Lawyers prepare to launch court challenges on refugee medical transfers to Christmas Island

Human Rights Law Centre executive director Hugh de Kretser said the legal basis for a challenge would be that the government had breached its duty of care by sending refugees and asylum seekers to a place where inadequate treatment was available.

Manus refugee vindicated by Paladin probe

The Australian government would be brought down if Manus Island service providers were investigated, an award-winning journalist says.

Behrouz Boochani, the recipient of Australia's richest literary prize, has long called for scrutiny of companies providing services to refugees Australia detains offshore.

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) has obliged with an investigation into private security firm Paladin Solutions.

Medevac hopes are dashed by Coalition's cowardice and legal sophistry

As each refugee attracts $50,000 a year in visa fees alone, and Nauru depends on the processing centre for a large part of its income, it is easy to see why requests may be declined. Quite apart from the Nauruans viewing any outside (IHMS) suggestions as a slur on their facilities and staff expertise, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton know full well that they can now direct concerns about refugees’ health to a country that could simply refuse to respond.

WHAT WE CURRENTLY KNOW: Stats 19/02/2019

Offshore processing statistics 12.2.19. Source; Refugee Council of Australia & stats for mainland Australia

  • Around 420 people on Nauru, 4 children due to depart soon for the US

  • Just under 600 adults are on Manus.

  • 838 people have been removed or returned to their country of origin.

  • At the end of 2017/18 financial year 122 children were on Nauru

  • For this this period (to 30.9.18.) 37 children had been transferred to Australia for medical treatment,  the average stay on Nauru for these children  was 1,403 days

  • Refugees living on Nauru have now been mostly transferred to live in the Nauruan community.

  • The Manus Island centre was forcibly closed in October 2017 when there were 690 men there. Most of the men are now living in three centres on Manus, East Lorengau Regional Transcit Centre, West Lorengau Haus and Hillside Haus. Others are in Port Moresby for medical reasons, undergoing processes to be resettled in the US, awaiting transfer to Nauru, or pending return and removal.  Others are in Australia for medical reasons.

  • As at 22 October 2018, 188 people had been rejected by the US, mostly on Nauru (151 people). Most of these were adults (78 of them single adult males), and almost half of these were from Iran (91 people).

  • 456 have been resettled in the US of the indicative 1,250 that the US agreed to resettle more than two years ago).

  • Six children remain in locked detention in the MITA (Melbourne). A seven year old Tamil boy, (now attending school thanks to the intervention of Pamela Curr activist) two small children from Nauru, the two little girls from Biloela and a baby from Vietnamese parents, born in Australia.

  • There are 288 children with their families in community detention. There are 2501 children with their families in the community on Bridging Visas Class E.

  • As far as can be determined, there are no children under guard in motels or other places in the community.

Senior bureaucrats send a message to the Government and the Opposition

Senate estimates hearings yesterday heard extraordinary evidence from ASIO head Duncan Lewis and the powerful Department of Home Affairs head Michael Pezzullo, in which both made it extremely clear how unhappy they were that their organisations had been dragged into the political fray by the selective leaking of classified advice to the Government — advice leaked in a way that favoured the Government's political message on border protection.

Five years of hard work to create a 'non-story'.

Five years of hard work to create a 'non-story'.

So it’s on. Another election ‘coming soon’ to Australia, and once again refugees are on the front pages. In the last week, nearly every Australian TV, radio and television network has visited Indonesia looking for a story. To their surprise, they found something that didn’t fit their preconceived narrative. Instead of depressed and isolated refugees, they found a strong, connected and educated community. Instead of refugees pooling at the borders, they found a community determined to wait for an official chance to resettle. To get to this point it took five years of hard work by the refugee community in Indonesia, but when I read the media’s stories, it was my turn to be surprised. In an effort to find something, anything, that suited their Australian-centric narrative, the Australian media had looked straight past the many remarkable and unprecedented refugee-led initiatives in Indonesia.

In 2013, when Australia reinstated its offshore detention policy, around 15,000 refugees were stuck in Indonesia. I was living in Jakarta and decided to find out more. I wanted to know who they were, where they came from, and what they were going to do now? What I found was desperate people. With no way forward or back, their mental, financial and social stress was acute. They were isolated and didn't even know each other. One refugee would not look at another when they crossed the street and smugglers had spread many rumours and untruths. The refugees thought that Indonesians carried knives under their clothes and would slit their throats at night. 

It was a dark time, but when a small group of refugees started a learning centre, it represented a glimmer of hope and they flocked to the school. That school is called the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre (CRLC) and it has inspired a refugee-led education revolution in Indonesia. CRLC has 20 volunteer refugee teachers and nearly 300 students. The older women and men, many illiterate even in their own language, come in the afternoon to learn English. The school provides much more than education. It is the space around which a community has formed. For children whose parents lost their childhoods to war, it is a safe place for them to enjoy their own childhoods. For parents, it represents everything they hoped for their children when they left their home countries. For the teachers, it a place to contribute, away from the nightmares and worries that they carry inside them. It has also become a space for the refugees to educate and connect with Australians. There are over 100 visitors to the Centre every year. Some stay for months and the CRLC community has built thousands of friendships around the world.

Other refugees heard about CRLC and started their own schools. There are now over 10 refugee-led schools and around 1,500 refugees receiving education in Indonesia. Other initiatives include: karate classes, handicrafts groups, scrabble and chess competitions, football tournaments and more. If the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) wants to share information with refugees, then the schools provide a space for them. The managers of the various schools get together each month to discuss issues. Over five years this has created a strong community, which our media looked straight past when they visited Indonesia.

The difficulties still remain. There is no possibility for resettlement in Indonesia, creating the constant mental pressure of never knowing if, or when, you will be resettled. They cannot work in Indonesia and their financial situation is dire. They survive with support from family and friends overseas. In the past five years the Australian Government has reduced the number of refugees it takes from Indonesia from 900 to under 50. In a particularly nasty twist, the UNHCR has been told that any refugee whose family arrived in Australia by boat, will never be resettled in Australia. The UNHCR recently visited the CRLC to tell the community that they should expect to be stuck for up to 25 years.

The Australian media has already moved on. Dodgy government contracts in Papua New Guinea are the story this week. The refugee community in Indonesia has helped us in our task to remove a stain from our history, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for making this ‘non-story’. It won’t take much to thank them, we just need to accompany them, be their friend, let them know that they are not forgotten. One day Australia might introduce a refugee sponsorship policy, like Canada, and we can invite them in that way. Perhaps the Government will decide to increase resettlement spaces from Indonesia again. In the meantime, they are in the middle of a very long journey and there is plenty we can do.

Jolyon Hoff is the director of feature documentary The Staging Post. It follows the story of a small group of refugees who started a school and inspired a refugee-led education revolution in Indonesia. He is also the Project Director at Cisarua Learning, an Australian charity which supports refugee initiatives in Indonesia.