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.

Would Peter Dutton pass his own citizenship test?

This article was originally published on Right Now.

According to the Immigration Department’s “Australian values statement” proposed for new citizens, “respect for the rule of law” is a fundamental Australian value. But such respect is missing from our Minister for Immigration’s latest political volley.

Peter Dutton already holds god-like status in the pantheon of Australia’s political class. Not content with blanketing Australia’s offshore gulags in secrecy, threatening two years jail should a worker in these human warehouses report the sexual abuse of a child, or playing gatekeeper on the lives of those who come to Australia seeking safety, Dutton is now seeking further draconian powers.

Dutton is seeking a broad set of discretionary powers that would give him the ability to decide whether someone is eligible to become a member of the Australian citizenry. The latest Bill introduced into Parliament would give the Minister draconian powers to refuse someone’s application for citizenship or cancel a person’s citizenship, if he determines it is in the “public interest”. The Minister has the discretion to decide what is in the “public interest” and even the Administrative Appeals Tribunal could not overturn his decision.

The Bill also provides Dutton with sole powers to decide whether a person has “displayed behaviour consistent with Australian values”, even when they don’t have a criminal conviction. Dutton will have the power to determine which permanent visa holders are eligible to appeal to the Tribunal, and which aren’t.

The question the Australian community must ask itself is whether we feel confident in Dutton playing judge, jury and executioner on such matters. Such decisions could literally mean life or death for a person sent back to harm.

It is a fundamental principle of the rule of law that government powers are held in check by an independent body of review. Our only safeguard against authoritative rule is independent oversight of government decisions. Each person must have the right of an appeal and a fair process to challenge decisions made over their lives. Such safeguards also ensure that mistakes are not made – mistakes that have happened all too often in the past.

The question the Australian community must ask itself is whether we feel confident in Dutton playing judge, jury and executioner on such matters.

These new powers are accompanied by sweeping changes to the Australian citizenship test. One such change – requiring new citizens to have a university level of English – will have a significant impact on vulnerable migrants, especially those from refugee backgrounds.

For refugee and humanitarian entrants, Australian citizenship has a special significance. Gaining citizenship marks both their integration into their new country and the end of their displacement. For many, it will mark the first time they have experienced the protection of a State. Australian Citizenship provides eligible people with the safety they need to settle and to heal, and gives them the security to build their new lives. For this reason, most refugees and humanitarian entrants are eager to apply for citizenship as soon as they can, and prize it highly.

As the 2008 Government review of Citizenship found, gaining “citizenship should be an enabling, positive and welcoming process for applicants and one which is seen to contribute to building a cohesive and dynamic nation.” Yet the proposed changes will make it much harder for refugees to become citizens, thereby excluding the people who value Australian citizenship the most.

Refugee communities are concerned the proposed English language test sets a bar that is too high – a university equivalent level of “competent” English. This could mean people who have never had the opportunity to study, due to war and displacement, will never become an Australian citizen. This proposal will impact women the most, many of whom have been denied education by authoritative regimes such as the Taliban.

A further principle of the rule of law is a transparent and open law making process. While the Department called for submissions on its proposed changes to citizenship, it refuses to make the submissions public. This is yet another example of the Department refusing to release vital information about its controversial policies. Unless submissions are stated as confidential, they should be made public to allow the Australian community to judge for itself the harms that these proposed changes will cause. The Refugee Council has responded by creating an online portal for people to provide their submissions, increasing transparency and accountability. Likewise, Freedom of Information requests for the submissions have already been filled.

The proposed changes are also set to be retrospective, applying from the moment the announcement was made, rather than when the law is (if ever) passed. Retrospective laws again breach the principle of the rule of law.

Combined, these proposals show a troubling view of the rule of law. Judging by the current proposals, the Minister would not meet his own Australian values test.

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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A Feminist Critique of the Law

Law is power.[1] Those in power make the law, those in power adjudicate the law, and those in power enforce the law. Any feminist critic of the law is a critic of power. As ‘first-wave feminists’ have pointed out for over a century, it is mostly men who hold this power.[2] While equality has come a long way to improving the representation of women in the law, it is still mostly men who are involved in the law making and enforcing process. The first-wave feminist project – to ensure equal access, representation and fairness for women – still has a long way to go, even after a century of fighting.

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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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