Press Review 47: 14-17 November 2014
Asylum Seeker/Refugee Policy Issues
Scott Morrison adviser says asylum claim proposals put refugees at risk
Paul Farrell, The Guardian, 17 November 2014
According to a member of Australia’s immigration advisory council, plans to fast-track asylum seeker claims could mean genuine refugees will be returned home. A bill currently before the Senate Committee proposes sweeping changes to the way asylum seeker claims are processed in Australia. Asylum seekers will be given less time to put their cases to the department, and there will be limited review rights. The Senate Committee has received more than 5,000 submissions about the bill, many of them critical of the proposals. Under the current migration framework, a decision by an immigration department officer can be appealed to the refugee review tribunal. The new bill seeks to limit the circumstances of these appeals. Associate professor Mary Anne Kenny, from Murdoch University, has argued that the limited timeframes would affect how asylum seekers put their claims, and impact their ability to articulate claims at a primary level. The limited review rights might also prevent translation errors being picked up. Her concerns echo the comments of leading refugee lawyer David Manne, who told a Senate hearing into the bill last Friday that the fast-track process was likely to result in significant backlogs in courts. A number of other organisations – including the NSW Bar Association, the Migration Institute of Australia, Amnesty International and the Refugee Council of Australia – have expressed concerns about the bill.
Burmese refugees pay up to $1,000 for official refugee status in Malaysia
Kate Hodal, The Guardian, 21 November 2014
Burmese refugees and asylum seekers are paying up to $1,000 (£650) for UNHCR cards granting them official refugee status in Malaysia, an undercover al-Jazeera investigation has found. Officials from the UN’s refugee agency have been recorded openly describing themselves as ‘thieves’ for brokering the illegal trade of registration documents. The ‘money from this activity goes into the pockets of some of top guys in the UN,’ a UN translator claimed in al-Jazeera’s current affairs programme 101 East. The programme’s presenter, Steve Chao, posed as a priest in order to visit squalid detention centres in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, where he interviewed dozens of refugees and asylum seekers, some of them Rohingya Muslims from Burma, for Malaysia’s Unwanted, which was aired this week. Interviewees said they faced police harassment and exploitation, were forbidden to work or send their children to school, and lived in abysmal conditions: some refugees were beaten, chained or handcuffed, and many had not had any food for days. About 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers are living in Malaysia – nearly all of them hailing from Burma – but because Malaysia is not party to the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 protocol recognising refugees, they are extremely vulnerable to abuse and maltreatment by authorities, rights groups say. Malaysia’s UNHCR mission – which sees more than 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers every day – is reportedly overwhelmed by the sheer number of those in need. Resettlement operations were reportedly suspended earlier this year to investigate the claims.
Indonesia says Australia’s decision to reject refugees creates bilateral tension
The Guardian, 21 November 2014
The Indonesian government has reportedly criticised the unilateral decision announced by the Australian immigration minister, Scott Morrison, not to accept refugees from Indonesia, saying it damages relations. Morrison announced on Tuesday that asylum seekers who had registered with the United Nations high commission for refugees on or after 1 July would not come to Australia. Indonesia is not a refugee generating country, it’s a transit country and it’s used by smugglers. But it has been reported that Indonesia’s foreign ministry called in the Australian ambassador Greg Moriarity to raise its concerns about the decision. The ministry’s Asia Pacific director-general, Yuri Thamrin, told the ABC that the move had created tension between the two countries and threatened relations after recent constructive meetings between leaders and foreign ministers. Indonesia’s Joko Widodo was sworn in as president last month, and warned Australia at the time that navy incursions into Indonesian waters during boat turnbacks would not be accepted, signalling a tougher approach to issues of sovereignty. Thamrin stressed the problem of asylum seekers was not Australia’s alone, and said the more effective solution would be a regional approach, such as the Bali process. He said he told Moriarity unilateral measures only created unnecessary misunderstanding and bilateral tension.
