Three charts on: what’s going on at Manus Island



File 20171117 15442 1syb213.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
There are few options left for the asylum seekers remaining on Manus Island.
Marcella Cheng/The Conversation, CC BY-NC-ND

Mary Anne Kenny, Murdoch University

Tensions at the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre remain high after the centre was officially closed on October 31 this year and handed back to the Papua New Guinea government.

Reports are that there are still around 420 people in the now-defunct regional processing centre who are refusing to move to recently built transit centres in Lorengau. However, these numbers shift on a daily basis as men move in and out of the centre.


CC BY-ND

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently said that:

The abrupt ending of services and the closure of the regional processing centre needs to involve the people who have been in this regional processing centre for years in a very vulnerable state… It is really high time to bring an end to this unconscionable human suffering.

How did we get here?

The offshore processing of asylum seekers who came to Australia by boat recommenced in 2012. At that time, single adult men were sent to Nauru and families with children and some adult men were sent to Manus Island in PNG.

However, since July 2013 only adult men were transferred to Manus and all the asylum seekers there today are male. (And families with children, single women, couples and some single men are on Nauru).

Since July 2013 a total of 1,523 people have been transferred to Manus from Australia.

When the Manus processing centre closed on October 31, there were 690 people in the facility.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/Jd2aV/4/

The number of asylum seekers on Manus Island has slowly reduced over the years as people have either accepted packages to return to their country of origin, been deported from PNG, been resettled in the US or temporarily settled in PNG. Six others have died.

The population has reduced over time.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/Xxhvb/3/

Why was the Manus Regional Processing Centre closed?

On April 27 last year, the PNG Supreme Court ruled that the detention of the asylum seekers on Manus Island was unconstitutional.

After the decision was made the PNG government said that those at the centre were free to come and go from the processing centre.

It was not until April 2017 that the Australian government and the PNG government announced publicly that the processing centre would close on October 31.

All of the service providers (including health providers) and Australian government officials left the centre on October 31 this year and the centre was supposed to be reoccupied by the PNG Defence Force from November 1.

What are the options for those left on Manus?

According to the Australian government, those who have been found by PNG authorities to be refugees have the following options:

  • resettle in PNG;

  • wait in PNG for possible resettlement in the US;

  • transfer to Nauru to wait for possible resettlement in the US; or

  • return to the country from which they had fled persecution.

Resettlement of refugees in PNG has been slow and problematic with few people opting to leave the processing centre to live elsewhere in PNG.

The UNHCR has raised concern about just how “voluntarily” refugees can return to the country from which they fled.

Since the US resettlement deal was announced about a year ago, 516 refugees from Manus have been referred to the US for resettlement.

Reviews of their cases and interviews are underway. Only 25 have been resettled so far. However, it is up to the US as to how many they will take and it is unclear when the next refugees will be transferred to the US.

Currently, it is clear the majority want to wait to see if they will be offered resettlement in the US. Refugees remaining in the processing centre have been offered alternative accommodation at East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre (for up to 400 people) and West Lorengau House (for up to 300 people). Whether these facilities can in fact house this many men is as yet unclear.

The UNHCR is urging against the forced movement of refugees and asylum seekers to these centres from the processing centre.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/rAI1r/4/

The men who have been found by PNG authorities not to be refugees have been offered supported accommodation in Lorengau (Hillside House).

The ConversationHowever the PNG government expects them to eventually make arrangements to return home voluntarily or they will be deported.

Mary Anne Kenny, Associate Professor, School of Law, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

UN slams Australia’s human rights record



File 20171109 13299 1ve63r1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The UN committee urged Australia to end offshore processing and bring the men on Manus to Australia or another safe country.
AAP

Anna Cody, UNSW and Maria Nawaz, UNSW

Last night, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released its recommendations from its review of Australia’s compliance with a key human rights treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The committee harshly criticised Australia for failures in key areas. These included the treatment of refugees, Indigenous rights and inadequate protection of human rights, including the lack of a national human rights act.

What is the UN Human Rights Committee?

This is the treaty body for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The committee is made up of 18 independent human rights experts. Its key functions are to:

  • monitor and review state parties’ compliance with the treaty; and

  • decide complaints made by individuals against state parties.

What did the committee say about Australia’s human rights record?

The committee noted areas in which Australia’s record had improved. These included the establishment of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the introduction of protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.


Read more: With a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Australia must fix its record on Indigenous rights


The committee also commended Australia for its commitment to ratifying the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture.

However, concerns far outweighed improvements in human rights.

The rights of refugees

The committee widely criticised Australia’s refugee policy for breaching Australia’s human rights obligations under the convention.

It raised concerns about refoulement (the forcible return of refugees to their home countries), mandatory detention, Operation Sovereign Borders and offshore detention. This includes the recent closure of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre.

