Explainer: why is Australia adopting the global refugee compact but not the migration compact?


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A young girl protesting at a rally to bring refugees on Nauru and Manus Island to Australia.
AAP/Penny Stephens

Azadeh Dastyari, Monash University

Australia was one of 176 countries to vote in favour of the Global Compact on Refugees (refugee compact) in mid-November this year. The United Nations General Assembly will adopt it by the end of 2018.

However, Australia did not join the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (migration compact) at a conference in Morocco on December 10-11.

What are the compacts and what do they aim to do?

There is much confusion about the two compacts, with commentators often conflating the two documents. However, they are distinct agreements with differing subjects.

The term “refugee” used in the refugee compact has a specific meaning under international law. It refers to a person outside their own country who fears persecution because of their race, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

As a signatory to the Refugee Convention and Refugee Protocol, Australia has particular obligations to refugees under these two treaties. The refugee compact does not replace these obligations. Instead, it is a non-binding agreement that “intends to provide a basis for predictable and equitable burden- and responsibility-sharing”.

The Refugee Compact lists four objectives. They are to:

  1. ease pressures on host countries
  2. enhance refugee self-reliance
  3. expand access to third country solutions
  4. support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity

Unlike the term “refugee”, the term “migrant” does not have a precise meaning under international law. Australia does not have any specific international legal obligations to migrants beyond respecting their human rights under the human rights treaties to which it is a party.

The migration compact does not create any new binding legal obligations on states such as Australia. Instead, it has a range of 23 objectives for safe, orderly and regular migration. These include the collection and better use of data on migration; strengthening responses to smuggling and trafficking; eliminating discrimination; using detention as a last resort; saving lives; managing borders in an integrated, secure and coordinated manner; addressing and reducing vulnerabilities in migration; and strengthening international cooperation.

Where did the compacts come from?

The two compacts have emerged from a need for the international community to better cooperate and respond to unprecedented numbers of people on the move, particularly into Europe. This includes refugees fleeing persecution from conflicts such as Syria.

In September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugee and Migrants to address such concerns. The declaration contained a commitment to begin two separate tracks of negotiations: the refugee compact and the migration compact.

Australia’s response

Australia has been relatively silent on the refugee compact, but has objected to the migration compact on the grounds that it would compromise Australia’s sovereignty.

The migration compact has also been accused of failing to:

adequately distinguish between people who enter Australia illegally and those who come to Australia the right way.

In addition, Australia has cited its success with migration as a reason for its refusal to adopt the migration compact. It has stated:

when we are asked to sign up to international agreements that we believe will compromise our successful way of doing things, we will pass.

The criticisms regarding the threat to Australia’s sovereignty and the lack of distinction between categories of migrants is surprising. As has been explained by Goodwin-Gill and McAdam, it is a misrepresentation of the document.

As with the refugee compact, the migration compact does not create any binding legal obligations on states. It affirms that “within their sovereign jurisdiction, States may distinguish between regular and irregular migration status”.

Furthermore, irrespective of whether Australia signs the migration compact, it is obliged to protect the human rights of migrants under existing international law. This includes, for example, the obligation to refrain from arbitrary detention. Thus the illegality of arbitrary detention, including on Nauru and Manus Island, under international law will not change whether Australia signs the migration compact or not.

Why has Australia signed the refugee compact but not the migration compact?

The United States is the only country to vote against the Refugee Compact. In contrast, the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Dominican Republic, Chile, Latvia, Slovakia, Estonia and Italy either withdrew from the migration compact negotiations or expressed reservations, often citing concerns about sovereignty as the reason.

But rather than being a real threat to sovereignty, the migration compact appears to have taken on a symbolic meaning that the refugee compact has not. Its opponents are governments with strong anti-immigration and asylum seeker policies. For such states, the migration compact has become a convenient strawman against which states can demonstrate a show of power and resistance to serve domestic political interests.

Syrian refugees at a camp at Haouch El Nabi in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon.
AAP/EPA/Wael Hamzeh

A reason why the migration compact has been used as a foil in this way may simply be in the timing. The United States has led the rejection of the migration compact. It was early to withdraw from the process. In contrast, it continued to support the refugee compact until close to the last minute.

The earlier withdrawal of the US may have contributed to the galvanisation against the migration compact. Each state rejecting the migration compact adds to its perception as problematic, even if such a characterisation is unreasonable.

There may also be a fear that signing the migration compact may lead to new binding international obligations to migrants in the future. By contrast, the refugee compact may be viewed as less of a threat since states have existing obligations to refugees under international law.

However, adopting any hypothetical additional binding legal obligations will be a choice that governments can make in the future. Signing the migration compact does not bring an obligation to sign any future binding agreements.

In addition, the reluctance to join the migration compact but vote for the refugee compact may be because of the perception that the refugee compact requires less of states. The refugee compact has been criticised for lacking concrete mechanisms for governments to take on burden and responsibility sharing.

This may be true, and is an issue that has been addressed in part in the latest version of the refugee compact, which calls for indicators that will track progress by states. But again, the non-binding nature of the agreements means that states do not have to do anything they do not wish to do.

As the opening lines of the New York Declaration attest:

since earliest times, humanity has been on the move.

Rejecting international cooperation cannot and will not stop people from fleeing danger, migrating for better economic opportunities or moving to be with loved ones.

