Saturday, 10 August 2019

What is Myanmar offering the Rohingya to return home?

Source Aljazeera, 29 July

It has been almost two years since more than 700,000 Rohingya fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar.

The United Nations labelled the offensive "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing" with soldiers accused of rape, murder and burning down Rohingya villages.

Since their escape, the mostly Muslim ethnic group has been crammed into the world's largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, but Myanmar's government is under pressure to take them back.

A high-level delegation from Myanmar visited Bangladesh's southern Cox's Bazar district on Saturday to persuade the Rohingya they should return to Rakhine state.

But so far the refugees have refused, demanding guarantees about their safety and for them to be granted citizenship.

So, what exactly is the Myanmar government offering?

Presenter: Martine Dennis


Aman Ullah - Rohingya researcher and writer

Phil Robertson - Deputy director of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch

Ronan Lee - Visiting scholar at the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London

Extreme Speech| Extreme Speech in Myanmar: The Role of State Media in the Rohingya Forced Migration Crisis

Source IJOC

by Ronan Lee


This article considers the role of the state authorities in perpetrating extreme speech and the processes by which state power is used in normalizing hateful expressions against minoritized communities. Drawing attention to Myanmar's 2017 Rohingya crisis, a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe, the article examines how the state media publication, the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, has actively produced anti-Rohingya speech in its editions and influenced violent narratives about the Rohingya Muslims circulating on social media. It shows how official media contributed to a political environment where anti-Rohingya speech was made acceptable and where rights abuses against the group were excused. While regulators often consider the role of social media platforms like Facebook as conduits for the spread of extreme speech, this case study shows that extreme speech by state actors using state media ought to be similarly considered a major concern for scholarship and policy.


Myanmar, Rohingya, extreme speech, Facebook, forced migration

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Monday, 29 July 2019

Bridging visa 'blow out' now bigger than Hobart and Government expects it to keep growing

Source ABC news

The number of people in Australia waiting for a visa decision has swelled to a size equivalent to the population of Hobart.

Key points:

  • The number of people in Australia on bridging visas has more than doubled in the past five years
  • Experts wonder what impact this new influx of workers is having on the labour market
  • Migrants appear to be taking advantage of delays to stay in Australia longer

According to the Department of Home Affairs, 229,000 people on bridging visas were in Australia in March. Hobart's population at the latest census was 222,000.

And a new report has identified the impact of this group on the labour market for the first time.

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) analysed the census to find this group had an unemployment rate of about 20 per cent.

That is high compared to the Australian average, but it still means four in five who were looking for work were working — equivalent to many tens of thousands in the labour force.

A migrant is granted a bridging visa when one visa has expired but they are still waiting for their new visa application to be finalised.

Processing times for visas and the number of migration-related court appeals have increased in recent years. These prompt delays, meaning more people remain on bridging visas.

Melinda Cilento, chief executive of CEDA, said that temporary migrants had improved Australia's prosperity overall, though the growth in bridging visas did warrant closer inspection.

"The community's looking at that and wondering how well the system's working and is it actually working the way that we want it to work," she said.

"Many of these people on bridging visas still have working rights — that's also a question the community will be asking: Is this the outcome we're looking for?"

Senator Linda Reynolds, representing the Home Affairs Ministers, told the Senate on Tuesday that the growth in bridging visas was caused by increased arrivals generally and she anticipated further growth.

"As numbers increase, of course you will get an increase in all sorts of categories of people arriving, and making claims to stay," she said.

"So you would expect that number to grow merely by the fact of the amount of people who come here by air."

Behind the growth

A recent parliamentary committee highlighted the growing trend for Malaysians arriving in Australia on a tourist visa then applying for asylum.

In June 2014, just 7 per cent of Malaysians temporarily in Australia were on bridging visas, according to Department of Home Affairs figures.

By March this year, the share had risen to 34 per cent.

Now more Malaysians are on bridging visas than on any other visa, even the popular subclass 500 student visa.

