Tag Archives: boat people

Australia’s PNG solution to refugees: A digest

This is a digest of news, opinions, comments and announcements concerning the recent agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) to process asylum seekers and refugees. The so-called ‘PNG Solution’ will see all asylum seekers and refugees, who are travelling to Australia by boat, transferred to Manus Island for processing. Those determined to be refugees will be resettled not in Australia, but in PNG. The agreement is valid for 12 months.

Pre-19th July: Rumours & preparation

Australia, PNG ‘mindful’ of UN criticism on refugees – AFP, GlobalPost

‘Rudd said Australia and PNG were working together against “our common enemy — people smugglers”.’

Explainer: Australia’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention – Azadeh Dastyari, The Conversation

“It is important to note that the term “asylum seeker” does not exist under the convention but is a politically expedient label given to people who are seeking recognition of their refugee status. Many asylum seekers (90% of those who have come to Australia in recent years by boat) are in fact refugees and have rights under the convention, regardless of whether or not Australia has processed their claim or recognised their refugee status.”

Boats ‘our problem’ not the world’s: Tony Abbott – Judith Ireland, The Age

”’I say to Mr Rudd: stop making excuses, stop trying to say this is the world’s problem, it’s not. It’s our problem and we need to take the appropriate action in this country, by this country, for this country to stop the boats and we need to do it now,” Mr Abbott said.’

Labor to lean on Papua New Guinea for help – Paul Maley & Dennis Shanahan, The Australian

“It is understood Australia hopes to transfer failed Iranian asylum-seekers, considered by the government to be economic migrants, to PNG, creating an incentive for them to voluntarily return home.”

You’ve been misled on boat people: Here are the facts – Julian Burnside, The Age

19th July: Announcement

Mr Rudd goes to Moresby – Karl Claxton, The Strategist

“And he went to Moresby prepared to offer major concessions to O’Neill’s three priorities for the relationship: re-establishing an AFP presence in key centres; focusing AusAID support even more on Moresby’s four priority ‘pillars’ of health, education, infrastructure, and law and justice; and introducing symbolic measures to reduce irritation with our stringent visa requirements.”

Rudd announces deal to send all asylum boat arrivals to Papua New GuineaGuardian

“All asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat will be sent to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement and none will be allowed to stay in the country, the prime minister has announced, as he sent out a draconian pre-election message that Australia’s borders are closed to refugees.”

Immigration department launches ad campaign to back asylum policy – Guardian

Credit: Joel Gibson. Notice the lack of asylum seekers on the boat (photoshop) and that fact that a 1300 number cannot be called from overseas.
Credit: Joel Gibson. Notice the lack of asylum seekers on the boat (photoshop) and that fact that a 1300 number cannot be called from overseas.

Christine Milne laments ‘Australia’s day of shame’ on asylum – Oliver Laughland, Guardian

‘Milne looked visibly moved as she continued: “The agreement that the prime minister has signed with the prime minister of PNG is ruthless and repugnant. It is in complete contravention with our moral obligations under the refugee convention.”’

Rudd’s masterstroke. All boat people now to go to PNG – Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun

“Kevin Rudd’s deal with PNG is undeniably impressive – even if the costs are yet to be explained. It neutralises Tony Abbott’s stop-the-boats attack.”

UNHCR statement on new asylum agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea – UNHCR

“UNHCR has not been involved in this agreement, and we are at present seeking further detail from the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea of its content.”

PNG move proves Australia is not special – Frank Brennan, Eureka Street

20th July: Indignation & prep for the Monday rush

Impotence – Jason Wilson, Detritus

“What it is not is a sign of a politicised racism among the Australian people. This specific policy is an artefact of political strategy, no more and no less.”

Does the PM really want refugees to love PNG? – Tom Iggulden, The Drum

Asylum seekers: Australia’s day of shame – Christine Milne, Guardian

“Far from “boundless plains to share”, Australia has sent a message to the world that we are a closed community willing to pay off anyone to get rid of an electoral problem. It’s Labor to the rotten core. It shames us all, because we are better than that.”

