Asylum seekers and refugees

Australia’s current asylum seekers policies and practices are a gross breach of human rights and decency. CCL gives very high priority to helping bring about fundamental reform to these policies. Current priorities are advocacy for an end to indefinite detention of refugees resulting from ASIO adverse security assessments, clear policy separation of ‘border security’ and ‘national security’ and an update of CCL policy in response to the latest Australian Government policies and practices




Policy: Visa cancellation on character grounds

2020 NSWCCL AGM

Item 8.2        Policy on visa cancellation on character grounds.

Preamble

Section 501 of the Migration Act enables the Minister for Home Affairs or his delegates to cancel the visa or to refuse a visa of any person who is decreed to have failed what is termed ‘the character test’.  The grounds on which this can be done are many:  they include inter alia serving a total of 12 months’ imprisonment; conviction for any offence, no matter how inconsequential, while in immigration detention; being a person who has been or is a member of a group or organisation, or has had or has an association with a group, organisation or person, and that group, organisation or person has been or is involved in criminal conduct; being a person whose criminal or general conduct is such that the person is not of good character; or having been ordered by a court to participate in a drug rehabilitation scheme.  If a court has found a person guilty of an offence against a child, or found a charge against the person proved for an offence against a child, whatever the penalty or  even if the person was discharged without a conviction, they fail the character test.  Persons can also be found to have failed the character test if there is only a risk that that they may engage in criminal conduct, vilify a section of the Australian community,  or incite discord in a section of that community.   Harassment, which is defined as including threats to the property of a person, also constitutes a failure of the character test.

Persons are taken to have been sentenced to twelve months of imprisonment if they have received sentences for separate crimes which add up to twelve months or more, even when a court has ordered that two or more sentences be served concurrently.

If the Minister suspects one of these conditions apply to a visa holder, he may cancel the person’s visa, and the rules of natural justice apply.  Such decisions are subject to review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.  But the Minister is able to overrule the Tribunal.

But if he thinks it is in the national interest to cancel the visa as well, the rules of natural justice do not apply.  But under subsection 501 (3A), if the Minister is satisfied (as opposed to suspecting) that the character test has been failed, he must cancel the visa, and the rules of natural justice do not apply. 

Section 500A enables the Minister to refuse a Safe Haven visa on similar grounds.  So refugees are explicitly included.

Under section 499 of the Act, the Minister the Minister may give written directions  to a person or body having functions or powers under this Act if the  directions  are about the performance of those functions or the exercise of those powers. 

Under section 116, visas may be cancelled where they have been granted on the basis of misinformation; but also where  the presence of its holder in Australia is or may be, or would or might be, a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community or a segment of the Australian community; or the health or safety of an individual or individuals.

In many respects, this legislation is unjust.  A person who has served their time after a criminal conviction should not be subjected to a second penalty or other forms of harm; and though the High Court has found that having a visa cancelled and subsequent detention do not count as a punishment, the effect on the person is the same as if it was.  A person who has reformed while in prison should not be treated as a risk to the Australian community.  A person who has been found by a parole board not to be a risk should not be treated as though they are such a risk.  It is unjust to deprive a family of a close member on whom they depend for financial or emotional support.  And while there is a case for sending persons who were criminals before they entered Australia back to the countries where they became criminals, it is not just to send back people who became criminals during their time in Australia.  

The ability of the Minister to overrule the AAT is contrary to the rule of law, and should be abolished.  

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Submission: Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Detention Facilities) Bill 2020

NSWCCL would like to speak further to these arguments when the bill is considered by the Committee.

Recommendations:

This bill should be rejected.

If the bill is to proceed, it should limit the general power to search for and seize things to those which are intrinsically harmful, such as guns, knives and unprescribed narcotics. It should stipulate that items that do not present inherent risks to safety and security should only be prohibited to specified individuals where there is evidence that the person has used or is reasonably likely to use the item in a manner that presents clear risks to safety or security, and where those risks cannot be managed in a less restrictive way.

If the bill is to proceed, dogs should not be able to be used for searches in immigration detention centres.