The committee urged Australia to end offshore processing and bring the men on Manus to Australia or another safe country. It emphasised the need for detention to be used to assess individual risk, not as a general deterrent. It also found that Australia has “effective control” over the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

The rights of Indigenous people

The committee expressed concern about disproportionately high (27%) Indigenous incarceration rates. It recommended that measures such as mandatory sentencing and imprisonment for not paying fines be repealed.

The committee further recommended that Australia provide adequate funding to the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and consider constitutional change to reflect the special status and fully protect the equal rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

As it has done before, the committee urged Australia to establish a national reparations scheme for members of the Stolen Generation.

The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

The committee roundly criticised unnecessary medical interventions on intersex people, particularly intersex infants and children. It recommended that the requirement for Family Court authorisation for second-stage hormone treatment for young people diagnosed with gender dysphoria be removed.

Barriers to gender and sex recognition on documents were also criticised.

The committee took a strong stance on the same-sex marriage postal survey. It stated that:

resort[ing] to public opinion polls to facilitate upholding rights under the Covenant in general, and equality and non-discrimination of minority groups in particular, is not an acceptable decision-making method.

The committee recommended that the Marriage Act be amended, regardless of the outcome of the postal survey.

The rights of women

The committee noted the endemic nature of violence against women, and the disproportionate impact this has on Indigenous women and women with a disability. It recommended that Australia increase its efforts to prevent all forms of violence against women.


Read more: New Home Affairs department should prompt review of Australia’s human rights performance


The committee again raised concerns about the involuntary sterilisation of women and girls with intellectual and cognitive disability, and recommended that Australia abolish this practice.

The human rights framework

As in previous reviews, the committee recommended that Australia introduce a comprehensive national human rights act to give effect to the human rights protections in the covenant.

It also recommended that federal anti-discrimination laws be strengthened to ensure effective protection against all forms of discrimination. It specifically noted the lack of federal protection against discrimination on the basis of religion.

The committee criticised previous attacks by politicians on the Australian Human Rights Commission and recommended that Australia respect the independence of that body.

Where to from here?

The release of these recommendations comes at a crucial time for Australia, which last month won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

The council is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights, and for addressing human rights violations around the world.

Council members must demonstrate their willingness to improve their domestic human rights situation. To claim legitimacy in human rights on the world stage, Australia needs to demonstrate a genuine commitment to human rights at home.

Under the committee’s follow-up procedure, Australia must explain how it will implement selected recommendations within 12 months. The committee’s selected recommendations focus on Australia’s treatment of refugees.

Australia was criticised at the review for a history of “chronic non-compliance” with committee recommendations. The challenge for Australia will be to engage positively with the recommendations and urgently implement substantive change to promote and protect human rights.

The ConversationA good starting point would be a national human rights act, to fully incorporate Australia’s international human rights obligations into law. Furthermore, Australia should reconsider its response to the Referendum Council’s recommendation of an Indigenous voice to parliament.

Anna Cody, Associate Professor and Director, Kingsford Legal Centre, UNSW and Maria Nawaz, Law Reform Solicitor/Clinical Legal Supervisor, Kingsford Legal Centre, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Manus detention centre closure sparks safety fears for refugees



File 20171030 30860 1v8wxjc.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

AAP

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle and Georgia Monaghan, University of Newcastle

On Tuesday, the Australian government will close the Manus Island regional processing centre in Papua New Guinea. Arguing that they have no safe place to go, nearly all 742 remaining residents are refusing to leave.

The closure is likely to generate resistance and potentially violence. Tensions continue to build between refugees, local residents and PNG authorities.

Manus – the story so far

The Howard government established the Manus Island and Nauru centres in 2001 as part of the Pacific Solution. Originally, offshore processing was characterised as a short-term response to an influx of asylum seeker boat arrivals.

However, over time, offshore processing has become cemented as a central strategy to prevent asylum seekers reaching Australian territory by boat. The government has argued that offshore processing is necessary to disincentivise dangerous and exploitative people smuggling.

In practice, by preventing the access of asylum seekers to territory under Australian jurisdiction, the government has severely curtailed the rights of vulnerable people. Asylum seekers detained offshore lack access to proper refugee protection and judicial review mechanisms, and are denied basic rights guaranteed under international law.

Australia’s treatment of refugees has been condemned by the international community. Mandatory and indefinite offshore detention contravenes Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This provision protects people from arbitrary detention and upholds their right to liberty and security.

Human rights abuses have been documented in the Manus and Nauru centres. They are overcrowded and provide insufficient medical and psychiatric support.

There have also been documented cases of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of centre security. The poor mental health of many detainees, evidenced by attempts at self-harm and suicide, exposes the mental toll of inhumane living conditions and uncertainty about the future.

