What Can Hannah Arendt Teach Us About Today’s Refugee Crisis?

Originally published on Border Criminologies.

By Asher Hirsch and Nathan Bell.

While the current global refugee crisis is shocking in its dimensions, sadly it is not a new phenomenon.  Writing after the Second World War, the existence of a significant population of refugees and stateless people prompted the political theorist Hannah Arendt to reflect upon their rights.

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Forgetting its roots: Israel and asylum seekers

Some migrants in Israel and their employers are reeling from the effects of a new measure targeting Africans who entered the country illegally. Under the so-called deposit law, an Anti-Infiltration Law amendment that took effect May 1, African asylum seekers must deposit 20 percent of their wages into a fund they can access only upon leaving the country. In addition, their employers are required to deposit 16 percent of the asylum seekers’ pension allowances into the same fund.

Founded as a haven for Jews fleeing persecution, Israel has been far less welcoming to non-Jewish Africans seeking asylum. The country has approved fewer than 1 percent of all asylum applications since signing the 1951 UN Refugee Convention in 1954. Starting in the mid-2000s, large numbers of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants began entering Israel via Egypt, fleeing authoritarian regimes at home. As the numbers swelled, Israeli authorities became overwhelmed, and the government found it difficult to accommodate the new arrivals. Many were held in a detention center in the Israeli desert, and were subsequently given temporary visas and allowed to work.

The new law is just the latest development in Israel’s ongoing efforts to push out African asylum seekers, whom it considers “infiltrators.” By 2013, with tensions running high between migrants and Israelis, the country began implementing policies to stop African inflows and make life difficult for the roughly 55,000 already there. It completed a wall along its border with Egypt, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—whose supporters have referred to the migrants as “a cancer”—credits for blocking 99 percent of would-be African arrivals. Next, Israel began pressuring asylum seekers to relocate to a third country, giving them $3,500 in cash upon departure and promising them asylum once they arrive in either Rwanda or Uganda. Several thousand signed up, only to be led by smugglers on a shadowy journey through African borderlands—with no safety or legal status in sight.

The lack of welcome may be working: More than 3,200 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers left the country in 2016. The deposit law is likely to make life even more difficult for the tens of thousands of Africans still in Israel, who largely fill service jobs in restaurants and hotels. Businesses complain their labor costs will rise as a result of the provision, and aid groups say it has caused an uptick in asylum seekers being fired. With their limited access to public health care services contingent upon employment, those who lose their jobs can find themselves in very difficult straits.

The government maintains its actions are meant to benefit migrants, and that it is acting within the framework of international law. Meanwhile, lawyers and human-rights organizations are challenging the deposit law and relocation policy in court. For now, it appears the Africans will remain unwelcome in their would-be home.

From the Migration Policy Institute.

To stop boat deaths, abolish carrier sanctions and let asylum seekers travel by plane

Originally published on Right Now.

On a recent episode of Q&A, Professor Jane McAdam argued for the abolishment of “carrier sanctions”. Unfortunately, the director of the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International and Refugee Law at the University of NSW didn’t get time to elaborate. So what are carrier sanctions, and how to do they stop asylum seekers coming by air?

Professor McAdam advocated reframing the discussion around refugees away from security and detention, and in favour of facilitating “safe, lawful pathways for people … who are desperately in need of assistance.”

Carrier sanctions are financial penalties imposed upon airlines and ships that transport passengers who do not have a visa to enter. Australia is the only country in the world to impose a universal visa requirement on non-citizens. This means that all people who wish to enter Australia must obtain a visa prior to entering.

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Closing the country

This article was originally published on APPS Policy Forum.

Asher Hirsch unpicks the precarious future of Australia’s hard-line asylum seeker policy.

What does the future hold for refugee policy in Australia? Following a brutal policy approach to people seeking asylum in recent years and a blanket policy of harsh deterrence from both major parties, a key question now is whether these policies are sustainable, let alone desirable, over the longer term. Already, tensions and challenges have emerged that threaten Australia’s absolute refusal to face up to its refugee responsibilities.

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Does What Happens Offshore, Stay Offshore?

This article was originally published on Asylum Insight.

Australia leads the world in outsourcing and offshoring its human rights obligations. It is the only nation to subcontract the management of its entire detention centre network to private for-profit corporations. It is also the only nation that mandatorily detains those who arrive without a visa, and sends those who come by boat to third countries for processing. Between 2001 and 2007, and again from 2012, the Australian government has attempted to avoid both moral and legal responsibility for asylum seekers by sending them to offshore detention centres in the Pacific.

Australia maintains that responsibility for the management of these centres, and for the numerous abuses that have taken place there, rests solely with the host countries of Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Mr Michael Pezzullo, asserted during the 2015 Senate inquiry into conditions at the detention centre on Nauru that:

‘The Australian government does not run the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, or RPC. It is managed by the government of Nauru, under Nauruan law, with support from the Australian government. The government of Nauru operates the RPC, assesses asylum claims and, where persons are found to be in need of protection, arranges settlement. The government of Nauru is specifically responsible for security and good order and the care and welfare of persons residing in the centre.’ (emphasis added)

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High Court Ruling: Our Government Can Still Decide to Protect Refugee Rights

This article was originally published on Right Now.

Wednesday’s High Court decision upholding the legality of detention in Nauru is tragic in its result. But the decision was far from a vindication for the Government. In important ways the judgment signals an increasing willingness by at least some members of the High Court to rein in the excesses of Australia’s detention policies.

The case was litigated by the Human Rights Law Centre on behalf of a Bangladeshi woman brought to Australia while she was pregnant, and centred on two main claims: that no Australian law authorised the government to fund offshore detention arrangements, and that the detention by the Commonwealth Government on Nauru was unconstitutional.

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Funding barriers shut out asylum seekers and refugees from further education

Asher Hirsch, Monash University and Joyce Chia, Monash University

“When I arrived in Australia I was 17. Now I’m almost 20. The best years of my life are gone. When can I go to school? When can I go to college? When can I have my education? I don’t know what will happen to me.

“I escaped from my country because I couldn’t go to school. The only thing I wished to have was a better life, a safe life, and to be educated – and I couldn’t have that.”

As secondary school students eagerly await their university offers, this young man faces a much bleaker future.

Abdul is one of around 30,000 people seeking asylum who are waiting for the government to finalise their refugee claims. Once they prove their claim for protection they are found to be refugees, yet because they arrived by boat they will only have access to temporary visas.

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