However, without international cooperation the system is uneven, dangerous and unsustainable. The migration and refugee compacts are not perfect. But they offer countries the opportunity to do better for themselves, for those on the move and for the international community as a whole.The Conversation

Azadeh Dastyari, Deputy Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The latest citizenship-stripping plan risks statelessness, indefinite detention and constitutional challenge


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Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiling tough new proposals to strip extremists of their Australian citizenship.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Sangeetha Pillai, UNSW

This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton announced the federal government’s intention to introduce changes to Australia’s citizenship-stripping laws. The proposed changes would likely make Australia’s regime for citizenship-stripping the most expansive in the world. I’ll outline how the proposal would change the current law, and analyse its key elements.

What are Australia’s current citizenship-stripping laws?

In 2015, Australia introduced one of the most expansive regimes anywhere for citizenship deprivation on national security grounds. Under the current law, people can lose Australian citizenship against their will in two key ways:

  • Conduct-based citizenship deprivation: In certain circumstances, a citizen outside Australia can lose citizenship where the person has engaged in activities defined by reference to national security offences. A person does not need to be convicted of an offence to lose citizenship in this manner.

  • Conviction-based citizenship deprivation: The Minister for Home Affairs also has the power to revoke a person’s Australian citizenship where the person has been convicted of particular national security offences, and sentenced to at least six years’
    imprisonment. This is generally the only way in which people within Australia can be stripped of Australian citizenship against their will.




Read more:
Proposals to strip citizenship take Australia a step further than most


Currently, it is possible for the government to strip a person of Australian citizenship only if the person is a dual citizen. This means that, at present, Australian law does not allow a person to be deprived of Australian citizenship if this would render them stateless.

Dutton has said that the existing citizenship-stripping laws have been used to deprive nine people of their Australian citizenship. Very little information on the circumstances of these deprivations is available. However, it is clear that at least six of these instances involved citizens outside Australia who lost their citizenship on the basis of conduct committed overseas. There has been no reported instance of a person within Australia being deprived of Australian citizenship, or of the conviction-based ground for citizenship deprivation having been used.

What changes would the proposed laws introduce?

The government’s new proposal would make it easier for people to be stripped of their Australian citizenship in two ways.

Changes to the dual citizenship requirement

If the proposed changes become law, it will no longer be necessary for a person to definitively hold dual citizenship before losing Australian citizenship. A joint media release from the offices of Morrison and Dutton states:

The Government will…change the threshold for determining dual citizenship. This change aims to improve the minister’s scope to determine a person’s foreign citizenship status.

A bill has yet to go before parliament, and it is not clear from this statement exactly what the government envisages. One possibility is the legislation will give the minister the power to decide whether or not a person is a foreign citizen. This is likely to raise constitutional difficulties. As the High Court has made clear on many occasions, whether a person is a foreign citizen is a question determined by the law of the foreign country concerned.

Another possibility is that the legislation will allow a person to be stripped of Australian citizenship where the minister thinks it is reasonably likely, but not certain, the person has dual citizenship. As the recent referrals of multiple federal parliamentarians to the High Court over potential foreign citizenship illustrate, it can often be difficult to conclusively determine when a person has foreign citizenship. However, many people – including those born in Australia to Australian parents – hold dual citizenship as a result of a familial connection to a foreign country.

A change of this nature could also raise constitutional problems. The High Court has not yet determined the extent of the Commonwealth’s power to deprive a person of Australian citizenship. There is a plausible argument that certain citizens, especially those who hold only Australian citizenship or who have no substantive connection to a foreign country, are part of the Australian constitutional community, and are protected against citizenship deprivation.




Read more:
Government’s own ‘freedom commissioner’ Tim Wilson questions citizenship plan


On a practical level, enabling the minister to revoke a person’s Australian citizenship without it being clear the person has citizenship in a foreign country creates a very real risk of rendering the person stateless. This would place Australia in violation of its obligations under Article 8 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prevents signatory countries from depriving people of their nationality if it would render them stateless.

Australia has signed up to an international agreement not to render people stateless.
Shutterstock

Where a person inside Australia is deprived of Australian citizenship they become vulnerable to removal from Australia, and immigration detention until removal is possible. Where it is not clear that the person has citizenship in a foreign country, there is a likelihood of such detention being lengthy, or even indefinite.

Changes to the minimum sentence for conviction-based deprivation

The government’s media release also says:

The proposed changes would enable the minister to cease the citizenship of anyone who is convicted of a terrorism offence in Australia, irrespective of the sentence they receive. This removes the current requirement that a terrorist offender must be sentenced to at least six years’ imprisonment.

Currently, the minister has power to revoke a person’s citizenship only on conviction-based grounds where a person is convicted of a select list of national security offences. It is not clear whether the government intends to retain or expand this select list of offences.

An anti-terrorism exercise at Cologne Bonn airport in Germany on November 20.
Marius Becker/dpa

Either way, the proposal is concerning. In 2015, before the current citizenship revocation laws were introduced, the Abbott government attempted to attach citizenship revocation to a much wider range of national security offences, with no requirement for a minimum sentence. A number of experts advised that this ran a risk of falling foul of the Constitution.

The more limited current legislation was ultimately arrived at following an inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. It found that restricting the list of offences and requiring a minimum six year sentence was necessary to “appropriately target the most serious conduct that is closely linked to a terrorist threat”. Since 2015, the national threat level has not changed.

In this context, the government should clearly explain why removing the six year sentence threshold for conviction-based citizenship deprivation is necessary and proportionate. Given that the conviction-based citizenship-deprivation powers have not been used since their introduction, the need for a clear justification is particularly strong. The government’s media release states:

We now need to focus attention on strengthening the citizenship loss provisions which commenced in 2015 as they relate to terrorists within Australia, in order to protect our community.

