamed and unknown asylum seeker deliberately lit the fire but that there is not enough evidence to charge this person. Claims that asylum seekers poured petrol all over the boat do not provide an explanation as to how this took place in light of the fact that for 24 hours the Navy had total control of the boat and that the asylum seekers were sitting on the deck floor under armed guard which would make it difficult to do what the police inquiry claims.

There is also no explanation as to how a fire could be deliberately started if strict boarding protocols were carried out. These protocols dictate that naval personnel when boarding an asylum seeker boat must secure and contain the passengers immediately under armed guard, must then search the boat for weapons and flammable materials and remove same. How is it that the men were sat on the deck floor for 24 hours under guard, next to the leaking petrol drums? All witnesses have commented on the strong smell of petrol on the boat. How and why did naval personnel allow these frightened men to smoke in close proximity to the fuel?

The inquiry claims that the boat was being transferred to Christmas Island when the Navy themselves have admitted that the men were not told what was going to happen to them or where they were going. Indeed evidence was presented that some men were told that they were being sent back to Indonesia without any refugee assessment. This was a practice of the previous government but so far not the Rudd Government which is more inclined to adhere to the International Conventions which Australia has signed. This begs another question- were the Navy “riding cowboy” and trying to frighten the asylum seekers or were they intending to push them back to Indonesia.

An urgent Coronial Inquiry is needed to provide answers to these questions and provide some truth and clarity to ensure that such a tragedy is not repeated. It would seem that this police inquiry is based on half the evidence with a strong bias to ensure that the Navy is presented in a good light.

Pamela Curr is the coordinator of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

September 16, 2009

Indonesia offers cash to asylum seekers

The Indonesian government is offering Afghan asylum seekers financial inducements trying to return home.

It is very likely that those ‘inducements’ are being in  turn financed by Australia Asylum seeker crowd control: Australia and Europe hire 3rd world bouncers

In a recent interview, Hariyadi Wirawan, Indonesian international relations expert, told Radio Australia that instead greater effort must be made to ensure the asylum-seekers do not return to danger or persecution in their homeland. Indonesian govt asylum-seeker payoffs questioned

“If you give them the money and then they will tell people back home and it will in fact encourage people to come over to Indonesia at least they will try to get their way into Australia, because they will say if you get caught in Indonesia you will get the money and return, if not then you’ll succeed in getting into the Australian shores. So actually it’s not tough enough for them to teach them that going through these islands of Indonesia is not really an option”.

Wirawan also said that standards of immigration detention in Indonesia are “far from adequate”, but explained that  Indonesia is not really prepared because they think that  they will only come for a very short period of time, on route to Australia.

September 15, 2009

Asylum seekers: malicious arithmetic and game show rhetoric

The Australian Federal Opposition is in deep trouble, to put it mildly, and is searching for an issue to raise its popularity with the Australian public. Vilifying asylum seekers worked for the Howard government, so the Opposition is wheeling that one out.

In the past week, three boats carrying suspected asylum seekers have been intercepted off Australia’s north west-coast.

This has given the Opposition’s immigration representative Sharman Stone the opportunity to revive all the shameless spin about asylum seekers. ‘Soft’ asylum policy blamed for boat arrivals

Stones says that the Government’s approach to asylum seekers ‘has put people smugglers back in business’. This is guilt by association, as practiced by Howard and Ruddock. Say ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘people smuggler’ together often enough and asylum seekers will be perceived as part of a criminal gang.

Stone claims that at the current rate, the Government’s ‘refugee intake limit of 13,500 will soon be reached’.

Stone’s arithmetic is deliberately malicious. There have been just over 1,000 asylum seekers arriving by boat this year. Stone is too intelligent to ignore the fact that this will leave 12,500 other places.