PNG deal – regional solution or co-dependency – Gerhard Hoffstaedter, Anthropolitics

“This creates a co-dependency that is based on substantial Australian financial aid (to be largely carried by the aid budget) for the acceptance of our refugees. This sets worrying precedents for how our aid budget is spent (already Australia is the third biggest recipient of Australian foreign aid after PNG and Indonesia) and how dependent we will be in regards to our refugee treaty obligations that will be effectively serviced by PNG.”

The PNG Solution and the ‘perspective of those who suffer’ – Jeff Sparrow, Overland

“Indeed, Rudd’s announcement draws attention to a topic about which liberal Australia scarcely likes to think: namely, Australia’s role as an imperial power in the Pacific, behaving in the region much as the US does throughout the world.”

Refugees one of PNG’s many problems – David Flitton, The Border Mail

“The murder rate in PNG is 13 times that in Australia – and closer to strife-torn Sierra Leone, according to most recent World Health Organisation figures.”

7 reasons K Rudd PNG “Plan” is Illegal – Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

21st July: One less detention centre

Nauru riot: 125 asylum seekers arrested – AP Canberra, Guardian

“The remaining 420 asylum seekers had been transferred to tents at a second detention camp under construction on another part of the tiny atoll, which is home to fewer than 10,000 people, the spokeswoman said.”

Media Release: JRS calls on the Australian government to reveal true cost of PNG policy and to strengthen safe pathways – Oliver White, JRS Australia

22nd July: The analysis begins

Rudd’s boat people deal does not say what Rudd promises – Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun

The PNG solution: as harsh as it is unprecedented – Maria O’Sullivan, The Age

“Of major concern is that Papua New Guinea is in fact a producer of refugee applicants. It is therefore puzzling that Australia would seek to transfer asylum seekers there for processing and protection. The Australian Refugee Review Tribunal has granted refugee status to people fleeing persecution from PNG in recent years, many of whom are women.”

PNG Cannot Afford This Policy – Kristian Lasslett New Matilda

“Did anyone in government consider the practicalities of resettling refugees in PNG? Approximately 85 per cent of Papua New Guineans live in rural areas. Their access to land – which is essential to livelihoods – is assured through a customary system of tenure that is organised along kinship lines. Land ownership in rural areas will thus be barred to refugees, because they have no connection with indigenous clans and lineages so vital to rural life in PNG.”

Rudd’s hard-line approach will be disastrous – Victoria Stead, The Age

“Rudd may or may not realise how ill thought out it is. With an election on the horizon, and with this smacking every bit of a cynical move to garner votes, he may or may not care.”

Asylum seekers to receive hostile reception in PNG: local governor – ABC News

‘The governor of Oro province, Gary Zuffa, has told 702 ABC Sydney the decision to settle refugees in Papua New Guinea could be very divisive. “Who’s going to finance that re-settlement? I’m assuming that Australia is,” he said. “If Australia is going to finance that re-settlement, then that’s going to create a bit of hostility from the local population because these people will be given funds to start a new business, start a new life.’

Papua New Guinea villagers the new refugee victims – Peter Michael, The Telegraph

“His shanty town, opposite the airport in Port Moresby, has been identified as a potential new site where genuine asylum seekers would be resettled in Papua New Guinea under the deal.”

Kevin Rudd’s boat plan starts to leak as rejected refugees left in limbo – David Crowe & Michael McKenna, The Australian

“With the Nauru centre destroyed and the Manus Island facility still a fraction of its planned capacity of 3000 people, the Rudd government must find more locations for people who are not considered genuine refugees.”

Boats, aid and the art of the possible – Gary Hogan, The Interpreter

“A cargo cult mentality is alive and well in PNG and this afforded the necessary levers for the Australian prime minister to pull so deftly in his game-changing policy statement, which will almost certainly stem boat arrivals in the near term, until people smugglers and Australian activists are able to find paths around the absolutist decree that even legitimate asylum-seekers will now not find sanctuary in Australia.”

Burke admits failed asylum seekers could be detained indefinitely in PNG – Lenore Taylor, Guardian

‘He said failed asylum seekers would have three options. “One, they remain in detention. Two, they return to their home country. Three, they get settled in another country where they have a right of residence.’