In April 2016, the PNG Supreme Court found that the arrangement between PNG and Australia to establish and maintain the Manus centre was unconstitutional. Under PNG law, the government had no power to infringe the right to liberty of the detainees.

As a result, in August 2016, the Australian and PNG governments announced that the Manus centre would close.

Over the past 14 months, Australia has attempted to move detainees from Manus through a range of means. The most prominent strategy has been an agreement with the US to take up to 2,000 people currently in detention on Manus or Nauru and ineligible for transfer to Australia.

This deal became infamous through a controversial leaked phone conversation between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump. To date, a reported 20 people have been resettled in the US via this process.

The closure, and what’s next for the Manus detainees

On October 19, Australian immigration authorities warned detainees that the Manus centre would be closed on October 31. Those remaining were advised to leave before essential services were withdrawn.

The centre is now without electricity and water supplies are soon to be cut. Protective fences are being removed. Broadspectrum, the private company contracted to manage the centre, will hand control to the PNG Navy.

Over the past month, the centre has been progressively dismantled and detainees have been forced into overcrowded conditions. The minimal medical and psychiatric support has been removed and detainees are forced to share scarce amounts of food and sanitary resources.

Those remaining on Manus have been given three options by the Australian government.

  • Those who have been assessed as refugees may move to a temporary settlement in Lorengau town or transfer to the Nauru centre. The longer-term resettlement path for these people is unclear.

  • Detainees have the option of returning to their country of origin.

  • The third option is to seek more permanent settlement in PNG or a third country.

The response from refugees, Manus Islanders, and human rights advocates

Each of these options has been condemned as potentially harmful or dangerous.

Refugees cannot be legally returned to their country of origin, where they may face a risk of persecution. To return a refugee to a place where their life or freedom is threatened is to violate the obligation of non-refoulement.

Further, people can be rendered stateless by efforts to return them to their country of origin, even in the case where they have not gained protection as refugees. For example, Iran will not accept the return of nationals who have sought asylum elsewhere.

The proposal to relocate detainees to Nauru does nothing to resolve their precarious situations. It is unsurprising that this option has not been embraced by detainees.

The most immediately pressing risks, however, arise with the local movements of detainees on Manus Island. Iranian journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani reports that those remaining in the centre are determined not to move to Lorengau town.

The fear is that their arrival will be met with violence from the local community. An aggressive response would not be unprecedented given the history of interactions between refugee and local populations.

In 2014, Lorengau locals attacked the Manus centre, killing one refugee and injuring 77. In recent months, local people have warned detainees:

If you come to Lorengau we will be forced to attack you.

The governor of Manus Island, Charlie Benjamin, has threatened to block the resettlement. Benjamin says the Australian government never consulted the community as to the resettlement and have started construction of the new accommodation facility without prior approval.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ regional representative, Thomas Albrecht, condemns Australia for abdicating its responsibility and putting the onus on the refugees to improve their situation:

Having created the present crisis, to now abandon the same acutely vulnerable human beings would be unconscionable.

With the Manus centre closed, those remaining lack security wherever they are. Considering that PNG sailors attacked the camp in April this year, firing at detainees and buildings, the PNG Navy can hardly be considered an alternative source of protection.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FGetUpAustralia%2Fposts%2F10154796209121455%3A0&width=500

Closure sparks human rights crisis

Extra PNG police are stationed on Manus in anticipation of the closure.

The UNHCR has warned of a “humanitarian emergency”. Human Rights Watch has urged Australia to send the Australian Federal Police to Manus in order to protect refugees and mitigate conflict.

At the 11th hour, the Australian government remains immovable. Recently elected to its first term on the UN Human Rights Council, Australia’s practice in relation to asylum seekers who travel by boat remains an unaddressed blight on its human rights record.

The ConversationAustralia also wears massive economic costs to maintain the policy of mandatory offshore detention for boat arrivals. An estimated A$150-$250 million will be committed to housing those remaining on Manus for 12 months following the closure, with no clarity about what happens next. And another $70 million in damages were recently awarded to Manus detainees against the government.

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle and Georgia Monaghan, Research Assistant, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Hanson effect: how hate seeps in and damages us all



File 20171005 6575 898pna
A client whose hair she had been cutting for 20 years came in as usual, and then, without any prompting or preamble, launched into a tirade against Muslims.
Shutterstock

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Such hair as I have is cut from time to time by Mrs E, who runs a one-chair salon in my neighbourhood.

She has been in business there for 40 years. She knows all about the history of the street and many of her clients have been coming to her for half a lifetime. The salon is shut on Mondays, when she cuts the hair of the elderly and disabled in various local institutions.