But it is not just an issue with the Malaysian group — the number of bridging visas has increased for most nationalities.

Peter McDonald, a professor in demography at the University of Melbourne, said the bridging visa cohort had "blown out" and was now "enormous compared to any past history".

"For a long time the numbers on bridging visas were seen as an indicator of the government's efficiency in processing applications because the vast majority of people on bridging visas are applying for permanent residence," he said.

Immigration Minister David Coleman sought to highlight "declining" onshore protection claims.

"These fell by 12 per cent in the 2018-19 program year, a result of the Government's focus on stopping unmeritorious claims."

Professor McDonald said the growth was due not only to the growing number of people arriving by plane then claiming asylum — such as the group of Malaysians identified — but also the lengthening queue for partner visas.

"Normally, in the past, [spouses] get their permanent residency immediately," Professor McDonald said.

"But the Government has now introduced a long delay in that process, and there are now about 80,000 spouses of Australian citizens waiting for their permanent residence."

Senator Reynolds said on Tuesday the Government was taking "appropriate steps" to deal with airline arrivals.

She said there had been a 32 per cent decline in the number of protection visa applications from Malaysians in the first five months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. Across all nationalities, the decline was 20 per cent.

Labour market impact

A separate report from the University of Adelaide released in March found the horticulture sector was reliant on Malaysian workers, but also that workers were vulnerable to exploitation.

As part of a series of interviews, it reported one stakeholder saying "the Malaysians … are the ones who are exploited".

"When you know there's Malaysians on a farm, very few of them could be legal," the stakeholder said.

A labour hire contractor was reported to have said Malaysians "just use the visitor visa to come to Australia and they stay longer than three months and just work in Australia, and that's what happens … they are very hard workers and then they become illegal people".

Malaysians can travel to Australia on an official tourist visa obtained online.

Australian border officials are refusing entry to 20 Malaysians at Australian airports every week, to address what has been dubbed an "orchestrated scam".

The working holiday maker or 'backpacker' visa, the most popular low-skill visa in Australia, is not available to Malaysians.

Topics: government-and-politicshorticultureimmigrationimmigration-policyaustralia

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Australian Human Rights Commission calls for action over 30,000 asylum seekers living in 'limbo'

Source ABC, 17 July

The Department of Home Affairs has rejected dozens of recommendations made by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), aimed at improving the lives of tens of thousands of asylum seekers living in Australia.

Key points:

  • People who arrived in Australia by boat before 2014 face tight restrictions on the right to remain and in accessing welfare
  • The AHRC has urged the Government to relax restrictions and remove the ban on asylum seekers gaining permanent residency
  • The Department of Home Affairs has not accepted the recommendations

There are roughly 30,000 people living in Australia that are not eligible for permanent residency, because they attempted to reach Australia by boat before 2014.

They are often referred to as the "legacy caseload".

Under rules aimed at deterring others from attempting to make such a trip, people who arrived by boat face tight restrictions on the right to remain in Australia and access to financial support and other welfare.

The AHRC has urged the Federal Government to relax those restrictions, and most critically, remove the ban on asylum seekers gaining permanent residency.

Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow said they were seriously concerned about the situation many of these people find themselves in.

"We are increasingly worried about people in this group ... we are hearing more reports of people who simply can't afford to pay for medicine, can't necessarily afford accommodation, that sort of thing," he said.

Mr Santow said the AHRC had made a series of recommendations he felt would dramatically improve the lives of many.

"We think that there are some steps that the Government could take that would be relatively straightforward, that would provide protections against these people falling into poverty and homelessness," he said.

The recommendations include boosting mental health services, increasing welfare support and revising who is eligible for the status resolution support services program.

"We ... have to be pragmatic," he said.

"People who are in desperate situations are much more likely to do desperate things."

The Department of Home Affairs has not accepted the recommendations.

It insisted income support was needs based and there were adequate mental health services already in place.