As the Law Council has stated, this justification is not nearly strong enough.The Conversation

Sangeetha Pillai, Senior Research Associate, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Law School, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Scott Morrison eases refugee policy while talking tough


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

There is an interesting and notable point of detail about the “lifetime ban” legislation that remains a sticking point in the argument between the government and Labor over the resettling of offshore refugees in New Zealand.

The ban would not apply to the refugee children. The bill – which has so far failed the hurdle of the Senate – excludes anyone who was under 18 when transferred to a regional processing country.

So if the legislation were passed in its present form and people were sent to New Zealand, the parents could never travel to Australia but their offspring, if they later became NZ citizens, could eventually do so.

The row over the “lifetime ban” bill, which the government wants before a deal with NZ, is just one aspect in what is a complex set of manoeuvres to find an end to the limbo situation of the refugees on Nauru and Manus.

For years, their plight has been an international embarrassment. But now the government knows the issue is resonating domestically and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, pragmatic on this as on most else, accepts he has to do something about it and has already started to move quite decisively.

Admittedly the deal with the US under President Obama, which President Trump accepted under protest, is getting some people settled in America, but progress is slow and the number still modest.

Several Liberal backbenchers began to twist Morrison’s arm over the plight of the children some weeks ago. Morrison responded, with the sickest children quietly and fairly quickly removed to Australia.




Read more:
Government raises glimmer of hope for New Zealand deal on refugees


Saturday’s Liberal disaster in the Wentworth byelection, in which refugee policy was an issue, underlined the political necessity of being seen to do more.

Then Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie, crossbenchers in the House of Representatives, with a view to their enhanced clout in the coming hung parliament, further turned the screws with public comments.

By Tuesday even the Wiggles had joined the push, in a video appealing to politicians to “work together and get all the children off Nauru”.

Nauru is the focus, and the 52 children there. That was the number as of Tuesday, after 11 children arrived in Brisbane late Monday with their families – a contingent of 27 in all.

As part of the rapidly evolving policy, whole families are being transferred – there is apparently no attempt now to keep a parent in Nauru to try to get people to return after medical treatment.

The reality is that those coming here won’t be sent back.




Read more:
As children are airlifted from Nauru, a cruel and inhumane policy may finally be ending


Morrison told a news conference on Tuesday: “I’m interested in getting children off Nauru. Over 200 children have already come off Nauru. More children have already come off in recent times under the quiet, effective management of these issues that the government is pursuing. We’re not here to grandstand on this. We’re just here to get the job done.”

But the government wants to keep its rhetoric tough – both to retain a debating distance with Labor over border policy (which has served it well as political weaponry in the past) and to send as loud a message as possible to people smugglers and their prospective clients not to try to reopen the pipeline.

Labor is under pressure to pass the “lifetime ban” legislation – if it doesn’t, it will be cast as frustrating a deal with New Zealand.

The ALP has softened its opposition to the legislation, putting forward proposed amendments. It wants to see a guaranteed acceptance of a deal with NZ. It also says the “lifetime ban” should apply only to those settled in NZ, and it should be limited to the provision that allows open movement from NZ to Australia (thus these people would be allowed to make tourist visits here).

It’s not clear what Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton thinks about the present subtle but distinct policy shift. In Tuesday’s question time Dutton focused on 13 children on Nauru in families in which adults had been “the subject of adverse security assessments from the United States”.

If Dutton had been the victor in the August coup, very likely the policy movement now underway would not be happening.

Dutton, however, would contest the proposition there has been a shift, on the grounds that transfers happened before. But many of those were on court orders, or under the shadow of court action. And, as Morrison flagged, more are happening.

While the shift should be welcomed, it also should be kept in perspective. There is so far no deal with NZ – though there is great pressure to get one in place, through mutual compromise between government and Labor.

But even if the NZ deal comes to pass, on previous indications it would only involve a limited number – the offer was for 150 annually, and there are currently 635 people on Nauru including the children.

And in all the talk, the hundreds of single men on Manus hardly get a mention.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As children are airlifted from Nauru, a cruel and inhumane policy may finally be ending



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If refugee and asylum seekers are not resettled in Australia, the humanitarian crisis will only worsen.
AAP/Jeremy Ng

Alex Reilly, University of Adelaide

Australia’s off-shore detention policy is unravelling. Predictably, after five years of detention, the mental health of adults and children who have been left in indefinite detention on Nauru is collapsing. On Monday, 11 children and their families were flown to Australia for urgent medical attention.

The New Zealand deal, under which some asylum seekers could be resettled in New Zealand as long as they are banned from ever coming to Australia, is now being seriously considered.

Good politics, bad policy

From the middle of 2013, when off-shore processing was re-started on Nauru and Manus Island, the Rudd government, and later the Abbott government, made bold and irresponsible claims that no asylum seeker attempting to enter Australia by boat would ever be resettled here.

This played well to an Australian public spooked by a dramatic rise in boat arrivals under the Rudd government between 2009 and 2013, and set the foundation for a policy that has systematically brutalised hundreds of innocent people.




Read more:
Same old rhetoric cannot justify banning refugees from Australia


The claim, in the name of deterrence, relied on hopes Australian governments would find places to resettle the asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island in other countries. But there was no plan as to where they might go and, predictably, resettlement proved very difficult.

An agreement with the Cambodian government failed because Cambodia lacks the capacity to resettle people of such different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Malcolm Turnbull seemed to have stumbled upon a resolution when the Obama administration agreed to take sone refugees from Nauru and Manus.