Captain Rudd steers Australia into new depths of shame – David Marr, Guardian

“That it’s brilliant politics is a mark of how debased the politics of the boats has become.”

Regional Settlement Arrangement with PNG – The Drum

“Below is a verbatim reproduction of the text signed by prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Peter O’Neill on Friday, July 19, 2013.”

First group of asylum seekers transferred to PNG under new government policy – Department of Immigration of Citizenship

Source: https://twitter.com/s_bridges/status/359157991997591552/photo/1
Source: https://twitter.com/s_bridges/status/359157991997591552/photo/1

Rudd’s PNG solution will work, but it isn’t right – Khalid Koser, The Interpreter

“Nevertheless, from a political and policy perspective, Mr Rudd has done things right. But has he done the right thing? I don’t think so.”

Australia’s deal with Papua New Guinea is vulture capitalism at its worst – Antony Loewenstein, Guardian

“The problem has never been that Australia gives too much aid; it’s that we’re throwing huge amounts of money to avoid a failed state on our doorstep by backing rapacious mining interests and overpaid consultants”.

Attentiveness and indifference – Klaus Neumann, Inside Story

“Two cases from Europe show that there are other ways of understanding irregular migrants”.

Blogger says Australia has neocolonial attitude to PNG – Radio Australia

23rd July: On closer inspection

Sydney Morning Herald cartoon. Source: https://twitter.com/cathywilcox1/status/359445452602613761/photo/1
Sydney Morning Herald cartoon. Source: https://twitter.com/cathywilcox1/status/359445452602613761/photo/1

Rampaging soldiers at the Moresby medical school: implications for Rudd’s PNG solution – Stephen Howes, Devpolicy

“But, whatever the legislative problems, the real weakness in PNG is implementation: getting things done.”

What would a truly regional asylum arrangement look like? – Maria O’Sullivan, The Conversation

“The EU asylum system shows it is possible for signatories to the refugee convention to transfer asylum seekers between one another. However, and it is a big “however”, certain regional standards and mechanisms must be in place for this to occur.”

What will happen to gay asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea? – Senthorun Raj, Guardian

“However, little has yet been said about another important question: how will lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) asylum seekers fare in a place where their identity is a cause for criminal sanction?”

Unapologetic Rudd anticipates legal challenge to new policy – Bianca Hall, The Age

“It comes as a legal expert described the policy as ”much more extreme” than the ill-fated Malaysia solution, which was thrown out by the High Court in 2011.”

The PNG Solution Won’t Stop Deaths At Sea – Ben Eltham, New Matilda

“Concentrate, just for a moment, on the overriding reason this Labor Government is advancing for Australia’s draconian new asylum seeker regime: deaths at sea.”

O’Neill brags of closer grip on aid after refugee deal – Rory Callinan & Daniel Flitton, Sydney Morning Herald

“Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, boasted on Monday that he had achieved a ”realignment” of the country’s aid program from Australia as part of the recently negotiated agreement.”

Kevin Rudd, you’re not a good friend of PNG – Martyn Namorong, The Interpreter

“It is not unusual for the tribe in Papua New Guinea to protect and assist a tribesman even though such decisions could have negative consequences. And Kevin Rudd is no ordinary member of the tribe, he is a Big Man – the Prime Minister of Australia.”

ACFID Statement on Asylum Deal with PNG – Australian Council for International Development

‘We are unconvinced of the ability of Australia to support adequate, expanded asylum claims processing managed in PNG,”

What life can a resettled refugee expect in PNG? – Andrea Babon, The Conversation

“But even skilled, experienced Papua New Guineans can’t find jobs, and most university graduates cannot find employment. PNG has a tiny formal economy – meaning that there are not that many formal, paid jobs such as being an accountant, hairdresser or bus driver.”