Mrs E is a petite woman with a cloud of brown hair, a bright smile and that empathetic personality that fits so many hairdressers for their parallel occupation of informal counsellor. Under her hairdresser’s smock she wears a dress or a blouse and trousers.

She came to Australia as a child from the Balkans, grew up, married, had two sons. Australia is home and a place where she says she has always felt welcome, until the other day.

A client whose hair she had been cutting for 20 years came in as usual, and then, without any prompting or preamble, launched into a tirade against Muslims.

Mrs E heard her out. As a rule, like most sensible businesspeople, she resists being drawn into conversations about sex, religion or politics.

But eventually it became too much. “I’m a Muslim,” she told the client, “and I very much regret that after 20 years I must tell you I will no longer cut your hair”.

The salon contains no outward sign of her faith: nothing in her appearance or in the room itself gives it away. For her, it is something private; nothing to do with her professional life.

It happened that I came in about a week later. Mrs E and I often talk in general terms about what’s going on in the world. She knows I am a journalist and academic and I think she feels safe pushing her conversational boundaries slightly.

She told me this story and as she did so, the hurt was written all over her face.

And after nearly a lifetime in Australia, she said she felt just that little bit less welcome.

So this is how it goes.

Hate speech becomes part of the currency of national debate and is exploited for political purposes. In 1996, Pauline Hanson delivers her notorious maiden speech in which she says Australia is being “swamped by Asians”. John Howard, as prime minister, dog-whistles that this is all about free speech.

In 2001, the so-called Tampa election occurs. Boat people – overwhelmingly Muslim – become the butt of Howard’s assertion of national sovereignty:

We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.

There are votes in this and both sides of politics pile on. In the midst of the 2013 election, Labor’s Kevin Rudd – the same man who claims Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an inspiration – slams the door on asylum seekers by striking deals with Nauru and Papua New Guinea that Australia is still living with.

In 2014, the federal government tries to weaken the Racial Discrimination Act in what is said to be the interests of free speech. Attorney-General George Brandis asserts that “people have a right to be bigots”.

In 2015, research conducted for the Melbourne Social Equity Institute finds that the single most important driver of negative attitudes toward asylum seekers is religious prejudice, sometimes expressed as concern about the “Islamisation” of Australia.

In August 2017, Hanson wears a burqa into Senate question time. Brandis discovers where bigotry can lead and assails her for an “appalling stunt” disrespectful of the Muslim faith.

The ConversationEventually, the political licensing of racism and religious intolerance seeps into the fabric of society. It might take a generation or it might take longer. But when it does it stains and rots that fabric, eating away at people’s sense of belonging, undermining the Australian multicultural project, and in a small suburban hair salon, a middle-aged woman feels emboldened to vent her prejudice, doing harm and hurt to someone who has been tending her person for 20 years.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

First refugees to leave for the United States


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

About 50 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island will leave in the next week to ten days for resettlement in the US.

This is the first batch under the deal the Turnbull government struck with the Obama administration, which US President Donald Trump has reluctantly agreed to honour – although the number that will be taken is unclear.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the processing of other people was continuing, and further decisions by US authorities were “expected in due course”.

The government is providing minimal detail of those who have so far passed the Americans’ “extreme vetting” and been approved to go, saying it is up to the US to do that.

It has been reported that the Manus group includes refugees from Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. They were told to be ready to leave on Sunday for Port Moresby.

Malcolm Turnbull said this batch of departures came half and half from Nauru and Manus.

Turnbull said: “there are many that are being vetted, but it is entirely up to the United States as to how many are taken”.

The refugee deal was the subject of the now-infamous telephone conversation between Trump and Turnbull early in the year, in which Trump railed against the arrangement but Turnbull prevailed on him to take people, although the number was left vague.

Turnbull said Trump had reservations about the deal “to say the least. But nonetheless, he is honouring that commitment made by his predecessor.”

“It’s a sign of the strong relationship between the United States and Australia, and I want to thank the United States and President Trump for honouring that commitment,” he said on Wednesday.

The ConversationThe initial deal was for the US to take up to 1,250 refugees. There are 868 people in Papua New Guinea of whom 679 have been found to be refugees; Nauru has 1,124 people, with 994 of them having been found to be refugees.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/gfk6g-73d100?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

High Court challenge to offshore immigration detention power fails



File 20170816 17651 r6ze2y
The decision reveals the striking breadth of the government’s power to deal with asylum seekers and refugees in ways that directly contravene international law.
AAP/Eoin Blackwell

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle

The High Court has today rejected a claim that the Australian government can only exercise its powers outside Australia for purposes that would be legal under the law of the relevant foreign country.

This means the Australian government had and has the power to establish and maintain its offshore immigration detention facility in Papua New Guinea, despite detention of asylum seekers there violating PNG law.

