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Australia Slams The Door on Refugees

Posted: July 20th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Australia, Hard Pill to Swallow, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Australia Slams The Door on Refugees

Australia Slams The Door on RefugeesAustralia’s latest Prime Minister – Kevin Rudd – has slammed the door on asylum seekers attempting to enter the country by boat. Mr Rudd has confirmed a deal that will see asylum seekers sent to Papua New Guinea – PNG – for assessment, and if they are found to be genuine refugees, they’ll be resettled there.

PNG’s prime minister Peter O’Neill joined Mr Rudd in formally unveiling the plan in Brisbane on Friday. Mr Rudd says those found not to be refugees will be sent back to their own nations or a third country.

Mr Rudd says the deal with PNG is aimed at stopping “the scourge of people smuggling”. If nothing else the move is likely to polarize opinion on Australia’s treatment of refugees ::::

Manus Island DIAC

“I understand this is a very hard-line decision. I understand the different groups in Australia and around the world will see this decision in different ways,” Mr Rudd said. “But our responsibility as a government is to ensure we have a robust system of border security and orderly migration on the one hand, as well as fulfilling our legal and compassionate obligations under the Refugees’ Convention on the other.”

[k.rudd youtube]

[k.rudd youtube]

Australia’s latest regional settlement agreement will be effective for 12 months and there will be no cap on the number of people who can be transferred to PNG.

Mr O’Neill says he strongly believes genuine refugees can be resettled in his nation.

“Specific communities like Papua New Guinea and the other island states continue to have challenges of maintaining their borders, and as a result of that we continue to have illegal immigrants into those countries,” Mr O’Neill said. “Today’s regional resettlement program is one that we believe that it’s going to resolve many of those issues that we have brought forward to the Australian Government. I believe that the processing centre and the resettlement arrangements that we are forging will enable us to have an orderly processing of citizens, of people who are seeking genuine citizenship of other countries in the region. That is why we agreed to a resettlement program where we believe strongly that genuine refugees can be… resettled in our country and within the region in the years to come.”

Mr Rudd says the new agreement will deliver a message loud and clear to people smugglers that “their business model is now basically undermined”. The package includes a significant expansion of the Manus Island detention centre to house 3,000 people up from the original capacity of 600. Currently, about 145 people are housed on the island.

Mr Rudd says the implementation of the plan “will not be inexpensive and that acting on such a sustained challenge to border security does cost”. He says at present, because asylum seeker numbers are going up, it is a “huge burden to budget” but the new regional arrangement has “the objective of reducing the numbers overtime and therefore with less call on the budget”.

Mr Rudd has been under growing pressure to deal with the dramatic increase in asylum seekers attempting to enter Australia by boat. He says the new regional settlement agreement with Papua New Guinea is “part of a multi-layered approach to dealing with the scourge of people smuggling”.

“Australia will continue its cooperative arrangements with the republic of Nauru and looks forward to furthering those arrangements,” Mr Rudd said

Mr Rudd says he has spoken with the UN Secretary-General about Australia convening an international conference of relevant transit countries and destination countries. He says the conference will look at the adequacy of processing systems and arrangements to deal with the burden of resettling refugees.

Human Rights Advocates Critical of Agreement

Human rights lawyer Julian Burnside QC has accused both major political parties of misleading the public about issues surrounding asylum seekers. Mr Burnside told ABC News that repeated use of terms like “illegals” and “queue jumpers” have painted asylum seekers in a threatening light. He says Australia’s reception to the “boat people” who arrived in the 1970s was vastly different due to the leadership shown by the politicians of the time.

“Everyone was hysterical about the so-called invasion of boat people,” Mr Burnside said. “The number who arrived in Australia in the last 12 months was slightly fewer than the number who arrived each year in the late 1970s. There was no fuss about it then, because [Gough] Whitlam and [Malcolm] Fraser] decided to take a bipartisan approach.”

Mr Burnside criticised the Government’s plan to bring the Refugee Review Tribunal under the umbrella of the Foreign Affairs portfolio, saying it could jeopardise independent assessment of asylum seekers’ cases.