Source: http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=36875#.Ue4irGQ-Jyx
Source: http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=36875#.Ue4irGQ-Jyx


Source: http://www.kudelka.com.au/2013/07/boundless-plains-to-share/
Source: http://www.kudelka.com.au/2013/07/boundless-plains-to-share/


Source: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/photogallery/federal-politics/cartoons/david-pope-20120214-1t3j0.html
Source: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/photogallery/federal-politics/cartoons/david-pope-20120214-1t3j0.html


24th July – More details emerge

Rape and torture on Manus Island detention centre: whistleblower – SBS

‘A whistleblower who worked at the Manus Island refugee detention centre in Papua New Guinea has spoken out, condemning it as not even fit to “serve as a dog kennel”.’

PNG deal may be expanded to other countries – Mark Kenny, The Age

“Immigration Minister Tony Burke has revealed the PNG asylum seeker deal could be replicated for other South Pacific countries heavily reliant on Australian aid money.”

Tony Burke to inspect Manus after whistleblower’s ‘horrific’ rape and torture claims – ABC News

“Mr Burke says the allegations are appalling, but says the Government still intends to massively expand the Manus Island facility.”

RUDD’S BLUFF USES THE PACIFIC AGAIN – Ben Bohane, Pacific Institute of Public Policy

“The decision to send all boat people for processing and resettlement in PNG is a huge bluff – Rudd is calculating that asylum seekers will no longer want to come to Australia now, if they know that there is no hope for resettlement and instead they will wind up permanently in PNG.”

What has Australia done to Nauru? – Nic Maclellan, Guardian

“Most reporting on Nauru ignores Australia’s historic role as the administering power before independence in 1968.”

Asylum deal a nightmare for PNG and Australia – Deni ToKunai, The Interpreter

“Prime Minister O’Neill has made it no secret since his election in 2012 that he wanted to see a total re-alignment of the Australia’s half-a billion dollar a year aid program to support his government’s priorities.”

What is a persecuted Iranian to do? – Mary Crock and Daniel Ghezelbash, The Drum

25th July – It gets worse

Rudd plan in tatters as camps labelled ‘gulags’ – Bianca Hall & Michael Gordon, SMH

“Mr Fraser branded the camps on Manus Island and Nauru ”Australian gulags”, with conditions as bad as at the worst forced-labour camps of the Soviet Union. His comments came as an inquest in Perth heard criticism of searchers over the loss at sea of more than 100 asylum seekers last year.”

Sinking survivors say they will try again – Adrian Lowe, David Wroe and Daniel Hurst, The Age

”’But for me any country in the world is better than going back to Sri Lanka. I can’t go back to Sri Lanka,” the 28-year-old said, adding that he did not think the Australian government’s new policy would change anything.’

Colonialism, sovereignty and aid: what refugees mean for PNG – Jonathan Ritchie, The Conversation

Operation Sovereign Borders – Tony Abbott

“A Coalition government will establish a military-led response to combat people smuggling and to protect our borders – Operation Sovereign Borders.”

Source: http://newmatilda.com/2013/07/24/top-work-labor
Source: http://newmatilda.com/2013/07/24/top-work-labor


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As long as the razor wire exists: Voices of refugees

Stepping off the plane, Mohsen Soltany was confused – he didn’t think the weather in the United Kingdom would be this hot. Baffled, he questioned the immigration officer.

“UK?”. No – not the UK. He was in Perth. Perth, Australia.

Soltany arrived in Australia in 1999 via Malaysia – or Singapore, he’s not sure – on a journey which started in Iran and traced through Turkey. A people smuggling network arranged his flight to Perth, a city Soltany had no knowledge of before his arrival.

Not that he would get the opportunity to acquaint himself: after declaring himself a refugee, Soltany was transported directly to Perth Detention Centre. His next four years were spent behind the razor wire in various Australian immigration detention centres.

Staying in Iran wasn’t an option. Soltany loves his country, but firmly believes he faced certain death after trying to expose government corruption.

Through his work, Soltany – then a politically active man in his late twenties – was exposed to the corrupt dealings of the government, and was also privy to information about Iran’s infamous chain murders. After penning an anonymous letter to a newspaper condemning the government, Soltany’s house was searched by officials. Although not home at the time, he says “I knew I had to leave”.

While Soltany’s unplanned arrival in Australia is symbolic of the vulnerability of asylum seekers, it is perhaps also illustrative of how government policy – however strict – cannot deter people from fleeing danger and seeking refuge here. Most of those people, like Soltany, will arrive by plane. And many will spend months, even years, in detention centres.