Ruddock froze visa allocation at overseas posts in February 2000, claiming it was necessary because the ‘most vulnerable’ people in refugee camps outside Australia might have ‘their places’ taken by onshore asylum seekers, and describing it as ‘unfair’ and the decision ‘regrettable’. This was a lie.  Figures from government records show that even in the worst case there should have been over 4,500 visas available for allocation offshore for the last 5 months of 1999-2000, and indeed that visa allocation at overseas posts would have had to increase in order to ensure that the program quota was filled.

‘No country can simply abrogate its own choice of the needy,’ lectured Stone, thus attempting to revive the frame of the ‘deserving’ off shore applicants and the ‘unworthy’ on-shore. Another deliberately malicious trope – the asylums seekers are nearly all escaping from Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Who is more needy?

Stone finishes with a deliberate use of a phrase engraved in the Australian TV viewer’s consciousness “The message now [is] ‘Come on down, you’re going to have a fairly troublefree passage.” The public is unlikely to forget this one.

See also Ruddock: Pauline Hanson made me do it! and Australians turn away from bull about boatpeople

September 9, 2009

Australia no longer charges for jail

A Liberal senator yesterday crossed the floor to help seal parliamentary approval of a plan to stop charging asylum seekers and immigration detainees for their mandatory detention.

The bill will remove the requirement that persons held in immigration detention in Australia be liable for the costs of their detention. The Bill will also extinguish all immigration detention debts outstanding at the time of commencement of the legislation. Coalition splits over abolishing detention debt

Judith Troeth rose from her seat for the vote on Tuesday afternoon and walked across the chamber, in defiance of her party’s stance on the issue.

When the vote was called, Senator Troeth walked over to sit alone on the Labor side of the chamber. Senator crosses floor to help eradicate asylum seeker debt

Four of her colleagues, MPs Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan, Danna Vale and Russell Broadbent, had done the same in the House of Representatives.

Refugee Council CEO Paul Power says the policy of charging former detainees for their time in immigration detention centres, introduced by the Keating Labor Government in 1992, had proven to be both highly ineffective and heartless.

“Few people encumbered with massive debts had the capacity to repay,” Mr Power said.  “People were charged for each day they were detained against their will, paying the full cost of any bureaucratic decision to transfer them from one immigration detention centre to another.

“Prior to 2005, children were often detained with their parents and families were charged separately for the detention costs of each family member.  It was not uncommon for families to leave immigration detention centres with bills exceeding $200,000.

In a media release, Minister for Immigration Senator Evans said:

“Less than three per cent of the detention debt invoiced since 2004-05 has been recovered, with the vast majority of debts incurred under this system either waived or written off because they are uneconomical to pursue.”

Senator Troeth’s vote was not essential as the bill passed by 34 votes to 30, but her gesture was a rare, formal demonstration of differing views within the coalition – and she sent a public message to her party.

“The Liberal Party is having an important conversation with history on how we treat those who seek refuge within our shores,” the Victorian senator told the Senate after the vote.

“Today, as we hew a new path to government, the Liberal Party must arrive from our deliberations having found a confidence in our ability to defend our borders without closing our hearts.” Senate passes detention debt legislation

Shadow Immigration Spokesperson Sharman Stone argued that the bill should be defeated.

She argued that billing former detention detainees “serves a very important purpose” and that abolishing the measure would be “very unwise”.

She argued that the Australian taxpayer should not pay for the detainment of illegal fishers, asylum seekers who do not have a valid claim and people smugglers.

Andrew Bartlett comments:

“The Senate debate provides a reminder of the previous federal government’s practice of (mis)using asylum seekers for political gain, with some of the familiar distortions about so-called “illegal entrants”, “jumping the queue”, “illegal immigrants” and the like being trotted out again by Coalition Senators” Debates on refugees – then and now

July 26, 2009

Potoroos love asylum seekers

An oldie, but a goodie

PotoroosHappy Sunday Funday!

(There hasn’t been much news of asylum seekers in the last week – I hope no news is good news. Enjoy!)

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