Five quotes from the Turnbull-Trump call show the folly of Australia’s refugee policy

Asher Hirsch, Monash University

The Washington Post’s leaked transcript of a January phone call between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull highlights the failure of Australia’s deal with the US to take refugees from offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

It also reveals Turnbull’s desperation not to let people who came by boat settle in Australia.

The refugee deal was made in the dying days of the Obama administration. Trump, upon assuming office, tweeted his dismay over it:

 

Here are a few of the key issues revealed in the leaked transcript.

Turnbull: ‘You can decide to take them or to not take them after vetting. You can decide to take 1,000 or 100. It is entirely up to you.’

Turnbull’s comments highlight a key fault with the US deal.

Throughout the call, Turnbull reiterates that the only obligation on the US under this deal is to consider taking refugees. Trump asks:

Suppose I vet them closely and I do not take any?

Turnbull responds:

That is the point I have been trying to make.

The transcript highlights concerns that the deal could end up with the US deciding not to take any refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. A key question for the Turnbull government is what its plan is for the rest of the people left to languish indefinitely.

The harms of offshore processing are well known. Accommodation standards, facilities and services in the detention centres remain well below international standards. There have been consistent and alarming reports of abuse (sexual and otherwise). There has been one murder and six other deaths from inadequate medical care in offshore detention centres.

Turnbull: ‘We will then hold up our end of the bargain’

During the conversation, Turnbull highlighted that in exchange for the US taking people from Manus Island and Nauru:

We will then hold up our end of the bargain by taking in our country 31 [inaudible] that you need to move on from.

This is a reference to the commitment the Turnbull government made in 2016 to resettle in Australia an unspecified number of Central American refugees currently residing in a camp in Costa Rica. This aspect of the deal still remains unclear, with the transcript “inaudible” during this key moment.

Although the Turnbull government strenuously denied the deal was a “people swap”, it has been cast as a quid-pro-quo arrangement, whereby the Australian government can publicly maintain its unwavering commitment to an offshore detention policy that is no longer sustainable.

Turnbull: ‘The people – none of these people are from the conflict zone. They are basically economic refugees from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.’

This statement highlights either wilful ignorance or blatant deceitfulness by Turnbull in an attempt to sell our responsibility to the US.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s statistics show that of the 2,235 people on Manus Island and Nauru who have been assessed, almost 80% have been found to be persecuted refugees.

The term “economic refugee” is also a misnomer. Those found to be refugees are people fleeing persecution, based on who they are or what they believe.

By telling Trump these people are “basically economic refugees”, Turnbull also misrepresents the ongoing persecution and conflict that people from these countries are experiencing daily.

Trump: ‘What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats?’

Trump raises a good point about Australia’s “discrimination against boats”.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants has highlighted Australia inhumane and discriminatory policies directed at boat arrivals. This includes mandatory and prolonged detention, as well as indefinite separation from families, restrictions on social services, and no access to citizenship.

Trump: ‘I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now.’

Trump’s insistence that the people detained by Australia on Manus Island and Nauru “are bad” – which Turnbull did not contest – demonstrates the disdain and lack of understanding common to both the Australian and US governments with respect to forced displacement.

The notion of immigration detention being akin to “prison” underscores the punitive nature of the Turnbull government’s approach to people desperately seeking asylum – a description Turnbull fails to rebut.

Trump’s repeated attempts to draw a link between genuine refugees and terrorism are deeply troubling. ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis has said no such link exists. In Australia and the US, both the media and the government have used this misleading narrative to justify the persecution of refugees and asylum seekers.

What next?

Ultimately, the transcript reveals that Australia maintains control and power over the centres – essentially highlighting that Manus Island and Nauru are Australia’s responsibility.

As Turnbull said:

They have been under our supervision for over three years now and we know exactly everything about them.

As Australia maintains responsibility for these people, we must ensure their safety and dignity. As the transcripts reveal, the US deal may amount to nothing.

The ConversationA decade ago, the Howard government faced the same question of what to do with hundreds of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island who had nowhere else to go. John Howard eventually realised the only option was to bring them to Australia. Turnbull must do the same – and quickly.

Asher Hirsch, PhD Student, Monash University

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

Private resettlement models offer a way for Australia to lift its refugee intake

Susan Kneebone, University of Melbourne; Asher Hirsch, Monash University, and Audrey Macklin, University of Toronto

No-one disputes the urgent need for co-operative solutions to the global crisis of displaced people, estimated at 65 million people. But the chances of co-operation in the resettlement of recognised refugees seem slim.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that more than 1.1 million people are in need of resettlement. But offers from countries for resettlement have reached only 111,000 people. That leaves 1 million in limbo.

This week’s UN summits on migrants and refugees offer an opportunity to think creatively about solutions to the resettlement shortfall.