“Senator Carr will be leaning on people to call them all economic refugees,” Mr Burnside said. “Let me make it very clear, it is absolutely outrageous for a minister of the crown to be leaning on independent decision makers or distorting the evidence that they can work on.

“That is really, really bad form.”

Mr Burnside says the Federal Government will have difficulty convincing all countries party to the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention to agree to any changes. He also condemned the Coalition’s suggestion for Australia to withdraw from the convention.

Asylum boat capsized off Java

Indonesia Toughens Visa Laws

Indonesia has agreed to a request from Kevin Rudd to make it harder for people from Iran to enter the country in order to travel to Australia by boat. Indonesian justice minister Amir Syamsuddin has signed a letter – in effect a ministerial decree – that will stop Iranians being able to obtain a visa on arrival when they fly to Indonesia.

The move could slow the flow of people on their way to seeking asylum in Australia. Mr Syamsuddin has confirmed the visa changes were made following a request from Mr Rudd last week. Officials from the Department of Immigration have been in Tehran negotiating for the Government there to take back asylum seekers. Currently Iran does not accept involuntary returns, making it impossible for Australia to return asylum seekers who have been refused refugee status by Australia.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister has confirmed that Mr Rudd specifically raised concern about the arrangements for visas on arrival in Indonesia during his discussions with president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr has welcomed the move, saying it will be a significant blow for people smugglers.

Senator Carr has said a large number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia, particularly those from Iran, are “economic migrants” rather than genuine refugees.

“One of the things that people smugglers have been doing has been to collect Iranians who fly out of Tehran, land in Jakarta and pay what’s said to be $25 for a visa,” Senator Carr said. “The fact that this practice is going to be curbed means the economic basis, the legal basis for people smuggling is dealt a serious blow.”

Indonesia is a transit destination for people on their way to Australia to seek asylum, with thousands taking the risky boat ride. At the end of June this year, 12 percent of people registered with the UN’s refugee agency in Indonesia were from Iran.

Rohingya refugees try to cross into Bangladesh

Rudd Wants Closer Look at Regions Visa Rules

Earlier this month Mr Yudhoyono and Mr Rudd announced a regional conference to discuss people smuggling. At a later address to the National Press Club, Mr Rudd said one of the advantages to be achieved through such a conference was to examine regional visa regimes.

“That is, visas and regimes which allow too easy access to various countries in the region,” Mr Rudd said.

The Prime Minister’s new strategy will be three-fold, with action at a national, regional and global level. Mr Rudd has said he wants to tighten refugee processing laws and has flagged that he may seek changes to the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention.

On Wednesday night the Australian Navy rescued another 120 asylum seekers after their boat got into trouble near Christmas Island. Just a day earlier four people drowned when their boat capsized in rough seas.

An international policy expert says Mr Rudd’s chances of changing the refugee convention are slim to none.

Professor William Maley, director of the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University, says Mr Rudd has very limited scope to change the text of the document.

Indonesia Ditches 30 Day Visa

Sri Lanka and Afghanistan don’t have access to 30-day visa. ABC’s Indonesia correspondent Helen Brown says that Iran is the only major source country that has access to Indonesia’s 30-day visa system, while Sri Lanka and Afghanistan do not.

“An official did make note that they’ve noticed in Indonesia that more Iranians are coming in and using this system of visa on arrival and that has become a concern to them. They’re worried that it is in fact being misused,” she said. “We also know that in Indonesia around the end of June there were just over 8,000 registered with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and of that 12 per cent were from Iran. So that’s around 990 … you have 990 Iranians who are registered in Indonesia seeking placement to another country.”

Kaveh Akbari, a university student and an Iranian refugee who resettled in Australian in 1995, heads the Free Iran Project. He says the Government’s assertion that most Iranians coming to Australia are economic migrants is ludicrous.

“What we’re talking about is this, just to put it into context: if you are caught walking on the street holding the hands of your girlfriend and you can’t provide proof that this person is your wife, you are subject to lashing,” Mr Akbari said. “If you’re caught drinking, you know, even if there’s alcohol on your breath and there’s alcohol in your system, you are subject to lashing. If you’re caught expressing yourself politically in any way, you are subject to this kind of treatment.”