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NSWCCL writes to LEGCON Senators re Inquiry into Migration Amendment Bill 2020

NSWCCL has written to a number of Senators, members of the Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee, regarding the inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Detention Facilities) Bill 2020

The Refugee Action Collective of Victoria (RACV) has proposed that the Legal and Constitutional Committee ask the Department of Home Affairs a large number of questions about matters of fact before they meet on July 3. 

Although the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties believes that there are strong grounds for rejecting the Bill outright that are for the most part independent of the matters that the RACV raises, we nevertheless urge you to do as the RACV requests.

Failure to present relevant facts until parliamentary committee hearings are underway, or by taking questions on notice, till after those hearings are complete, prevents transparency, and betrays a lack of commitment to democracy.

In addition to the question the RACV ask, NSWCCL requested the Senators to also ask:

How many landline telephones are available in each compound or separate section of each detention facility? For what hours are they available? And how many detainees are there in each of those facilities?

NSWCCL made a submission to Legal and Constitutional Committee inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020, recommending that the Bill be rejected. 

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Refugee Week 2020

Refugee Week June 14 - June 20, is Australia’s peak annual activity to raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society. Originally celebrated in 1986, Refugee Week coincides with World Refugee Day (20 June).

Refugee Week provides a platform where positive images of refugees can be promoted in order to create a culture of welcome throughout the country. The ultimate aim of the celebration is to create better understanding between different communities and to encourage successful integration enabling refugees to live in safety and to continue making a valuable contribution to Australia.

The aims of Refugee Week are:

  • to educate the Australian public about who refugees are and why they have come to Australia;
  • to help people understand the many challenges refugees face coming to Australia;
  • to celebrate the contribution refugees make to our community;
    to focus on how the community can provide a safe and welcoming environment for refugees;
  • for community groups and individuals to do something positive for refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people, within Australia but also around the world; and
  • for service providers to reflect on whether they are providing the best possible services to refugees.

Refugee Week is a unique opportunity for us all to experience and celebrate the rich diversity of refugee communities through theatre, music, dance, film and other events which take place all over Australia and highlight the aims of the Week, as outlined above. Refugee Week is an umbrella participatory festival which allows a wide range of refugee community organisations, voluntary and statutory organisations, local councils, schools, student groups and faith-based organisations to host events during the week.

Refugee Week aims to provide an important opportunity for asylum seekers and refugees to be seen, listened to and valued.

In light of the lack of Federally funded income support for those on temporary visas we encourage our members and supporters to contribute to the work done by organisations providing resources and services for refugees and asylum seekers.

Find out more about Refugee Week

Refugee Week hashtags - #RefugeeWeek #YearOfWelcome

Click on an image below to learn about these refugee's stories. 

 

 

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The right to protest should not be curtailed

4th May 2020

The right to protest should not be curtailed

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has grave concerns with the actions of the Victorian Police in the arrest of Chris Breen. To our understanding Mr Breen has been charged with incitement under section 321G of the Crimes Act 1958 for involvement in a protest car convoy. We are equally concerned with the issuing of infringement notices and fines of $1652 to 26 other participants.

On Good Friday the Refugee Action Collective planned a peaceful demonstration to highlight the living conditions for the refugees being held in the Mantra Hotel, Preston, The Mantra is being used as an Alternate Place of Detention (APOD). The purpose of the demonstration was to bring attention to the difficulties of maintaining social distancing and other hygiene concerns in the facility. NSWCCL has already voiced their concerns  with the conditions in APODs.

Acknowledging the social distancing laws in place at the time, the protestors organised a car convoy with no more than two people in each car. The previous day a similar convoy had been held by the United Voice Union and although there were threats made in the media by the Victorian Police, no arrests were made, as was appropriate for a peaceful protest

On Good Friday the Victorian Police acted otherwise, by arresting Refugee Action Collective member Chris Breen in his house, holding him for nine hours at Preston police station, seizing his electronic devices (including his son’s) and charging him with incitement under section 321G of the Crimes Act 1958 for involvement in the car convoy. Police also issued infringement notices and fines of $1652 to 26 participants in the convoy.

NSWCCL has a number of concerns with the actions of the Victorian Police.