Background to the decision

The case commenced in May 2016. The initial application was a class action seeking relief on international, constitutional, administrative and civil law grounds. The court later permitted the plaintiff to file an amended application on more limited grounds.

The sole current plaintiff is an Iranian man, taken into Australian jurisdiction while on board an asylum-seeker vessel in July 2013. He was transported to Christmas Island, detained, and categorised as an “unlawful non-citizen”. In August 2013 the plaintiff was transferred to the offshore immigration detention facility on Manus Island.

The plaintiff claims to be a refugee but has not participated in the assessment process in PNG. He does not want to be settled there as a refugee due to fear of reprisals after giving eyewitness testimony at the trial of those convicted for the killing of Reza Barati. He has not been officially detained since around May 2016, but feels effectively detained due to the hostile environment outside the grounds of the detention centre.

The case decided today responded to the decision of the PNG Supreme Court in the Namah case. That court found that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island violated PNG law.

Unlike in Australia, PNG has constitutional human rights protections. These forbid the deprivation of personal liberty in most cases where a person has not committed a crime.

PNG announced the detention centre would close. Its prime minister, Peter O’Neill, asked Australia to make other arrangements for all asylum seekers still on Manus Island. No such arrangement has yet been made for the plaintiff in this case. He cannot be forcibly returned to Iran, as Iran refuses to accept involuntary returns.


Further reading: How a charter of rights could protect Australians’ fundamental freedoms


What was the High Court asked to determine?

The court was asked to determine whether the Australian government has power under the Constitution to do the things it has done to the plaintiff (and many others).

The Namah decision prompted most of the questions put to the court. They tested whether Australia could validly make and continue its arrangements for offshore processing and detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island, in light of the Supreme Court decision that those arrangements violate constitutional rights protections in PNG.

At the hearing in May 2017, Chief Justice Susan Kiefel asked the plaintiff’s barrister how the Namah decision could bear on the court’s interpretation of the Australian government’s powers under the Migration Act. Those powers are defined by the act and must be interpreted according to the Australian Constitution.

The plaintiff argued the Constitution should be read to imply a limitation on governmental power. Specifically:

That the power is to be used for a legal purpose, meaning a purpose legal where it is exercised, where it has effect.

The PNG Supreme Court found it was illegal for Australia and PNG to bring in and detain asylum seekers on Manus Island. The plaintiff therefore argued that Australia was exercising its powers for an illegal purpose.

The plaintiff’s barrister, Tom Molomby, continued:

… it is somewhat internally contradictory to regard the Australian Constitution as establishing a rule of law for our nation, yet capable of giving power to committing acts in other countries which are contrary to the law of that nation.

The court was also asked to consider whether Australia’s statutory powers to do things necessary for regional processing of asylum seekers in PNG depend on whether those things are legal under PNG law.

The plaintiff argued that:

The agreements being beyond power in Papua New Guinea, they were also beyond power in Australia. There is no power to make an agreement with a party that does not itself have power to make the agreement. There can be no power to perform an impossibility.

The High Court’s reasons

The full bench of the court decided unanimously to reject the plaintiff’s application. The judgment noted that the plaintiff was not able to cite any authority in prior case law or the text or structure of the Constitution for the arguments made.

On this basis, the court concluded that:

… there should be no doubt that neither the legislative nor the executive power of the Commonwealth is constitutionally limited by any need to conform to the domestic law of another country.

The court further decided the plaintiff had misunderstood the significance of the Namah decision in the context of this application. According to the court, this decision said nothing about the PNG government’s capacity to enter into an arrangement with the Australian government to establish or maintain the detention centre.

The PNG Supreme Court decision found that the bringing in, detention and treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island violated constitutional rights protections in PNG. But it did not mean the PNG government acted beyond power in agreeing its arrangement with Australia.

The High Court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the Australian government’s statutory power, under the Migration Act, depended on whether relevant actions were legal under PNG law. The court relied on an earlier decision that related to offshore immigration detention in Nauru.

According to the court in that case:

The lawfulness or unlawfulness of executive government action under Australian law or under the law of a foreign country conversely does not determine whether or not that action falls within the scope of the statutory capacity or authority conferred by the section.

The bigger picture

This judgment is one in a series that demonstrates the lack of human rights protections in Australian law. It again reveals the striking breadth of the government’s power to deal with asylum seekers and refugees in ways that directly contravene international law.

However, cracks continue to widen in Australia’s punitive system of mandatory offshore detention for asylum seekers who travel by boat. The agreement Australia had with the US to transfer refugees there from Manus Island remains in doubt.

The lack of interest in the people at the heart of the dilemma was starkly revealed in the leaked transcript of the now-infamous Donald Trump-Malcolm Turnbull phone call.