Asylum seekers arrive by boat in Geraldton WA

The Opposition’s immigration spokesman, meanwhile, has declared Australia must wage a war against people smugglers. Scott Morrison has accused the Government of being all talk and no action on stemming the flow of boats. He has told ABC that if the Coalition was elected it would put in place deterrence measures at every opportunity.

“We will stop the boats because we will respond to the situation that we’re presented with and that is our resolve,” Mr Morrison said. “This is a war against people smuggling and you’ve got to approach it on that basis. We will not cease until it’s done. Kevin Rudd does not believe you can stop the boats.”

Mr Morrison said the Coalition has not ruled out withdrawing from the refugee convention.

“If you were to withdraw from the convention, it wouldn’t take effect for a year, that’s the process. What we think we have to do immediately is things that have an impact right now, and that is turning boats back where it’s safe to do so, it is temporary protection visas, it is expanded regional offshore processing.”

Rudd Puts Refugee Convention Under Scrutiny

The Government is looking at three main changes to its asylum seeker policy. They will include a tightening of processing rules for economic migrants and greater cooperation in the region, particularly with Papua New Guinea, and there will be a pledge to address the effectiveness of the 60-year-old United Nations Refugee Convention.

“We’re looking at this right now globally in terms of the effectiveness of the Refugees’ Convention,” Mr Rudd said. “We’re looking at it regionally in terms of our co-operation with regional states in South-East Asia and the south-west Pacific, hence my visit to Indonesia.”

Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says the Government’s policy needs an upgrade to deal with the changing situation.

“As the people smugglers’ model changes, so must policy change,” Mr Albanese said. “So there’s no point in time in which you can say that all the work is done. What you need to do is constantly modify your policy to meet the changed response.”

Once Mr Rudd announces his suite of asylum policy changes in the days ahead it is thought he will then switch his focus to an election date.

Australia Won’t Walk Away From it’s Obligations

Former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans has acknowledged concerns with the way the Refugee Convention applies to the 21st century. Professor Evans says that while he does not believe Australia would ever walk away from its obligations under the convention, there are some issues that could be addressed.

“It’s perfectly sensible to open up an international conversation about the scope of the convention but the truth of the matter in the short term, the medium term, the solution has to lie both in domestic measures and more particularly regional measures, offshore processing of the kind that was tried but rejected by the Opposition and the Greens in the case of Malaysia,” Professor Evans said. “I can’t believe that Australia would ever walk away from our obligations under the convention. But at the same time I think we have to recognise that for decades actually there have been concerns about the applicability of the convention to the circumstances of the 21st century compared with the post-World War II years when it was first created.”

The Federal Government has already ordered Australia’s refugee tribunals to take new country assessments into account when deciding on claims of asylum seekers from Iran, Afghanistan and Vietnam.

However,  international law expert Ben Saul is concerned about Labor’s intentions.

“I think what the Government’s really saying here is that it wants to reduce the level of protection,” Mr Saul said. “Reviewing the effectiveness of the convention is worthwhile only if it means strengthening the protection.”

Mr Saul says there is no appetite internationally to change the Convention.

Meanwhile, Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says he has strong reservations about the Refugee Convention but he would not say yet whether a Coalition government would remain a signatory.

“I’ve said pretty plainly that I have strong reservations about the way that is interpreted and how that is impacting upon how our policies operate here domestically,” Mr Morrison said. “When I’m ready to make further announcements on that in the course of between now and the election then the Coalition will do that at a time of our choosing, not of Kevin Rudd’s.”

Rudd’s Hopes of Changing UN Refugee Convention Slim

Kevin Rudd’s chances of changing the 62-year-old UN Refugee Convention to suit his new-look asylum seeker policy are slim to none, according to an international policy expert.

The asylum seeker issue is next on the hit list as Mr Rudd clears the decks before announcing the federal election date.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees has been involved in talks with the Australian Government as Mr Rudd prepares to announce the policy overhaul in the coming days. Mr Rudd has already flagged potential changes to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which was set up in the wake of World War II.

Mr Rudd points to a three-pronged approach to tackle the asylum seeker issue, which would include global action, regional action, and action at home. As part of this global action, Mr Rudd has the UN convention in his sights.