We are concerned by the use of public health measures to respond to matters of political action.

We are concerned with the precedent these actions could have for future rallies, protests or picket lines.

In order to maintain the civil right to protest in Victoria we make the following demands:

  1. The charge against Chris Breen to be dropped.
  2. The infringement notices be revoked.
  3. The Victorian Police and Government approve future car convoys and other safe forms of political protest.

NSWCCL has also written to Victorian Police Commissioner, Graham Ashton AM regarding this matter. View the letter HERE.


Angela Catallo and Dr Martin Bibby, co-convenors, NSWCCL Asylum Seekers and Refugees Action Group

Media requests: Angela Catallo via email to office@nswccl.org.au.

 

See this statement as a PDF

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NSWCCL calls for release of those in alternative places of detention (APOD)

NSWCCL are asking members and supporters to urgently write to a group of Federal Ministers warning them of the risks involved in keeping 100 refugees in the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel, an alternative place of detention (APOD) in Brisbane, and 50 in the Mantra Hotel APOD in Melbourne.  We are calling for their immediate release into safe places in the community as part of the public health response to the COVID-19 emergency.

The risk in APODs is that they are crowded, and social distancing is impossible. Moreover, guards, service staff and others go in and out, generally without personal protective equipment. 

There are 9,900 members of I Have a Room, who have declared their willingness to look after asylum seekers and refugees in their own homes.  In APODs and Detention Centres, here, in Nauru and Manus Island, there are a few more than 1,400 asylum seekers and refugees. 

It is true that cases have been trending down: in Queensland in particular there have been no new cases of the virus in the last few days.  However, as Professor Paul Kelly, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said on the ABC’s Coronacast podcast on Wednesday 22 April, there is a risk of a second wave of the virus, which would be worse than the first.   Moreover, there may be asymptomatic cases, with people who are not aware that they have the disease able to spread it to others, who may die of it.

We thank you for taking this action to help protect asylum seekers and refugees in Australian care during the COVID-19 health crisis.

- Angela Catallo and Dr Martin Bibby, co-convenors, NSWCCL Asylum Seekers and Refugees Action Group

Media requests: Angela Catallo via email to office@nswccl.org.au.

 

Please write in your own words, or copy and paste the example letter below into an email, and send to:

The Hon. Alan Tudge, Acting Minister for Immigration alan.tudge.mp@aph.gov.au

The Hon. Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs Peter.Dutton.MP@aph.gov.au

The Hon. Anne Ruston, Services Minister senator.ruston@aph.gov.au

The Hon. Greg Hunt, Minister for Health Greg.Hunt.MP@aph.gov.au

The Hon. David Coleman, Minister for  Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. david.coleman.mp@aph.gov.au


Dear Ministers,

You will be aware of the concerns expressed by Mr. Ed. Santow about the COVID-19 health risk due to overcrowding inside two alternative places of detention (APODs) for refugees and asylum seekers - that is, in the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel in Brisbane and the Mantra Hotel in South Preston, Victoria.  According to Mr. Santow, social distancing is not possible while so many are detained there, and the lives of the detainees are at risk.

APODs are not isolated from the wider community--guards, service staff, cleaners and others go in and out.  They can carry infection in, and others will carry it out.  Mr. Santow's warning should be treated seriously and the response should be urgent.

I remind you of the consequences of Donald Trump's dismissal of warnings about the novel coronavirus as fear-mongering.

I am writing therefore to urge you to rescue the people detained in those two places from their almost inevitable infection with the SARS-2 virus if they stay there, and the likely deaths of some of them.   I urge you  to act swiftly and place them in community detention, or release them to safe places in the community. 

It is true that cases have been trending down: in Queensland in particular there have been no new cases of the virus in the last few days.  However, as Professor Paul Kelly, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said on the ABC’s Coronacast podcast on Wednesday 22 April, there is a risk of a second wave of the virus, which would be worse than the first.   Moreover, there may be asymptomatic cases, with people who are not aware that they have the disease able to spread it to others, who may die of it. 

There are 9,900 members of I Have a Room who have declared their willingness to take an asylum seeker or refugee each from detention into their own homes. 

