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




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"You have overcrowding, outdated facilities, lack of readily available hand sanitiser, and a population prone to chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma."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

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Submission: Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) thanks the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for its invitation to make a submission concerning the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019. 

Recommendation: All three proposals under the Bill should be condemned, and the Bill itself should not be passed.

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Where do the parties stand on asylum seeker policies?

9 May 2019

Interested in Asylum Seekers issues and wondering where to send your preferences?

This question led the NSWCCL Asylum Seekers Group to send the same five questions to all parties standing for NSW Senate Seats. The questions were:

  1. How will you support the implementation of the Medivac Bill to provide medical assistance to sick and injured Men currently in detention on Manus and Nauru?
  2. New Zealand had offered to settle up to 150 refugees currently in off shore detention. Will your party accept this offer? Why or Why not?
  3. Reports have been made of Australian Border Force Officers approaching single women travelling from Saudi Arabia. These women are then questioned about the whereabouts of their guardians under Saudi law. Do you agree or disagree with Australian Officers implementing Saudi law in our airports?
  4. At present it is easier to visit a prisoner in gaol than in immigration detention. What is your opinion on the strict rules placed on visitors to on shore detention centres such as Villawood.
  5. By reducing access to the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) in the second half of 2018, the Federal Government left many refugees without the support they needed to be able to access basics such as housing and food while they are settling into Australia. What plans do you have to support refugees as they strive to become part of our society?

We received no responses from the Labor, Liberal or National Parties as well as any other minor parties not mentioned below.

Some parties, Greens, Australian Democrats, Science Party and the Australian Workers Party returned detailed answers to the questions. To provide a couple of points from each:

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Statements from political parties in response to questions on asylum seeker policies

9 May 2019

Greens:

  1. How will you support the implementation of the Medivac Bill to provide medical assistance to sick and injured Men currently in detention on Manus and Nauru?

 The Greens sponsored the Medivac amendment to the Home Affairs Bill that created the process to allow sick refugees and people seeking asylum, on medical advice from two or more treating doctors, to be transferred from Manus Island and Nauru to Australia for medical treatment. We fully support those currently detained in Australia's offshore detention regime being able to receive urgent medical treatment in Australia. 

The Greens do not support offshore detention, and outsourcing our responsibilities and duty of care to people seeking asylum in Australia. We believe the most appropriate healthcare for these traumatised and vulnerable people is on mainland Australia, provided by established medical and allied health services. But until every refugee and person seeking asylum held in offshore detention is brought to safety and freedom in Australia, the Australian Greens will do all it can to ensure all people in offshore detention have access to appropriate GP and specialist medical care, including telemedicine.

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A glimpse into the difficulties people seeking asylum face in the courts

3 April 2019

CQX18 is the boat identification of an Iranian man, who applied for a visa in March 2018. This request was rejected, and that decision was reaffirmed in April. He appealed that decision in the Federal Circuit Court in July 2018. Judge Street heard the Iranian man’s appeal that day. Judge Street ruled against him, and ordered him to pay the Minister’s costs of $7328. Judge Street delivered his ruling orally. This presented a significant challenge to the Iranian man. He was not in the courtroom, but connected by video link from Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre.

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The thwarting of the medical evacuation bill

In December last year, Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps advanced a bill to provide for emergency medical evacuations for people on Manus or Nauru. After negotiations with the crossbench, she agreed on amendments with independent MP Tim Storer and the Greens. These amendments were passed by the Senate with Labor’s support.

The bill provided that if two doctors agreed a person needed medical attention, they should be brought to Australia.  The Minister can refuse to do so for security reasons related to ASIO assessment. If the Minister believes that the person does not need medical evacuation, an Independent Health Advice Panel would evaluate the question. The Minister could not overrule their conclusions on medical grounds: the Minister could only refuse medical evacuation if the person was judged prejudicial to Australia’s security. The Bill also provided for 24 hour limits on each step of the process, in recognition of the medical emergency involved.

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Medevac bill: cross-bench /labor victory- but danger ahead

Labor and the cross-bench found sufficient common ground to achieve a significant victory for decency and humanitarian values in the Australian Parliament yesterday. The medical evacuation amendment was further amended and then passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 75-74. It was also an historic victory in that it is the first time in 75 years that a Government has lost a substantive vote in the lower house.  

This was achieved in the face of an extraordinary and increasingly desperate onslaught by the Government.

The saga is however ongoing. The Bill must return to the Senate today. It’s passage there is not guaranteed. The Government may repeat its December tactics and filibuster to block its consideration. Derryn Hinch is reported as ‘considering his position’ on the amendments. His vote is crucial.  

It will be another tense day for supporters of the amendment.

The positives so far

Under extreme pressure the cross bench and Labor were sufficiently sure-footed to negotiate a workable amendment.

The agreed amendment remains strong enough to achieve speedy medical evacuation for those requiring urgent medical care which cannot be provided in Manus or Nauru – albeit with several caveats.

The amendment addresses the central scare-mongering Government claim- a renewed wave of asylum seeker boats – by restricting the provisions to persons on Manus and Nauru at the commencement of the legislation.

Tony Smith brought some dignity and propriety to the house and enhanced his status as a fair and non-partisan speaker by refusing what reads like an instruction from the Attorney General Christian Porter to block discussion of the amendment on constitutional grounds and by making this ‘instruction’-  and the underpinning advice from the solicitor general -  public despite a specific request from the AG to keep it private.

Some caveats

Minister Dutton retains greater discretionary power to exercise his veto on medical transfers than initially proposed in the cross-bench amendment which leaves open the possibility of misuse/abuse of the provisions.

The restriction of the provisions to only those detained at the commencement of the legislation leaves an obvious future problem if we continue with off- shore processing of asylum seekers.

We are also left with an ethical/moral issue in relation to those who will be excluded from the new provisions because they are deemed a threat to national security and have committed serious crimes. Do we think it is acceptable to allow them to die or suffer from serious illness?

Desperate government tactics

The Government ran an all-out attack on the amendment (in fact on any amendment to the existing legislation) and on Labor yesterday. There was little or no mention of the cross-benchers who were the initiators of the amendment. Though we are all familiar with disregard for truth or logic in parliamentary debates, the Government pushed the boundaries on such behaviour yesterday. Their tactics seemed to be driven both by increasing desperation about losing the vote and ‘smart’ forward thinking about effective election tactics.

As the commentators say, we are getting a preview of the pivotal role border protection will have in the forthcoming election- if the Government has its way.

The surprise of the day was the revelation by the speaker at the end of question time that he was in receipt of a letter from the AG - including advice from the solicitor general that there was an argument that the underlying amendment passed in December 2018 was unconstitutional and that the AG considered that on these grounds the speaker should not allow the amendment to be considered at this stage. And that he should keep the advice private.  

The speaker’s calm rejection of both these requests was a high point in the parliamentary day.

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