The current US administration has resettled 276 people from Nauru and rejected a further 148. There may be more resettlements to come, but there is no clear timetable, and it will be a resolution for only some of the 652 people remaining on Nauru.

Inexplicably, the Australian Government has repeatedly rejected an offer from New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees there, fearing that people will take advantage of open migration between Australia and New Zealand and will end up resettling here.

Under renewed pressure from opposition parties, the government is reconsidering the New Zealand offer, but only if there is a travel ban preventing refugees ever coming to Australia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has drawn, once again, on the tired justification that to allow asylum seekers any right of entry to Australia may encourage people smuggling.

Why the people smuggling argument does not stack up

The people smuggling narrative does not withstand reasonable scrutiny. How much cruelty to innocent people on Manus and Nauru is really needed to stop the boats?

A comparison with the Howard years is instructive. From 2001 to 2008, of the 1,153 refugees and asylum seekers resettled on Nauru and Manus Island, 705 went to Australia, 401 to New Zealand and 47 to other Western countries. Most were resettled between 2002 and 2004.




Read more:
Resettling refugees in Australia would not resume the people-smuggling trade


These resettlements were not followed by a resumption of the people smuggling trade. From 2002 to 2007, 18 boats arrived with 288 asylum seekers. In addition, one boat was turned back with 14 passengers.

What remained important for deterrence was the possibility of being detained offshore with no guarantee of being settled in Australia and New Zealand. Only when this possibility was removed (when the new Rudd government dismantled the Howard government’s offshore processing and turn-back policies) was there a dramatic spike in asylum seekers arriving by boat.

The message of deterrence is clear

The systemic cruelty of detaining refugees in offshore detention centres indefinitely has sent an unequivocal message to any asylum seekers who might contemplate seeking asylum in Australia by boat. No person would countenance subjecting themselves to the mental and physical trauma suffered by detainees on Nauru and Manus Island for the chance of receiving protection in Australia. And no parent would risk subjecting their child to a lifetime of mental illness.

The Australian government has proved its mettle. It is prepared to subject innocent people to the cruellest of punishments, to disregard basic principles of human dignity, and to ignore its obligations under international law. This is deterrent enough for any prospective boat rider.

Time to end an inhumane policy

It is well past time to resettle every refugee and asylum seeker on Manus and Nauru in Australia. If this is done while the policies of boat turn backs and offshore detention remain in place, this will not lead to a resumption of people smuggling operations. And if I am wrong in this, we can be confident of stopping the boats again, as the government did with startling effectiveness in 2001 and 2013.

It seems that the government may finally be softening its untenable hard line. With no other resolutions on the table, most of the refugees on Nauru and Manus must end up in Australia or New Zealand.

Until this happens, the mental health of refugees stuck on Nauru and Manus will continue to deteriorate, and courageous whistleblowers will continue to risk their employment revealing the brutality and trauma of conditions in detention.

All this pain and suffering, and economic cost, for a deterrent that is not needed.The Conversation

Alex Reilly, Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Government raises glimmer of hope for New Zealand deal on refugees


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government has sent qualified signals that it might agree to some refugees from Nauru being settled in New Zealand.

It says it would be “more likely” to support the New Zealand option if Labor agreed to pass legislation to stop these people then being able to reach Australia by the back door, via the free travel arrangements between the two countries.

The positive note comes ahead of Saturday’s Wentworth byelection, in which the situation of the refugees is one of the issues.

New Zealand has for years had on the table an offer to take 150 of the refugees a year.

The legislation at issue – which has not been able to obtain Senate support – would prohibit anyone who’d come by boat and was settled in another country from ever being allowed into Australia.

But Labor remains opposed to the legislation in its current form.

Opposition immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said Labor welcomed the government’s “sudden and unexplained interest” in considering a deal with New Zealand.

But the “lifetime ban” legislation “is not required to secure regional resettlement arrangements,” he said.

Labor argues the government should negotiate a special arrangement with New Zealand to stop people resettled there from entering Australia, rather than having the catch-all bill.

The issue of the children on Nauru – many of them with serious health issues – escalated in recent weeks, with campaigning by doctors for a more humane approach and pressure from government backbenchers.

On Tuesday the crossbench gave notice of a bill to temporarily relocate children from Nauru for medical treatment.

Crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie asked Scott Morrison whether he would support calls to do this.

It is understood these transfers have been increased after backbenchers Russell Broadbench and Craig Laundy made representations to Morrison in a meeting last month. Victorian backbencher Julia Banks has also spoken out.

Replying to Sharkie, Morrison hinted at more movement recently, when he offered crossbenchers an update “on the issue of transfers that continue to take place on a case-by-case basis”.

There had been quite a number of transfers undertaken, recently and over a longer period, he said, adding that “some work has been done further over the last month on these issues”.

Sources said the sick children were already off Nauru.

At the Liberal party meeting on Tuesday, NSW backbencher Trent Zimmerman asked Morrison about the children and the New Zealand option.

Shorten wrote to Morrison saying Labor would introduce legislation to ensure children received proper medical care.

Among other things this would ensure the recommendation of treating clinicians was prime when determining a temporary medical transfer for a child and ensure the minister, not the bureaucracy, was the final decision-maker on transfers.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Refugees are integrating just fine in regional Australia


Jock Collins, University of Technology Sydney and Carol Reid, Western Sydney University

As the Australian population surpassed the 25 million mark last week, another immigration debate emerged over the burden newcomers are placing on Melbourne and Sydney in terms of congestion and rising home prices.