Kevin Rudd’s ‘International Crusade’

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has written off this approach as a “red herring” that does not address the problem.

“We should get cracking on doing what we need to in this country and on our borders to fix this problem, not raise yet another red herring which is Mr Rudd leading some kind of an international crusade to change an international rule,” mr Abbott said.

Professor William Maley, director of the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University, says Mr Rudd has very limited scope to change the text of the document.

In fact, changes by the Federal Government would be seen as radical, with such a move never having been made in the convention’s history.

In 1967 the convention was broadened to apply to refugees from all over the world, not just Europe, but the Government is likely to do the opposite and tighten the way the document is applied.

Professor Maley says the Government is likely to put in a request for a revision of the convention directly to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

This will then have to be approved by the entire UN General Assembly.

“That would simply be the starting point in a very long process, the end point of which is unlikely to be one which would work to the favour of developed countries,” Professor Maley said.

What is the UN Refugee Convention?

  • A legal document defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states who are signatories.
  • The 1951 document related to WWII refugees in Europe.
  • In 1967 a protocol was added to give the document universal scope.
Key principles:
  • It is not illegal for people to seek asylum and doing so may require people to breach immigration rules.
  • A refugee must not be returned against their will to a territory where they fear threats to life or freedom.
  • The convention is to be applied without discrimination to race, sex, religion, or country of origin.
  • The convention lays down basic minimum standards for the treatment of refugees, including access to courts, primary education and work.
How the Refugee Convention can be changed:
  • Australia can request revisions for the convention at any time by a notification to the UN Secretary-General.
  • The UN General Assembly will recommend steps to be taken in the event of such request.
  • Similarly, Australia can completely denounce the convention by notifying the UN Secretary-General.
  • This would take effect one year from when the UN receives the notification.

Read the UN Refugee Convention here.

Tribunals ordered to consider new country assessments when deciding on asylum claims

Australia’s refugee tribunals have been ordered to take new country assessments into account when deciding on the claims of asylum seekers from countries including Iran, Afghanistan and Vietnam.

It is part of a Government move to toughen up the asylum seeker claims process, but refugee advocates say the change is not needed, and the Greens fear it will result in large numbers of asylum seekers being sent home.

When an asylum seeker arrives in Australia, their claim is first assessed by the Immigration Department. If that claim is refused, it then goes to the independent Refugee Review Tribunal.

The Immigration Department says the tribunal has recently been overturning about 80 per cent of its decisions. About 90 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive by boat are eventually granted refugee status in Australia, and Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr says that figure is too high.

He says most asylum seekers arriving are in fact economic migrants, especially those from Iran.

“There have been some boats where 100 per cent of them have been people who are fleeing countries where they’re the majority ethnic and religious group and their motivation is altogether economic,” he has said.

The Government has now ordered the Refugee Review Tribunal to consider new country information prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs before making any decisions.

Senator Carr’s office says it is to give both the tribunal and courts the latest information when assessing claims.

A new ministerial directive – prepared by the Immigration Minister’s office – has been issued as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd works on a new-look asylum policy which will need to be in place before he can reveal when Australians will go to the polls.

Mr Rudd says the Government is looking at the effectiveness of the Refugees Convention as it considers ways to discourage asylum seekers trying to reach Australia.

“We’re looking at this right now globally in terms of the effectiveness of the refugees convention,” Mr Rudd said. “We’re looking at it regionally in terms of our co-operaiton with regional states in south east Asia and the south west Pacific, hence my visit to Indonesia.”

He says there is no simple way to stop asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat. The issue was highlighted again late yesterday when four asylum seekers drowned after their boat capsized as it was being escorted to Christmas Island by Australian Navy ships.

‘No Evidence’ of Economic Migrant Influx

Mirko Bagaric, the dean of the Deakin University Law School and also a former member of the tribunal, says the directive is highly unusual.

“There are no existing demonstrable flaws within the system. The only flaw that the Government sees at this point in time is that the refugee review tribunal is in fact affirming too many decisions, ie it is allowing too many refugee claims,” Mr Bagaric said. “That’s not a flaw with the system – it actually indicates the system is working well because we have an independent body that goes through and reviews the decision of DIAC. If the Government isn’t happy with the current system, and it wants to interfere with the RRT what it ought to do is to take responsibility for that and to abolish RRTs.”

