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.

Every airline that flies to Australia must check if their passengers have a valid visa by processing their data through the Advanced Passenger Processing system. By requiring carriers to check that passengers have authorisation to enter a country prior to embarking, carriers effectively become border officials, controlling migration at the point of departure.

Australia is the only country in the world to impose a universal visa requirement on non-citizens.

While carrier sanctions are not applied only to transporting refugees, they disproportionally affect refugees seeking protection. Carrier sanctions are part of a broader effort by states to prevent entry to would-be asylum seekers – what scholars call “non-entrée policies”. While states owe refugees within their territory rights under international law, they have installed a range of barriers beyond their territory to ensure that refugees can’t enter and claim these rights.

Australia leads the world in the extraterritorialisation of migration control. But as a consequence, Australia’s policies have forced those who seek protection to use irregular, unauthorised and dangerous pathways to find safety. One way to prevent these dangerous journeys is to allow asylum seekers to get on planes. Unfortunately, Australia’s use of carrier sanctions works to prevent this safe route, generating demand for people smugglers and more dangerous journeys.

Australia was perhaps the first country to implement carrier sanctions. The colony of Victoria introduced the Act to Make Provision for Certain Immigrants 1855 which placed financial penalties on an owner, charterer or master of ship if they carried more than one Chinese migrant for every 10 tonnes of ship’s tonnage or did not guarantee payment by the Chinese passengers of an arrival tax of £10. Shortly after Federation, amendments were made in 1905 to the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth) which placed a fine of £100 upon ship owners, masters, agents and charterers for each prohibited immigrant (those who failed the dictation test) they carried. As intended, this had the result of significantly reducing the embarkation of non-white passengers.

One way to prevent dangerous journeys is to allow asylum seekers to get on planes.

Today carrier sanctions are contained in the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), which makes it a criminal offence to transport a non-citizen to Australia without a valid visa. Section 229 provides that where a “non-citizen” enters Australia and does not hold a valid visa, ” master, owner, agent, charterer and operator of a vessel” each commit an offence and is liable to a fine of 100 penalty units (currently $18,000).

In addition, airlines are responsible for the costs of removing passengers from Australia if they are refused entry after arrival.

To make it explicitly clear that carrier sanctions apply even to those with genuine protection claims, section 228B(2) provides:

a non-citizen includes a reference to a non-citizen seeking protection or asylum (however described), whether or not Australia has, or may have, protection obligations in respect of the non-citizen because the non-citizen is or may be a refugee, or for any other reason.

Thus carrier sanctions will apply even if the non-citizen is found to be a refugee, in contrast to other countries. La Trobe University legal academic Dr Savitri Taylor notes that carrier sanctions have succeeded in reducing the number of asylum seekers arriving by air:

The fear of having their profit margin eroded by such penalties is supposed to encourage carriers to deny passage to Australia to those who are inadequately or irregularly documented. The fact that the number of infringement notices actually served on carriers has been dropping markedly from year to year indicates that sanctions have had their intended effect.

Carriers are unlikely to be sympathetic to the claims of refugees seeking to board, and even if they are, they do not have adequate expertise to assess refugee claims before departure. Even for those who are sympathetic, the financial impact of carrier sanctions is likely to eventually outweigh any humanitarian concern.

To assist airlines to meet their carrier obligations under migration law, Australia has developed a range of practices, including the deployment of immigration offices known as Airline Liaison Officers in certain “high-risk” countries and the development of significant surveillance and monitoring databases, including biometric scanning.

Carrier sanctions not only push immigration controls beyond the borders of Australia, they also privatise them. No longer are state officials responsible for border management, employees of private commercial airlines now decide if a person has the right to cross the border.

If refugees aren’t able to take a plane, they are forced to seek asylum by other unauthorised, irregular and dangerous ways to find safety. If we are serious about stopping the boats, let’s look at allowing people to get on planes by ending carrier sanctions.

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.

Continue reading “Closing the country”

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)

Continue reading “Does What Happens Offshore, Stay Offshore?”

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.

Continue reading “High Court Ruling: Our Government Can Still Decide to Protect Refugee Rights”

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.

Continue reading “Funding barriers shut out asylum seekers and refugees from further education”

Did ‘ending’ detention on Nauru also end the constitutional challenge to offshore processing?

Joyce Chia, Monash University and Asher Hirsch, Monash University

The Nauruan government announced earlier this week that it will remove the remaining restrictions on the liberty of the asylum seekers detained there, and process all pending claims for asylum. It initially said it would process the claims in a week, but has since backtracked from that commitment.

Many have claimed that the announcement is a strategic move to undermine a constitutional challenge to Australia’s offshore detention regime, heard by the High Court this week – although the Australian government has denied this. So does the policy change spell the end of the challenge?

While that question can only be answered after the High Court’s decision, the hearings give a hint. The short answer is that the Nauruan government’s announcements have already had a much greater effect in the High Court than on Nauru itself. Continue reading “Did ‘ending’ detention on Nauru also end the constitutional challenge to offshore processing?”

The Economic Cost of Australia’s Asylum Policies

This article was originally published on Right Now.

Australia’s asylum policies are not just inhumane, cruel and a violation of international law, they are also ridiculously expensive.

An analysis of last year’s budget found that in the 2014-15 financial year, the Australian Government spent $2.91 billion on detention and compliance-related programs for asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat. This includes $912 million spent on detaining people in unsanitary, cramped and deadly offshore detention centres.

Continue reading “The Economic Cost of Australia’s Asylum Policies”