With government data showing 87% of skilled migrants settled in either of the two cities in the past year, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Minister Alan Tudge made an urgent appeal to redirect new arrivals to regional Australia instead.

New research being released publicly on Tuesday suggests Tudge is spot-on in his argument that regional Australia can take more permanent immigrants, including refugees. But the research also shows he’s wrong on another contention – that newly arrived refugees don’t want to learn English and that integration is not likely due to migrants living in a “language and cultural bubble”.

According to our survey of 155 newly arrived adult refugees and 59 children from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who settled in Queensland (in suburban Brisbane and in regional Logan and Toowoomba), those who settled in Toowoomba have had the easiest time integrating and feeling a part of their local communities.

A warm welcome in the country

Funded by the Australian Research Council, the findings are the first to emerge from a three-year study of settlement outcomes of recently arrived refugees in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

While nearly all of the refugees surveyed in Brisbane and Logan were Christians – a consequence of the Turnbull government’s decision to take mainly Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq, Toowoomba has also settled a large number of Yazidi refugees from Iraq, who follow their own religion, and a smaller number of Muslim refugees from Afghanistan.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

One key issue related to immigrant and refugee settlement in regional and rural Australia relates to the warmth of the welcome. The stereotypes of the Australian bush being “redneck” would suggest new immigrants would find settlement difficult outside large metropolitan centres.

An earlier research project on immigrants living in regional Australia a decade ago, however, dispelled this myth, with 80% of respondents reporting a warm welcome.

Our new research confirmed this finding, with 68% of the refugees surveyed in Queensland overall – and 81% in Toowoomba – reporting it was “very easy” or “easy” to make friends in Australia.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

This is also a better result than what researchers found in the larger, national survey of refugee resettlement in Australia, “Building a New Life in Australia”, which has been conducted since 2013. It’s referred to in the graph as “BNLA”.

Another indication of the “warmth of the welcome” in regional Australia is the finding that about half of the immigrants in Queensland – and 60% in Toowoomba – found it “very easy” or “easy” to talk to their Australian neighbours, a similar result to the BNLA. When we revisit these families in 2019 and 2020, we expect the numbers will even be higher.

The exception here were the immigrants who moved to Logan, who reported a lower level of ease talking with neighbours. Previous research has found a complex array of factors creates a different experience for refugees in Logan, which was one of the most disadvantaged municipalities in Australia in 2016.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

A desire to learn English

Being able to communicate with neighbours and other people is high on the list of critical needs of the immigrants we interviewed.

Since most of these refugees had arrived in the past 12 months, a key challenge was improving their English language skills. Most wanted more opportunities for conversational English and workplace English to assist in gaining employment. But for many, this was a Catch-22. The new arrivals needed to keep applying for jobs and attend English classes, but couldn’t do both at the same time.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

The adult refugees we surveyed were unanimously thankful to the Australian government and people for giving them and their families the opportunity for a new life. They desperately want to give back and contribute to their new country. But most had not yet found a job in Queensland.

This is of course a national problem, as the BNLA survey shows. But in our research, we found those in regional Toowoomba fared worse than those in Brisbane. Most of the Toowoomba residents expressed a desire to stay in the community, though, and would happily do so if they could find a job.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Good place to raise children

Despite these early difficulties learning English and finding employment, an overwhelming majority of new refugees in Queensland (86%) reported feeling safe in their neighbourhoods, slightly lower than the national BNLA figure (93%). Again, Toowoomba is the standout: 100% of refugees felt safe living there.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Overwhelmingly, most respondents also felt the arduous journey from Syria and Iraq had been worth it – 85% of all Queensland respondents believe they’ve found a neighbourhood that’s a good place to bring up children.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Their children also revealed a strong sense of belonging, despite early feelings of loss and isolation. This is again higher in Toowoomba and lower in Logan – a result partially explained by the proactive nature of the community towards refugees in Toowoomba.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

This welcoming environment has been seen in many acts of kindness by teachers, community workers and church leaders. As one 14-year-old Afghan girl told us:

I was homesick. I was like there’s nowhere to go. We didn’t know many people around, like our own Afghanis. … So, the good thing in my life that happened last year was Ross, the pastor, came to our home and introduced us to church. Though we are not Christians, we still go there. It’s a youth group. So there we found many friends. We got to know more about other Afghanis living in Toowoomba and other cultures.

The ConversationAt a time when the integration of immigrant communities is being questioned, this study shows new arrivals to regional areas are actually doing well, and those in communities that welcome them may have the best support of all.

Jock Collins, Professor of Social Economics, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney and Carol Reid, Professor, Western Sydney University

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

Sri Lankan asylum seekers are being deported from Australia despite fears of torture



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A protest in Melbourne last month to stop the deportation of Tamil asylum seekers Priya and Nadesalingam back to Sri Lanka.
Ellen Smith/AAP

Kirsty Anantharajah, Australian National University

Earlier last month, Thileepan Gnaneswaran was separated from his wife and 11-month-old baby and deported from Australia back to Sri Lanka, the country from which he had fled six years ago. On his arrival in Colombo, he was taken into custody and questioned by Sri Lankan police.

He’s since been released, but the ordeal was no doubt a traumatic experience, given his claims of being interrogated and tortured by Sri Lankan security forces during the country’s long-running civil war due to his family’s connections with to Tamil separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).




Read more:
Not ‘all is forgiven’ for asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka


Two other Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, a married couple in Queensland only identified publicly by their first names (Nadesalingam and Priya) for security reasons, also received deportation notices this year. They and their two small children were taken from their home in a dawn raid by immigration officials, and are currently being held in detention.