The Greens say the updated advice is part of a Government drive to have more asylum seekers classified as economic migrants, paving the way for them to be returned to their countries of origin.

Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner says there is no evidence to support the Government’s economic migrant claim. Professor Gillian Triggs says 90 per cent of asylum seekers are found to be genuine refugees.

“When we were assessing asylum seeker claims up until August 13 last year, approximately 90 per cent of claims for refugee status were found to be valid,” Professor Triggs said. “So I think that Senator Carr is making an assumption for which there’s no evidence.”

Professor William Maley from the Australian National University agrees Senator Carr’s claims are tough to back up.

“Even in recent times the arrivals from Iran have only been a minority of the total of boat arrivals but it’s difficult to know how the Minister could possibly know this because since the 13th of August last year the Immigration Department has not been processing claims,” Professor Maley said. “So unless the Minister has access to tarot cards or a Ouija board it is very difficult to know how he could make any such claim – unless he was completely talking through his hat.”

United Nations Critical of Manus Island

The United Nations refugee agency has previously criticised Australia’s asylum seeker processing centre on Manus Island. In its second report on Manus Island, the UN High Commission for Refugees says even though conditions have improved, the facility still does not meet the required international protection standards.

It found asylum seekers were living in cramped quarters and enduring slow processing arrangements and hot weather conditions.

“The present living conditions for asylum seekers at the temporary RPC are still harsh,” the UNHCR said in a news release about the report based on a visit in June. “Cramped living quarters were observed, while asylum seekers reported issues with the heat, privacy, hygiene and access to medical services.”

The agency found there is an all-pervasive sense of frustration and despondency among asylum seekers, which could lead to increased levels of psychological problems such as self-harm and even suicide.

People were detained on an open-ended basis without an individualised assessment of the risk that person may pose to the health and order of the community, the report found.

Because asylum seekers are not brought promptly before a judicial or other independent authority, that “amounts to arbitrary detention that is inconsistent with international human rights law,” the report said.

Conditions Improved Since Last Report

The centre fails to meet the terms of the memorandum of understanding between Australia and Papua New Guinea that was agreed to when the facility was established, the report said.

But the agency found the situation has improved since its last report in January, including progress in establishing a legal processing framework and improvements in the physical settings.

“Despite these efforts, conditions remain below international standards for the reception and treatment of asylum seekers,” the report said. “Physical living conditions remain harsh, in particular for asylum seekers living in the single adult males’ compound.

Agency spokesman Ben Farrell says there have been a number of improvements at the centre but more work still needs to be done.

“We hope that the two governments will make the centre an open centre,” Mr Farrell said. “We think that if people are assessed as posing no threat to the health or security of the community, then they should be able to have freedom of movement.”

The agency also praised the work of staff to assist asylum seekers. Eighteen men were transferred to the Manus Island centre on Friday.

People Smuggler Warns Government Policy Change Won’t Halt Boats

A people smuggler in Indonesia has told the ABC that none of the domestic policies being considered in Australia can stop the boats. As the Federal Government looks for answers leading up to the election, the people smuggler says proposed measures like turning boats back or making it harder to get refugee status are not enough.

The smuggler says there are now too many people fleeing death and persecution and that factor outweighs Australia’s attempts to stop them. And while more boats reach Australian waters, some former refugees who have lost family members on the dangerous journey say the immigration system is oppressive.

The people smuggler, who is known to police, says he does not think the trade is threatened by any domestic policies being considered in Australia. The man, who admitted to being involved in about 12 boats that have reached Australia this year, spoke to the ABC on condition of anonymity and said the conditions on Nauru and Manus Island were also not a deterrent.

The man, who admitted to being involved in about 12 boats that have reached Australia this year, spoke to the ABC on condition of anonymity and said the conditions on Nauru and Manus Island were also not a deterrent.

“Because those people can at least live there, right? They live there for 10 years, for 20 years, but they will live there. They won’t be killed, they won’t get bombed. At least they will survive, right?” he said :: Read the full article »»»»

source: unhcr
source: diac
source: abc

source: unic
source: wikipedia
source: youtube

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