Further reading: Trump-Turnbull call: trading people like pawns undermines the goals of international co-operation


Earlier this week, Liberal MP Russell Broadbent broke ranks with the government, calling for Australia to take responsibility for detained refugees who do not find resettlement in the US. Broadbent spoke out against the prospect of indefinite detention for people who have not committed any crime.

The ConversationAfter today’s decision, the responsibility to bring Australian law and practice into line with international legal obligations remains squarely with the government. The High Court has not found justification to intervene.

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump-Turnbull call: trading people like pawns undermines the goals of international co-operation



File 20170805 2386 1c7mqui

AAP/Eoin Blackwell

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle and Jason von Meding, University of Newcastle

What is the point of international co-operation in matters of shared concern? According to the UN Charter, its founding member nations were determined to achieve overarching societal progress based on human rights.

Excerpt from the UN Charter.

The international legal system of the UN era continues to attempt, with mixed success, to promote these goals.

Within intricately connected global systems that produce ever-more complex problems, a framework for international co-operation is essential. The international legal system, however imperfect, must be maintained as a bulwark against the wholesale pursuit of domestic political interests.

Yet our belief in the efficacy of this system is challenged when the stark reality of international power relations is laid bare. It seems the more insight we have into what happens behind the scenes, the harder it becomes to convince the sceptical that international law has either legal or normative power.

On Friday, The Washington Post published a leaked transcript of a now-infamous phone call between the then newly elected US president, Donald Trump, and Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

The shocking conversation reveals that the deal for the US to accept some of those asylum seekers currently detained offshore – a key feature of the Australian government’s effort to close its offshore detention centre on Manus Island – imposes no obligation on the US beyond “going through the process”. According to Turnbull:

… the agreement … does not require you to take 2,000 people. It does not require you to take any.

Trump made it abundantly clear that he did not see either the US national interest or his personal popularity being served by upholding the agreement:

… boy that will make us look awfully bad. Here I am calling for a ban where I am not letting anybody in and we take 2,000 people. Really it looks like 2,000 people that Australia does not want and I do not blame you by the way, but the United States has become like a dumping ground.


Further reading: Five quotes from the Turnbull-Trump call show the folly of Australia’s refugee policy


Trading lives in a ‘refugee swap’

The deal between Australia and the US remains mired in confusion almost a year on. Australia committed to resettling some Central American refugees currently in Costa Rica, as part of a US-led program.

Soon after, Turnbull announced an agreement with the Obama administration that would see the US resettle perhaps 1,250 refugees currently detained on Manus Island and Nauru.

The transcript confirms that Trump was resistant to inheriting what he described as a “rotten deal”:

I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now.

Turnbull sought to reassure Trump he could sell the agreement to the US public as consistent with his campaign promise to tighten immigration controls.

Turnbull emphasised his and Trump’s shared identity as businessmen and represented the “deal” as a business transaction that ought to be upheld, at least formally:

Please, if we can agree to stick to the deal, you have complete discretion in terms of a security assessment. The numbers are not 2,000 but 1,250 to start. Basically, we are taking people from the previous administration that they were very keen on getting out of the United States. We will take more. We will take anyone that you want us to take. The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat. So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a Noble [sic] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.

Despite Trump’s reluctance, US immigration officials have conducted some screening interviews with refugees on Manus Island. However, these were suspended mid-run and the officials withdrew to the US, once it was announced that the US’ annual humanitarian refugee quota had already been fulfilled.

Those detained have been told that interviews will resume and that resettlement in the US is still on the table. However, whether the Trump administration ever had any serious intention to be party to a resettlement solution is now in doubt, as is Turnbull’s commitment to anything more than a domestic political win.

On Manus Island, the leaked transcripts arrived amid heightened tensions. Protests have been ongoing since Tuesday, when water and power services were withdrawn in the largest compound. Local police, detention centre guards and reportedly the Australian Federal Police are attempting to remove those deemed “prisoners” by Trump – something that Turnbull, perhaps tellingly, did not dispute.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

This latest insight into the international game of trading unwanted human beings compounds the frustration and sense of injustice that those trapped in Australia’s offshore detention system are experiencing.

Proof that Australia fails to see the humanity of refugees

Turnbull’s position appears to be that the people detained on Manus Island and Nauru are “good” and deserving of protection somewhere, but that his domestic political environment demands they must be treated like criminals.

In the call, Turnbull repeatedly refers to the people imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru as “economic refugees”. This pernicious framing is consistent with government messaging about “boat people” and “queue jumpers”.

In reality, no refugees are accepted on economic grounds under Australia’s rules. It is disingenuous of Turnbull to make such an inference about those detained in offshore detention, considering that almost 90% of those on Manus Island have been assessed as bona-fide refugees by both Australia and the UNHCR.