Somalia: Terrorism Fears Cripple Rotten Aid System in Hungry Somalia
Katy Migiro, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 17 November 2014
Aid workers in Somalia, which faces worsening hunger three years after famine struck the country, believe the humanitarian system is ‘rotten’ and are hamstrung by fears of being prosecuted for aiding terrorists, an expert said. Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a rare visit to the Horn of Africa country said three million Somalis were in need of humanitarian aid. Aid workers blame drought, renewed fighting and a lack of humanitarian access for the crisis which has raised questions about what has been achieved since a 2011 famine killed 260,000 people. Somalia is attempting to rebuild itself after two decades of civil war and lawlessness, triggered by the overthrow of its dictator, Siad Barre, in 1991. Despite gains, the federal government still largely relies on an African peacekeeping force to fend off attacks by al Shabaab Islamist militants the United States and others have designated terrorists.
Congo-Kinshasa: UN Warns of Humanitarian ‘Catastrophe’ As Hundreds of Thousands Flee Violence in Katanga
UN News Service, 18 November 2014
Deeply concerned about the ‘catastrophic’ humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Katanga province, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) today urged Congolese authorities and the UN stabilization mission to boost their respective capacities to stem the violence in the long-troubled, resource-rich area known as ‘the triangle of death.’ According to UNHCR, violence in the south-eastern DRC province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes since the end of 2012, bringing the total number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the province to nearly 600,000. During the last three months alone, more than 71,000 people have been newly displaced. In October, UNHCR registered 1,737 incidents in the territories of Kalemie and the so-called “triangle of death” between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto in northern Katanga. These included the looting and burning of houses, extortion, torture, forced labour and recruitment into armed groups, as well as sexual violence.
The conflicts are taking place in the northern part of Katanga, one of the Congo’s richest provinces in natural resources. While there have been long-lasting tensions between the two communities, violence between the Luba (or Bantu) and the Twa (or Pygmy) tribes flared up earlier this year, says UNHCR. Attacks on Twa communities by the secessionist Mai Mai Bataka Katanga militia and fighting with the army reignited after the Mai Mai group’s leader escaped from prison in the provincial capital Lubumbashi in 2011. This has subjected the civilian population to extreme violence, including mass rape. UNHCR believes that to stem the violence, there is a need to increase the presence of Congolese civil authorities in the affected areas and to look into peaceful solutions to resolve the conflict between the Luba and the Twa. The rights of minorities and indigenous groups, in particular of the Twa community, should be recognized and protected. At the same time it is important to end impunity and to promote a programme of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration that assists former combatants to return to civilian life. UNHCR is calling on the UN peace-keeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to reinforce its presence and technical capacity in northern Katanga to better protect the civilian population and prevent further human rights violations. Nearly 2.6 million people are internally displaced in the vast African country.
Congo-Kinshasa: Police Operation Kills 51 Youth
Human Rights Watch, 18 November 2014
Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo summarily killed at least 51 youth and forcibly disappeared 33 others during an anti-crime campaign that began a year ago, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. ‘Operation Likofi,’ which lasted from November 2013 to February 2014, targeted alleged gang members in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. The 57-page report, ‘Operation Likofi: Police Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Kinshasa,’ details how uniformed police, often wearing masks, dragged kuluna, or suspected gang members, from their homes at night and executed them. The police shot and killed the unarmed young men and boys outside their homes, in the open markets where they slept or worked, and in nearby fields or empty lots. Many others were taken without warrants to unknown locations and forcibly disappeared.
The Congolese government launched Operation Likofi on November 15, 2013, following a public commitment by President Joseph Kabila to end gang crime in Kinshasa. When the United Nations and local human rights organizations publicly raised concerns, the police changed their tactics: instead of executing their suspects publicly, they took those arrested to a police camp or an unknown location. According to police officers who participated in Operation Likofi, as well as a confidential foreign government report, some of the suspected kuluna abducted by the police were later killed clandestinely. Police warned relatives of victims and witnesses not to speak about what happened, denied them access to the bodies, and prevented them from holding funerals. Congolese journalists were threatened when they attempted to document or broadcast information about Operation Likofi killings. Police told doctors not to treat suspected kuluna who were wounded during the operation, and government officials instructed morgue employees not to talk to anyone about the bodies piling up in the morgue, because it concerned a ‘confidential government matter.’