In late June, a court order temporarily halted the deportation of Priya and her eldest daughter. But the family now faces the possibility of being separated, as well.

These are just two of the more public cases of Tamil asylum seekers facing deportation from Australia in recent months. Given Australia’s intense secrecy on asylum issues, we know much less about 116 Sri Lankans who were in detention as of April, or the 42 holding precarious bridging visas who also face an uncertain future.

Wave of Tamil asylum seekers

Like Gnaneswaran, most Tamil asylum seekers in Australia have serious claims of abuse at the hands of Sri Lankan security forces.

This is generally due to actual or perceived links to the LTTE, which waged a 26-year insurgency against the Sri Lankan government. The war came to a brutal end when the Tamil fighters were defeated in 2009. Upwards of 100,000 civilians are believed to have died in the war.

Since the end of the war, some 115,000 Sri Lankans have fled the country, some ending up in Australia. Sri Lankan boat arrivals to Australia spiked in 2012, when they comprised the largest source country of asylum seekers. Between 2012-13, only 11.6% of their applications were accepted, even though many claimants had documented evidence of experiencing torture and violence in Sri Lanka.




Read more:
Handing over Tamils to the state they fled breaks international law


Due to the increase in boat arrivals during this time, the Australian government introduced a policy of enhanced screening for asylum seekers in October 2012.
The policy sought to “screen in” or “screen out” asylum seekers on the basis of a single entry interview, before they were even able to lodge a protection visa application. Because those “screened out” were never told why they’d been rejected, the policy lacked transparency and accountability.

The Australian Human Rights Commission noted that as of May 2013, immigration officials had conducted 2,596 screening interviews of Sri Lankan asylum seekers and returned more than a third of them to Sri Lanka.

Tamil asylum seeker Thileepan Gnaneswaran before his deportation from Australia.
Tamil Refugee Council, Author provided

Two versions of the current political climate

Australian immigration officials rely heavily on “country information reports” provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to determine claims for asylum. Passages from the reports are often extracted by immigration officials in visa refusal letters.

But in the case of Sri Lanka, these reports often differ from the experiences of Tamils living there and the observations of international organisations and human rights groups.

Take, for example, the issue of the threat of torture by police or the military. The 2018 DFAT report states:

The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) cited 24 cases of torture in 2016 and 2017. An Associated Press article published in November 2017 claimed 52 incidents of torture, which included the cases reported by the ITJP. … However, DFAT is unable to verify allegations of torture in 2016 and 2017.

A 2017 report on Sri Lanka by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees takes a more cautious approach:

The use of torture remains a serious concern. In its report submitted to the
Committee against Torture, in November 2016, the Human Rights Commission of Sri
Lanka stated that complaints it had received illustrated the routine use of torture by the police throughout the country as a means of interrogation and investigation.

In its 2017 report, ITJP documents torture during the same time period involving beatings, whippings, burnings with cigarettes, brandings with hot metal rods and other methods.

In addition, rape and other forms of sexual violence and humiliation continue under the (Maithripala) Sirisena regime. The methods of torture remain consistent and the severity of the torture is not diminishing in the cases the ITJP has studied for this report.

What happens when Tamils go home

There’s evidence that asylum seekers being sent back from Australia this year are also being targeted by security forces.

Shantaruban, a Tamil asylum seeker and former member of the LTTE, was deported in February this year, despite a request for a delay from the UN Committee Against Torture while it investigated whether he would face torture upon returning to Sri Lanka.




Read more:
Why the increase in Sri Lankan asylum seekers?


According to the Tamil Refugee Council, a grassroots group that advocates for Tamil asylum seekers in Australia, Shantaruban was arrested at the airport in Colombo and has experienced ongoing harassment. Security forces have made multiple visits to his home and recorded the details of his wife and children, including the school his children attend.

The ConversationReturned asylum seekers will continue to face such uncertainty and strife until policymakers in Australia – and other countries where Tamils have sought refuge – start looking beyond their country information reports and listen to the accounts of asylum seekers to find the truth instead.

Kirsty Anantharajah, Research Associate at ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), Australian National University

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

Australia and other countries must prioritise humanity in dealing with displaced people and migration



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The United Nations says the number of forcibly displaced persons around the world has risen to 68.5 million.
Shutterstock

Samuel Berhanu Woldemariam, University of Newcastle; Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle, and Jason von Meding, University of Newcastle

After six rounds of consultations, United Nations member states have produced the final draft of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).

It is preceded by the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which the UN General Assembly adopted in 2016. This was an intergovernmental declaration to initiate development of two separate global compacts: one on refugees and another on migrants.

This latest global compact document focuses on the latter issue. It lays down 23 objectives in order to establish “a cooperative framework to address migration in all its dimensions”.

Key points include securing the human rights of migrants, reducing vulnerabilities in migration, and the use of migration detention only as a last resort. The global compact also promotes “integrated, secure and coordinated” border management. Its aim is for states to cooperate rather than focus strictly on their domestic priorities.

National responses to the draft global compact

Over the last month or so, states have started to declare their positions on the draft text. Notably, these positions do not always align with how those states have conducted themselves in intergovernmental negotiations. As is often the case, tensions can arise between domestic political priorities and intergovernmental relations.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Australia would not sign the global compact in its current form. Australia is “happy to negotiate in good faith”, according to Dutton, but it will not “sign its border protection policy over to the UN”.