I urge you to take up their offers, and act before it is too late

Yours sincerely,

 

(SIGN HERE)


Download the letter as a PDF to print, sign and scan/photograph and send via email.

 

 

 

 

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Close detention centres and prisons now, says retired physician

NSWCCL supporter and esteemed retired physician, Dr Alex Wodak*, has called for the Commonwealth Government to immediately close all immigration detention centres  and remove all non-violent inmates from prisons across the country or risk a major public health crisis of COVID-19.

"An outbreak of COVID-19 is many, many more times likely in a detention centre or prison than in the general population."

"You have overcrowding, outdated facilities, lack of readily available hand sanitiser, and a population prone to chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma."

"We cannot afford an outbreak. We owe these people a duty of care".  

Dr Wodak called for an immediate, high level meeting between the Prime Minister, Department of Home Affairs and state Ministers for Corrective Services with a view to facilitating the speedy transfer for detainees and inmates from these centres to the community.

Read Dr Wodak's statement HERE.

 

*Dr Wodak is Emeritas Consultant at the Alcohol and Drug Service, St Vincent's Hospital (he was Director of service from 1982-2012). Dr Wodak has been a fierce advocate for the prevention of HIV among people who inject drugs, prevention of alcohol problems and drug policy reform. He is President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and was President of the International Harm Reduction Association (1996-2004). He helped establish the first needle syringe programme and the first supervised injecting centre in Australia when both were pre-legal and often works in developing countries on HIV control among among people who inject drugs. Dr Wodak helped establish the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, the Australian Society of HIV Medicine and the NSW Users AIDS Association.

 

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Asylum Seekers and Refugees must be considered in COVID-19 responses

Asylum Seekers and Refugees must be considered in the response to the Covid 19 Emergency.

The NSWCCL has grave concerns for the health and safety of those held in immigration detention centres on the Australian mainland. Media reports have described conditions in the Villawood Detention Centre of up to 200 detainees in close contact during mealtimes and the cramped conditions in the Mantra hotel in Brisbane which is being used as an Alternate Place of Detention (APOD).

We are also concerned for those who are in the community and may be left without access to Medicare and Centrelink. The Federal Government has extended the range of people who can access Centrelink payments with the aim of providing money for those who need it however, as explained by Paul Power from the Refugee Council of Australia, “This thinking should be extended to everyone in the country who is in need, particularly those who have no access to any form of safety net or to Medicare because of their visa status.”

We ask our members and supporters to act upon these concerns by letting their Federal Members of Parliament know of their concerns. More information and a prepared letter are on the Refugee Council of Australia website.

 

Dr Martin Bibby and Angela Catallo, co-convenors, Asylum Seekers an Refugees Action Group

 

 

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Medevac – another shameful last week in the Australian Parliament

This time last year we lamented the reckless proceedings in the last sitting day of the Australian Parliament as the ALP allowed the Government to force through the widely opposed encryption-breaking legislation without even discussing the amendments they and others in the Senate had put forward as essential  to reduce the excesses in the bill.

There was, however, one stunningly positive parliamentary act, brilliantly initiated by determined independents with the support of the ALP: the passage, against extreme warnings as to disastrous consequences by the Government, of the Medevac law.  A rare, compassionate intervention to remediate aspects of our shameful, ongoing off-shore incarceration of asylum seekers. 

This year we witnessed the shameful and gratuitous repeal of this legislation.

It had worked well. It had not led to an influx of asylum seekers. The Government had no motivation other than assertion of its power. The Government’s utter determination to repeal this one compassionate asylum seeker law reeks of vindictiveness.

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Submission: Regional Processing Cohort Bill 2019 - August 2019

The Bill proposes to ban permanently from Australia any person who entered Australia as an unauthorised maritime arrival after 19 July 2013, was transferred to the Republic of Nauru (Nauru) or Papua New Guinea (PNG) for “regional processing”, and was at least 18 years of age at the time of their first (or only) transfer (the Cohort). Such people were forcibly transferred to Nauru or PNG against their will, detained indefinitely, and subjected to serious human rights violations after their transfer.

Recommendation: The Bill should be rejected.

View submission

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