Ebola crisis now ‘stable’ in Guinea, WHO says
BBC News, 22 November 2014
The Ebola outbreak is now ‘stable’ in Guinea, where the latest crisis began, the World Health Organization says. There were still some flare ups in the south-east, but things were improving in other prefectures, WHO co-ordinator Dr Guenael Rodier told the BBC. More than 5,400 people have died in the latest outbreak, with Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia the worst hit. The outbreak can be ended by mid-2015 if the world speeds up its response, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said. But he warned that although the rate of new cases was slowing in parts of West Africa, Mali – where six people have died and a seventh case has been reported – was now of deep concern. And the head of the UN Ebola mission, Anthony Banbury, said the world was ‘far away’ from beating the virus. There have been more than 15,300 reported cases of Ebola since the outbreak began earlier this year, the WHO says. More than 1,200 people have died of Ebola in Guinea alone. However, Dr Rodier said that the situation in Guinea was now ‘relatively stable’. The WHO has faced criticism that it was too slow to respond during the start of the crisis. However, Dr Rodier said it was the first time there had been such a serious outbreak in West Africa, adding: ‘Lessons have been learned.’ Guinea has not been as badly hit by Ebola as neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia. Eight months since the outbreak was first declared, some still do not believe Ebola is a real disease, and health teams trying to trace new potential cases are still being refused entry to some villages, says the BBC’s Tulip Mazumdar in the capital Conakry.
More than 600 migrants rescued in Mediterranean, says Italian coastguard
Reuters, The Guardian, 23 November 2014
More than 600 migrants were rescued from the Mediterranean between Sicily and North Africa this weekend, according to the Italian coastguard. One man is feared drowned. The coastguard said it had picked up 520 migrants in the Strait of Sicily between Thursday night and Friday morning, and then went to help a merchant ship 60 miles north of Tripoli that had picked up 93 others. Another ship carrying a Singaporean flag picked up a further 78 migrants. It was not immediately clear where these migrants came from. Further east, 270 Syrian refugees, including 30 children, were rescued off northern Cyprus overnight when their ship’s engine broke down, the Kibris Postasi website in Nicosia reported. It was thought to have sailed from Turkey. Italy said last month it planned to close its Mare Nostrum mission, which has saved more than 100,000 migrants fleeing war, poverty and human rights abuses in Africa. Twenty-one EU countries are contributing to a smaller mission called Triton, overseen by border control agency Frontex, which will patrol 30 nautical miles from Italy’s coast. The Mare Nostrum naval mission started a year ago after more than 360 people, mostly Eritreans, drowned when their boat capsized a mile from the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. The €114m ((£90m) cost of the year-long mission prompted calls from rightwing politicians for the money to be spent on dragging Italy’s economy out of a three-year recession. Cyprus, about 60 miles (96km) west of Syria, is rarely the destination of choice for thousands fleeing Eritrea. It is split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north and an internationally recognised republic in the south. Turkey is hosting an estimated 1.6 million Syrian refugees.
South Africa: Special Zim Permit Deadline Looms
Jenna Etheridge, SAPA, 20 November 2014
Around 64 percent of Zimbabweans working in the country on a dispensation permit have applied for an extension until 2017, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said in Cape Town on Thursday. He was confident that the 249,000 people in the country on a Dispensation for Zimbabwe Project permit would apply for the new Special Dispensation Permit (SDP). The deadline is December 31. Only those with the initial permit would be allowed to apply. Those without a permit would have to go through the normal routes to obtain a work, travel, or study visa. Zimbabweans in the country illegally were granted an opportunity from 2009 to legalise their stay via the permit, as a result of the political and socio-economic conditions in their country. Gigaba said those with the old permit could apply via a website for the SDP. They would be issued a barcode, a track and trace number, and a date for a face-to-face interview.
Gigaba visited the Cape Town branch of VFS Global — the company dealing with the applications — on Thursday morning to assess the process. People patiently queued for their interview while holding onto their passports and proof of employment, business, or study. Biometric photographs and fingerprints were taken. Fingerprints were submitted to the police’s automatic fingerprint identification system to check for criminal records and results were returned within two days. Gigaba said completed applications were submitted electronically to home affairs for adjudication and concluded within a month to two months. Just over 20 percent of applications had been adjudicated so far. He anticipated that all permits should be issued by the end of April. Gigaba said they would soon begin a similar process for the Basotho, Mozambicans, and other Southern African Development Community nationals. There are 11 visa facilitation centres in the country and four new centres for Gauteng, Western Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, where there had been a high number of applications.
Categorised in: Press Review
Content credit: Scalabrini Centre