Read more:
Why does international condemnation on human rights mean so little to Australia?


The Hungarian government also declared its opposition and officially announced its exit from the adoption process.

These developments follow the high-profile US withdrawal from the drafting process in December 2017. At the time, the Trump administration argued that numerous provisions of the New York Declaration were “inconsistent with US immigration policy”.

As the Global Compact on Migration moves towards finalisation in December 2018, there is a chance these early challenges may snowball.

The key to Australia’s resistance

The grounds for Australia’s particular resistance to the global compact are the provisions relating to migration detention. The compact insists detention should only be used as a “last resort”. Signatories would commit to:

review and revise relevant legislation, policies and practices related to immigration detention to ensure that migrants are not detained arbitrarily, that decisions to detain are based on law, are proportionate, have a legitimate purpose, and are taken on an individual basis, in full compliance with due process and procedural safeguards, and that immigration detention is not promoted as a deterrent or used as a form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment to migrants, in accordance with international human rights law.

Critical readings of domestic policy and practice find Australia’s behaviour in violation of some or all of the compact’s checks on migration detention.




Read more:
Offshore detention: Australians have a right to know what is done in their name


Indeed, Dutton effectively acknowledges that Australia’s practice is out of alignment with international legal standards. He notes that “we’ve fought hard for [our policies]” and “we’re not going to sign a deal that sacrifices anything in terms of our border protection”.

Multiple actors have sought to bring Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers before the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The Australian government faces allegations including crimes against humanity and torture, arising from the system of mandatory offshore immigration detention it continues to enforce.

Global forced displacement and migration challenges are unprecedented

It is clear that states typically prioritise their national interests in international relations. Arguments are often framed in such a way as to absolve states of responsibility and position vulnerable refugees and migrants as a “problem”. It is past time for this mentality to change.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently released the 2017 Global Trends Report. It confirms that the number of forcibly displaced persons around the world has risen to 68.5 million. This is 2.9 million more than reported at the end of 2016.

The estimated global migrant population is 244 million.

States’ approaches to challenges of forced displacement and migration often fail to acknowledge a sometimes competing, but always essential, consideration – the basic dignity of the human person.

The agenda of the global compact is to encourage states to prioritise human dignity. This consideration does not have to contravene sovereignty. It does not dictate that a country abolish its borders. Nor is it against measures to protect its security.

To construct a justification for state cruelty based on sovereignty is an affront to the shared objectives of member states of the UN.

The case for greater cooperation

The current scope of forced displacement and migration necessitates more rather than less cooperation. Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, stated that the “success rests on mutual trust, determination and solidarity to fulfil the 23 objectives and commitments contained in the GCM”.

Bonds of solidarity at the international level are heavily strained by the disproportionate burdens borne by a small number of receiving states. Developing countries now host 84% of the world’s refugees.

In this context, the last thing national governments should do is abandon cooperative efforts to build stronger global responses to migration and refugee protection.

The ConversationThe lives and wellbeing of millions of people depend on countries working together and prioritising humanity in their domestic policies.

Samuel Berhanu Woldemariam, PhD Candidate (Law), University of Newcastle; 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.

Yes, the US border policy is harsh – but Australia’s treatment of refugee children has also been deplorable


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Villawood Detention Centre, NSW. There are currently 200 asylum seeker children in detention, in Australia and offshore.
Australian Human Rights Commission

Deborah Zion, Victoria University

US President Donald Trump’s policy of separating children from their families at the Mexican border has sparked outrage in recent months, both in the US and abroad. It became so heated that he eventually ended the separation of families, though their fate remains unclear.

However, Trump is not the only leader to incarcerate children and use their suffering as a form of deterrence. The detention of asylum-seeker children has a long and brutal history in Australia. Trump’s policy invites us to reflect on our own policies regarding the detention of asylum seekers and the situation of children and families fleeing persecution.

Currently, over 200 children are in asylum-seeker detention, including on Nauru, in mainland detention centres and in community-based detention. Many have endured prison-like conditions, with no clear date for their release for months, if not years.

While most children remain with one of their parents, my research has found that separation of families is common. This includes the removal of young men on their 18th birthdays from their families with no warning or follow-up as to their whereabouts.

The mandatory incarceration of asylum-seeker children is an uncommon practice globally. It contravenes important human rights instruments to which Australia is a signatory, most notably the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This states:

No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily … (This) shall be used only as measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

The degree of despair felt by children and their families is well-documented and goes back many years.

In 2004, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) published A Last Resort? National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. This document outlined the privations of the lives of those held in detention centres in Australia, including the famous case of Shayan Badraie. He was detained for nearly two years, witnessing attempted suicide, self-harming and violence that resulted in several hospital admissions before the family was released.

The report also documents physical assault by guards, mental illness and lack of appropriate food, shelter and education.




Read more:
Accusations of deliberate, cruel abuse of refugee children must prompt a more humane approach


A Last Resort not only documents terrible human rights abuses, but the ongoing effects on those who experienced them. But, far from ending the incarceration of children and their parents, the policy of detention as deterrence has continued. In this regard, Australia is unusual, being the only developed country that imposes mandatory detention on people arriving by boat.

In 2014, the HREOC conducted another investigation, The Forgotten Children. This report documents in detail ongoing breaches of human rights, unsafe living conditions, medical neglect and physical and sexual assault.

Dehumanisation occurs on every level. One 16-year-old boy stated:

People were called by boat ID. People had no value. No guards called me by name. They knew our name, but only called by boat ID.