Turnbull’s indifference to human suffering is chilling, surprising even Trump:

We should do that too. You are worse than I am.

When two of the most powerful men in the world conspire to inflict further harm on some of the world’s most vulnerable to satisfy domestic agendas, we truly need to question whether the goals of the international community as constituted in the UN are being upheld by our elected officials.

Dehumanising refugees and treating them as the problem avoids any serious consideration of why people are displaced. This is where the international community should be working together.

The ConversationAdopting a punitive approach to those seeking protection not only goes against international law, but it is an insult to those that uphold Australia and the US as leading beacons for human rights and freedom.

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle and Jason von Meding, Senior Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five quotes from the Turnbull-Trump call show the folly of Australia’s refugee policy


Asher Hirsch, Monash University

The Washington Post’s leaked transcript of a January phone call between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull highlights the failure of Australia’s deal with the US to take refugees from offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

It also reveals Turnbull’s desperation not to let people who came by boat settle in Australia.

The refugee deal was made in the dying days of the Obama administration. Trump, upon assuming office, tweeted his dismay over it:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Here are a few of the key issues revealed in the leaked transcript.

Turnbull: ‘You can decide to take them or to not take them after vetting. You can decide to take 1,000 or 100. It is entirely up to you.’

Turnbull’s comments highlight a key fault with the US deal.

Throughout the call, Turnbull reiterates that the only obligation on the US under this deal is to consider taking refugees. Trump asks:

Suppose I vet them closely and I do not take any?

Turnbull responds:

That is the point I have been trying to make.

The transcript highlights concerns that the deal could end up with the US deciding not to take any refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. A key question for the Turnbull government is what its plan is for the rest of the people left to languish indefinitely.

The harms of offshore processing are well known. Accommodation standards, facilities and services in the detention centres remain well below international standards. There have been consistent and alarming reports of abuse (sexual and otherwise). There has been one murder and six other deaths from inadequate medical care in offshore detention centres.

Turnbull: ‘We will then hold up our end of the bargain’

During the conversation, Turnbull highlighted that in exchange for the US taking people from Manus Island and Nauru:

We will then hold up our end of the bargain by taking in our country 31 [inaudible] that you need to move on from.

This is a reference to the commitment the Turnbull government made in 2016 to resettle in Australia an unspecified number of Central American refugees currently residing in a camp in Costa Rica. This aspect of the deal still remains unclear, with the transcript “inaudible” during this key moment.

Although the Turnbull government strenuously denied the deal was a “people swap”, it has been cast as a quid-pro-quo arrangement, whereby the Australian government can publicly maintain its unwavering commitment to an offshore detention policy that is no longer sustainable.

Turnbull: ‘The people – none of these people are from the conflict zone. They are basically economic refugees from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.’

This statement highlights either wilful ignorance or blatant deceitfulness by Turnbull in an attempt to sell our responsibility to the US.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s statistics show that of the 2,235 people on Manus Island and Nauru who have been assessed, almost 80% have been found to be persecuted refugees.

The term “economic refugee” is also a misnomer. Those found to be refugees are people fleeing persecution, based on who they are or what they believe.

By telling Trump these people are “basically economic refugees”, Turnbull also misrepresents the ongoing persecution and conflict that people from these countries are experiencing daily.

Trump: ‘What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats?’

Trump raises a good point about Australia’s “discrimination against boats”.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants has highlighted Australia inhumane and discriminatory policies directed at boat arrivals. This includes mandatory and prolonged detention, as well as indefinite separation from families, restrictions on social services, and no access to citizenship.

Trump: ‘I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now.’

Trump’s insistence that the people detained by Australia on Manus Island and Nauru “are bad” – which Turnbull did not contest – demonstrates the disdain and lack of understanding common to both the Australian and US governments with respect to forced displacement.

The notion of immigration detention being akin to “prison” underscores the punitive nature of the Turnbull government’s approach to people desperately seeking asylum – a description Turnbull fails to rebut.

Trump’s repeated attempts to draw a link between genuine refugees and terrorism are deeply troubling. ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis has said no such link exists. In Australia and the US, both the media and the government have used this misleading narrative to justify the persecution of refugees and asylum seekers.

What next?

Ultimately, the transcript reveals that Australia maintains control and power over the centres – essentially highlighting that Manus Island and Nauru are Australia’s responsibility.

As Turnbull said:

They have been under our supervision for over three years now and we know exactly everything about them.

As Australia maintains responsibility for these people, we must ensure their safety and dignity. As the transcripts reveal, the US deal may amount to nothing.