Ian Rintoul first knew Soltany as a name in Villawood Detention Centre. Rintoul makes it his business to know who is behind the razor wire: he is spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, the group at the epicentre of Sydney’s refugee campaign. His involvement in refugee issues stretches back to the early 1990s, but he pinpoints the Howard era and rise of Pauline Hanson as pivotal to his participation in the movement. When he claims that in recent years government policies on asylum seekers have both “improved and worsened”, his laugh reveals the irony is not lost on him.

“While superficial characteristics and administrative things have changed, the fundamental underpinnings of the refugee issues in Australia haven’t changed”, Rintoul declares. He believes that Gillard government strategies – such as mandatory detention, “stopping the boats”, and regional processing centres – mean “we’re back with all the essentials of the policies we had under the Howard government”.

Rintoul considers the “absolute punitive quality” of detention as one of the worst aspects of asylum seeker policy. Nearly 4,500 people are currently held in Australian immigration detention facilities, with a further 1,300 under residence determination in the community. Rintoul cites overcrowding, a lack of services, and social isolation as instrumental to the self-harm and mental health problems within the detention centres.

Amnesty International has also criticised the conditions in detention centres, deeming them “unacceptable”. The organisation inspected several Australian detention centres and reported that detainees are “at grave risk of self-harm and mental illness”. It claims that morale is deteriorating and attempted suicides are on the rise. Of particular concern are conditions at Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre, where stays are lengthy and the incidence of self-harm is increasing.

28-year-old Rachel Connor* has been to Christmas Island. As a volunteer English teacher at the detention centre for six weeks in 2010, she witnessed the fragile mental state of many of the detainees.

“The truth is that almost all of the refugees suffered from some form of mental disturbance from being in the centres, as well as the complex history of trauma they carry from previous experience”, reports Connor. She outlines some of the restrictions placed on the detained asylum seekers, such as “timed and monitored” recreation time. She says that detainees are not free to come and go, and that parts of the facility seem “like a prison”.

Nevertheless, Connor believes her English classes had a direct benefit on the asylum seekers, as she says the routine task of practicing the language gave them a focus, “in a context where every day feels the same without progress. Myself and many of the other teachers knew that a lot of our students would not wake up in the morning if it weren’t for our classes”.

Connor’s students told her it was the only thing they looked forward to in the day.

Soltany’s four years in detention were spent divided between Perth, Port Hedland and Villawood detention centres. Sipping tea in his inner-city lounge room crammed with musical instruments, the now 40-year-old musician and poet contemplates the years he lost. Soltany wavers between calm reflection and palpable anger. At times his rage spills over and projects him off his seat. His brow furrows as his voice rises, and his gaze fixes on a point somewhere else – somewhere beyond the room.

“I went very mental”, he admits. “They’re not respecting very basic human rights in detention”. Contacting the media and attempting to speak out about the conditions became a constant undertaking for Soltany. “Any channel that we could get the numbers, I would tell them – this is happening, we are on hunger strike, people here stitched their lips. I told them what was happening”, he says.

He witnessed and experienced physical violence and was also placed in isolation. Released from detention in 2003, Soltany now possesses permanent residency. He is in regular contact with many detainees in the centres, and says the conditions are “still bad”. But Soltany is adamant that the worst feature of detention is the uncertainty.

“You don’t know what will happen, that is the worst part. And you don’t know any day they can come to deport you – that is when people get stressed”, he says. “All the people going to the top of the roof and doing all this stuff, because they think maybe tomorrow… That makes them stressed”.

Rintoul agrees that the indefinite aspect of detention deeply affects asylum seekers. And so does the terminology often used to refer to them.

According to those who work with refugees, and to refugees themselves, terms such as “boat people” and “illegals” are not only misleading but also have a directly harmful effect. Nevertheless, these terms are common in the public domain – despite the fact that over 95% of asylum seekers travel to Australia by plane, and as Connor points out, “there is nothing illegal about seeking asylum”.

Research shows that the terminology does have an effect on public opinion: most people believe that the majority of asylum seekers arrive via boat.