Children are also constantly exposed to the trauma of other detainees. One father said:

The word of “suicide” is not an unknown word to our children anymore. They are growing up with these bitter words. Last week a lot of women took action to suicide in Construction Camp. All the kids were scared and crying. How do we remove these bad scenes from our kids’ memories?

The report documents other cases of despair. A 13 year-old-boy detained on Nauru expressed to the treating doctor “a complete loss of hope; despair”. The doctor described how “[h]e had no appetite and no will to eat. He lost over 10 kilograms, which would be about a quarter of his body weight.”




Read more:
Sending children back to Nauru risks creating a generation of damaged people


The Australian government has tried to hide the conditions experienced by those held in places like Nauru and Manus Island. In particular, the Border Force Act (2015-17) imposed criminal sanctions on workers who speak publicly about what they see.

However, there is overwhelming and easily accessible evidence that Australia’s policies cause both immediate and ongoing trauma to children, and indeed all those incarcerated in detention. We must recall that Australia is a signatory to the Refugee Convention and that seeking asylum is enshrined in this instrument.

So while we can express moral outrage about things that occur far from home, our own policies ensure human rights breaches that cause unnecessary suffering and trauma for long periods of time.

There is now substantial evidence of the poor treatment of asylum-seeker children. This has come from a plethora of reports from human rights organisations, healthcare providers and detainees like Behrouz Boochani, who document and publish the conditions of incarceration.

The ConversationThey remind us of what the Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer said: “Do not be a victim; do not be a perpetrator; and above all, do not be a bystander.”

Deborah Zion, Associate Professor and Chair, Victoria University Human Research Ethics Committee, Victoria University

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

We cannot rely morally on ‘deterrence’ to justify our harsh refugee policies



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Offshore detainees suffer deliberately inflicted harm from their incarceration.
AAP/Eoin Blackwell

Tony Coady, University of Melbourne

When debate about refugees ascends from slogan swapping (“stop the boats”, “bring them here”) to specific reasoning, there seems only one argument worth considering for the ignominious detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru and the refusal to ever settle any in Australia.

That argument, advanced by both the government and the opposition (occasionally in a less strident form), stems from deterrence. It’s worth considering the argument even as a handful of these detainees are resettled in the US or possibly other distant and politically ambiguous destinations.

Deterrence involves an action or policy designed to instil fear of the consequences of committing some other action. But there are considerations relevant to the assessment of deterrent measures, especially when those measures inflict pain, damage or harm on some to deter others.

One is the measures’ likely success. Another is their independent moral acceptability.

Another concern is the acceptability of the purpose for which deterrence is employed – that is to say, why is it good to stop the boats? This opens up too many questions to be dealt with here, so assume (what would otherwise be questioned) that the purpose is a good one – for example, stopping deaths at sea. It will rather be the morality of the means (deterrence) that will concern me.

First, the harm issue. It is clear the offshore detainees suffer deliberately inflicted harm from their incarceration. This is so even if we manage to suspend judgement on how extreme that harm is – something made even more difficult by a variety of dramatic and credible testimonies.

Even if detainees are not humiliated, beaten, raped, murdered, or had their health and education gravely neglected, they are effectively and indefinitely imprisoned and often separated from family and friends. This last is usually a profound human harm though less immediately palpable than some others.

As for success, there is room for debate since the associated policy of turning back the boats is already sufficient to deter future boat people and smugglers, or at least stop them landing here. If so, the infliction of serious harm on the refugees through indefinite detention is unnecessary and hence immoral.

In any case, even granting the success of extreme incarceration, there remains the fact that the efficiency of the policy to the desired deterrence outcomes does not justify “whatever it takes”. It may be that the most morally monstrous actions might work as deterrents but be unacceptable morally even to the most casual conscience.

Consider the suggestion we should have deterred further refugees from embarking for Australia by taking a selected group of mothers and children from the earlier arrivals by sea and publicly executing them.

This has the merit of almost certain success and avoiding the extravagant financial cost of offshore detention. But I believe this measure, whatever its success, would strike most Australians as morally repellent.

One reason for the dubious nature of severe deterrent measures is that the morality of deterrence is most at home when those harmed to deter others are guilty of some crime or offence themselves and when the harm is proportional to the offence. This is precisely how deterrence is offered as a (partial) defence of the legal imprisonment of offenders, or more dubiously of capital punishment.

Certain forms of guilt can lead to deprivation of rights, such as imprisonment, and this in turn allows that deprivation to function as a deterrent to others. But asylum seekers are not guilty of any legal or serious moral offence – merely, at most, of irregularity in entering the country.

In any case, execution would be disproportionate to such irregularity, especially when that irregularity is legitimised by international law.

Nor is the situation much changed if, instead of killing them, we had them publicly tortured.

Perhaps, aside from waterboarding or electric shocks, we might try more subtle tortures like separating parent from child, inducing despair by isolating refugees in demeaning conditions on remote islands with no hope of anything like a normal life, and ensuring inadequate access to life-saving medical treatment or educational improvement. And instead of a selected few, we could do it to a large number of those who had arrived seeking refuge from disaster.

We could endeavour to make this policy secretive but just public enough to make deterrence work, while softening the effect of any moral outrage at home by rejecting our responsibility and shifting it to the governmental authorities on those islands and a variety of largely unaccountable private security companies.

The ConversationAgain, this is morally repellent and impossible to justify ethically. But that’s more or less what Australia has been and is doing on Manus Island and Nauru. And that is not a morally permissible resort to deterrence.

Tony Coady, Professor of Philosophy, University of Melbourne

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