The ConversationA decade ago, the Howard government faced the same question of what to do with hundreds of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island who had nowhere else to go. John Howard eventually realised the only option was to bring them to Australia. Turnbull must do the same – and quickly.

Asher Hirsch, PhD Student, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull’s promise to Trump: ‘You can count on me’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

We’ve known for months the content and tenor of that explosive January phone call between Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull about the refugee deal, but this week’s leak of the transcript to The Washington Post provides crucial detail and nuance.

It also opens the exchange to two interpretations, which quickly fed into the domestic political battle.

You can read the conversation as showing Turnbull playing the strong leader, bringing measured argument and, despite constant provocation, an even temper to trying to have Trump honour the deal Australia made with the Obama administration to take refugees from Manus Island and Nauru.

Or you can observe Turnbull as the rather desperate supplicant, with the domestic political importance of the deal being his overwhelming concern.

It’s obvious Trump was only minimally across the agreement’s terms, under which the United States had agreed to take up to 1,250 refugees.

He exaggerated the numbers, referring to 2,000, even saying he’d heard 5,000. They had to be “bad” people – they were “in prison”.

He found it difficult to get his head around the boat issue. “What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats?” Maybe that questioning wasn’t as strange as it sounds, in light of Turnbull declaration that “we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help[s] you out than to take a Nobel Peace Prize winner that comes by boat”.

Above all Trump was preoccupied with how accepting the agreement would make him look.

Turnbull suggested a way to square away the contradictions in his situation. But the president wasn’t countenancing such spin, refusing to concede he could present the deal as consistent with his just-announced exclusionist policy.

“This shows me to be a dope”, he said, in a not unrealistic assessment.

“This is going to kill me. I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people.”

In their excruciating exchanges, Turnbull extracted the president’s reluctant agreement to honour the arrangement. But agreement to what exactly?

As Turnbull put his case, he seemed to shrink the deal to be little more than the Americans having to simply put the refugees through a process.

Asking Trump to “hear me out”, Turnbull said: “The obligation is for the United States to look and examine and take up to and only if they so choose – 1,250 to 2,000”. (Elsewhere he clarified it was 1,250.)

“Every individual is subject to your vetting. You can decide to take them or to not take them after vetting. You can decide to take 1,000 or 100. It is entirely up to you. The obligation is to only go through the process.”

In fact the deal “does not require you to take any”.

Turnbull’s minimising the US’s obligation is particularly important in light of the fact that so far not one of the refugees has been moved, and now the American general refugee quota is full – delaying any departures until October at the earliest. After the agreement was confirmed by the new administration, the timetable has been tortoise-like.

Turnbull’s desperation is obvious in the conversation. “This is a very big issue for us, particularly domestically,” he said at one point, and at another, “I am asking you as a very good friend.

“This is a big deal. It is really, really important to us that we maintain it. It does not oblige you to take one person that you do not want”.

Turnbull sought connection with the then-new US leader by referencing their common business backgrounds. Trump might relate to that, though the irritated president said he respected Turnbull but was sure “you have brokered many a stupid deal in business”.

Turnbull described himself as a “highly transactional businessman like yourself”.

His case to Trump was pitched in blatantly transactional terms. He referenced the Central Americans Australia had agreed to take, making it clear it was a quid pro quo for the Manus/Nauru arrangement – something he’d previously denied. If necessary Australia would take more people – “anyone that you want us to take”.

He stressed the deal required Australia “to do a number of things for the United States”.

At the end, after an angry Trump refused to talk about Syria and North Korea and was just determined to get off the phone – “I have had it” – came this exchange:

Turnbull: “Thank you for your commitment. It is very important to us.”

Trump: “It is important to you and it is embarrassing to me. It is an embarrassment to me, but at least I got you off the hook. So you put me back on the hook.”

Turnbull: “You can count on me. I will be there again and again.”

Trump: “I hope so.”

Turnbull was undesirably fulsome in declaring he’d be “there again and again”, especially given the nature of this president.

This is even clearer in retrospect – Trump’s capriciousness and his administration’s dysfunction has only increased in the months since the phone call.

One expects Trump will not forget he is owed for the favour he sees himself having done in endorsing the deal.

“I will be there again and again” may go down as the Turnbull equivalent of “all the way with LBJ (Harold Holt) and “we’ll go a Waltzing Matilda with you” (John Gorton).

The government’s challenge is to position itself with this difficult administration in a way that keeps the alliance strong but does not compromise Australia or its values. To be in Trump’s debt is unfortunate; for Turnbull to make what sounds like a gushy if vague pledge is unwise.

The ConversationOne final thing. When Trump described the earlier reports of the call as “fake news” and Turnbull, sitting beside him in New York, agreed, they were both lying. We knew it at the time, but the transcript has provided an effective lie detector.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.