Australia prides itself on its participation in the UNHCR’s Resettlement Program, which is administered through Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Our resettlement quota under that program stands at 13,750 places annually, with 11,000 of those reserved for people applying from outside Australia.

But can and should Australia be doing more to resettle refugees? Australian has resettled only one-sixth of its promised one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees. So do we need to stick with our current model of state-controlled resettlement schemes? Or are there other models we can learn from?

What is Australia doing?

Refugees comprise just 7% of Australia’s annual migration intake. By contrast, they made up 48% in the years following the second world war.

Since July 2013, Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection has been trialling an alternative model of resettlement, the Community Proposal Pilot.

Under this pilot, community organisations are able to sponsor potential applicants. The pilot is capped at 500 visa places within the Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

The department has appointed five organisations to work with families and supporting community groups to facilitate this resettlement pathway. The response to the pilot has exceeded available places and initial assessments of the program are enthusiastic.

However, the pilot is not without flaws. In particular, the available places are not additional to but are included within the Refugee and Humanitarian Program quota.

The initial evidence shows there is a higher and faster visa grant rate under the pilot than for other resettlement applications. This means certain “private” individuals and organisations can pay for priority “public” service.

Under this model, the families and community organisations bear not only the substantial costs of the visa applications (more than A$30,000 plus additional costs for family members), but also provide practical resettlement assistance to new arrivals. The resettled arrivals have immediate access to the public purse through Centrelink. The pilot model is thus very much nested in the public domain.

Should we follow Canada’s lead?

Canada does a similar scheme differently. There, private sponsorship is additional to and supplements the public resettlement program – that is, private sponsorship occurs over and above the government’s commitment to public sponsorship, not instead of it.

Australia and Canada share many similar characteristics as countries of immigration. In particular, their experiences with Indo-Chinese refugees from 1975 shaped their responses to refugees today.

Private sponsorship was legislated into Canadian law in 1978. In its present form, a group of private individuals (usually not newcomers themselves) come together to nominate one or more refugees for resettlement. The government vets the nominated refugees for health, security and alignment with the refugee definition.

The sponsors must raise the equivalent of one year’s social assistance (equivalent to Centrelink) and undertake to financially support the refugee/s. They do not pay visa or processing costs.

Privately sponsored refugees have access to health care, education, English as second language programs and the like, and the sponsorship group undertakes all other settlement tasks. The formal sponsorship undertaking usually lasts a year.

Australia’s pilot program differs from the Canadian model in the following respects:

  • In Australia the sponsors are almost entirely extended family members of the resettled refugees, not groups or other individuals from the community. In Canada the nominated refugees are often related to previously arrived refugees, but need not be.
  • In Australia the money raised by sponsors is paid to the department for the costs of visas and other services, and to the organisation for administrative and resettlement support. Refugees resettled in Australia have immediate access to Centrelink. In Canada, neither sponsors nor refugees pay for visas or settlement services. Rather, the money raised by sponsors goes to the resettled refugees as income support for the first year, after which they are eligible for public income support (if needed).
  • Finally, the 500 spaces reserved in the Australian program form part of the overall quota for its Refugee and Humanitarian Program. This means there are 500 fewer visas available for publicly resettled refugees. In Canada, the principle of additionality has been invoked to defend private resettlement as a supplement rather than substitute for the government program.

Advantages to be considered

Private sponsorship of refugees offers several potential advantages.

  • It enables the resettlement of more refugees, if the principle of additionality is adopted and applied in good faith.
  • It can reduce the cost to government of resettlement.
  • It generates positive integration outcomes for refugees through the transfer of social capital from established members of the community to new members.
  • It can provide a platform for active citizenship and enhance social cohesion by directly engaging ordinary citizens in the nation-building activity of welcoming newcomers.

In Canada, it is recognised that private sponsorship not only confers benefits on refugees, but also benefits the sponsors and the nation in tangible and intangible ways.

In Australia, an impending government review of the pilot provides the opportunity to revise the program to better harness community support for private refugee sponsorship and help with the global crisis.

Susan Kneebone, Professorial Fellow, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne; Asher Hirsch, PhD Student, Monash University, and Audrey Macklin, Professor and Chair in Human Rights Law, University of Toronto

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

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”

Even Once They Win It, Citizenship Is Used Against Refugees

This article was original published on New Matilda.

Citizenship has been a hot topic for the Australian government over the last year. While debate surrounding the new anti-terrorism laws has received significant attention, another hidden attack on citizenship is taking place behind the scenes.

Refugees on permanent visas, who have been in Australia for over four years and are thus eligible to receive citizenship have been experiencing significant delays when applying.

Most of these people have one thing in common – they applied for protection after arriving in Australia by boat.

Now, four years later, they are still being punished simply because of a choice they made under desperate circumstances.

Continue reading “Even Once They Win It, Citizenship Is Used Against Refugees”

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?”