Gode Mfashingabo works at refugee support centre the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS). The refugee youth worker believes that these terms have become common as they are “much easier and more provocative to use than any other words”. Mfashingabo says that the media and politicians will use “whatever words necessary to destabilise and drive their point across”.

Soltany says that this terminology “absolutely” has a direct effect on refugees, and that it “hurts deeply – a lot”. He explains that as an asylum seeker he was variously referred to as an “illegal immigrant”, “queue jumper” and even a “terrorist”.

“Where is the queue? You run away for your life – hello, they wanna kill me! There is no queue”, Soltany says. He vigorously rejects the likelihood that the public accurately understands refugee issues. Soltany refers to his poem The Only Hope After God:

“We were the fan for the political fire, Now we find ourselves in the flames”. His poem describes being stuck in a “quagmire of prejudice”.

Mfashingabo, himself a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), agrees that the public perception of refugees is fundamentally flawed. “What they have is pretty much propaganda that is spun through the media”, he claims. “The public has been misinformed incredibly”. Mfashingabo lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for three years after his ethnic group was stripped of its citizenship rights. He cannot return to the DRC as he believes it would “amount to suicide”. He says that some people’s only option is to seek refuge in another country, but what drives that decision is rarely mentioned in the media.

“Nothing serious is being discussed. Out of sight, out of mind”, Mfashingabo says, lamenting an often trivial media which features stories about shopping addiction and skateboarding dogs.

Rintoul strongly believes the public perception is “coloured” by the way refugees and asylum seekers are presented by the media and politicians. He claims that the language is deliberate.

“It’s to create a picture, to create an attitude, to invite a particular way of looking at refugees”, Rintoul says. “When the media do it, it’s not an accident. I mean, there have been Press Council findings that asylum seekers are not illegal and the boats are not illegal and should not be referred to in that way. They are constantly referred to in that way”.

In Rintoul’s eyes, this language and the detention of asylum seekers are techniques of delegitimising them.


Soltany yells into the loudspeaker. His voice reverberates throughout Sydney’s Town Hall courtyard, and is then echoed by 150 protestors. Fijian man Josefa Rauluni died after jumping off a roof at Villawood Detention Centre a few days earlier, and the protest was organised hastily to condemn the government’s policy of mandatory detention. Two of Soltany’s years in detention were spent at Villawood, and he says he was stressed and shocked upon hearing the news of Rauluni’s death. He reveals that he witnessed several suicides during his years in detention.

The suicide of a young Afghan man at Curtin Detention Centre last March was the fifth suicide in Australian immigration detention within a seven-month period. Several months later, a Tamil refugee poisoned himself and died at Villawood Detention Centre. These deaths highlight an intensifying and pervading sense of hopelessness amongst detainees.

Soltany wrote poetry in detention to help express his feelings of despair – “as a companion to my mind”. His poems were dark, prompting his roommate to urge him, “Please write something about hope!”. But Soltany says he couldn’t: “I couldn’t find hope”. He kept writing throughout his time in detention, and in 2010 he released a book of his poetry, Inside Out. His poetry has received wide acclaim, and he has even collaborated on a book with writer Tom Keneally, whom he considers a good friend.

Post-detention, becoming a refugee advocate was a natural step for Soltany. He has also taken on a case worker role for many asylum seekers to assist with their claims. Despite his distressing experiences in detention, he loves Australia and has started to recover from his mental trauma. Music was central to Soltany’s healing process, and is something he is actively pursuing with his band. He hopes that his book of poetry will help people to understand the suffering of those in detention, a place he says crushed his spirit.

Rintoul is in it for the long haul – he always knew it would be a long-term campaign. He says that although the campaign “always” faces opposition from the government, he is boosted by the small successes. He retrieves a piece of paper from his desk – “a little list of unfinished business”. He counts and laughs: there are 16 points on the list, and he says “I think there are two of them that we’ve won”.

Rintoul believes the razor wire is emblematic: that it “cuts” Australian society by embedding a discrimination which impacts on the wider community.

“That razor wire also imprisons us, as long as we allow its existence”.


*Not her real name