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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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.

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The Freedom Interviews: Mark Isaacs

Originally Published in Right Now.

Right Now’s Asher Hirsch speaks to Mark Isaacs about his experiences working for the Salvation Army in the Nauru Offshore Processing Centre and about his new book, The Undesirables.

Right Now: When you landed in Nauru what were your first thoughts and feelings? Can you describe a little bit about what Nauru is like as a country?

Mark Isaacs: The first thing you notice about Nauru is that it is a really small country. There are about ten thousand people on it and when the plane comes into the land, the whole island is engulfed by the airplane. One of the asylum seekers thought he was landing on water.

It is extremely hot. We arrived just prior to the wet season and that took a while to get used to. The centre of the island is mined-out phosphate rock. in the centre of the mined-out phosphate rock is where the detention centre is, or at least the one that I worked at. It is a hot, barren landscape.

It is a very poor island. Around the edges you have these beautiful tropical beaches and palm trees, then you quickly realise dilapidated housing, deteriorated infrastructure, old and abandoned cars. There is no fresh food on the island and a high unemployment rate – there are a lot of people sitting around doing nothing. When Australia says, “we will give you a few billion dollars to hold asylum seekers”, it seems like an acceptable offer to a poor country like Nauru.

Going into the detention centre, what were you told by the Salvation Army about what you were meant to be doing there? Continue reading “The Freedom Interviews: Mark Isaacs”

Australia’s Complicity in Detention Centre Violence

This article originally appeared in Right Now.

A refugee journey is often filled with violence. By definition, someone found to be a refugee has had to flee persecution – often some of the most horrid forms of torture, war, rape and death threats. However, the experiences of violence don’t end once a person reaches our supposedly safe shores. In fact, violence in the immigration process can sometimes be worse than the situations they are fleeing.

In the paragraphs below are some real examples of the horrific violence that occurs in Australian-run detention centres. I do not detail these incidences for the sake of being provocative, but rather in an attempt to educate the broader community of the horrors we, the Australian people, are complicit in. Billions of our taxes have gone directly towards creating these centres that systematically create an atmosphere of violence.

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