The department said the Government's measures upheld the integrity of the humanitarian program and deterred people smuggling.

'We should be allowed to stay permanently'

Reza Rostami was among 45 asylum seekers on a boat bound for Australia six years ago and has described the trip as the most trying four days of his life.

"We had just lost hope of life to be honest, everyone was just thinking that we were lost in the sea," he said.

"Everyone was waiting for when death would come to them."

Mr Rostami, his wife and two young daughters left Iran in 2013 because they feared persecution, and travelled to Indonesia to board a boat.

"On the fourth day, the boat was intercepted by an Australian Navy vessel and brought to Christmas Island," he said.

"I felt like I was born with a new life, it was a good feeling."

Mr Rostami took up studies in Australia and is now a research officer at the School of Psychiatry at UNSW Sydney.

But despite securing a job, Mr Rostami said he and his family had become increasingly worried about what their future holds under the current rules.

They are now on Safe Haven Enterprise visas, which are one of two types of temporary protection visas.

"My family and children don't know what will happen to us after five years," he said.

"The Australian Government has recognised that I have a legitimate claim to refugee status.

"For this reason we should be allowed to stay permanently."

'Human emergency'

The Asylum Seekers Centre in New South Wales provides support for people that are part of the legacy caseload, and CEO Frances Rush said the mental health of many was deteriorating.

"Some people have been in Australia waiting to have their claim for asylum to be processed for seven years," she said.

"It's a long time to be in limbo, a long time to live with the uncertainty and not knowing what's going to happen."

Ms Rush said a growing number of people were asking for financial support or access to crisis accommodation because they did not have enough money.

That is because the eligibility for support payments has been tightened, meaning many asylum seekers that used to receive income support are no longer entitled to it.

And Mr Santow said for those that are receiving income support, the amount is still too low.

"For a family of two parents and two kids, the Henderson Poverty Line says that a family needs $970 a week to survive," he said.

"The SRSS [Status Resolution Support Services] payment — if you are lucky enough to be on it — is $714 a week.

"So even the group within the 30,000 people in the legacy caseload that are receiving a payment, are receiving a payment that is below the poverty line."

Ms Rush has praised the Australian Human Rights Commission for raising concerns around welfare support.

"It sounds extreme to say it, but I think it does becomes a human emergency," she said.

Government rejects recommendations

The Department of Home Affairs rejected the recommendations.

It insists income support is needs based and that there are adequate mental health services already in place.

The Department also said the Government's measures uphold the integrity of the humanitarian program and deter people smuggling.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Peter Dutton brought child refugee to Australia after lobbying from Nauru

Source Theguardian, 13 July

Exclusive: Home affairs department told minister approving orphaned Rohingyan boy's settlement could undermine its stance on boat arrivals

Peter Dutton
 Peter Dutton allowed an 'illegal maritime arrival' to settle in Australia in July 2015, but has persisted with his hardline rhetoric since. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Peter Dutton approved a plan to bring a refugee child to Australia after lobbying from Nauru, despite warnings from his department that it would be seen as a contradiction of the policy not to resettle people in Australia who came by boat.

Dutton made the intervention on behalf of a stateless Rohingyan unaccompanied minor whose parents were murdered in front of him in Myanmar before he arrived at Christmas Island by boat in October 2013.

The exception to Australia's harsh refugee policies is detailed in a July 2015 departmental submission, seen by Guardian Australia, asking Dutton to note the risks associated with the proposal, after he had agreed to bring the refugee to Australia during a meeting with Nauruan justice minister David Adeang in March 2015.

Despite allowing an "illegal maritime arrival" to transfer to Australia months into his role as immigration minister, Dutton has persisted with hardline rhetoric since, warning as recently as 30 May that Australia "can never allow people to come here by boat".

Habiburahman, a spokesman of the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation who goes by one name, told Guardian Australia the process took two and a half years but the young refugee was settled in Australia in late 2016 or early 2017, and lived with two relatives.

The home affairs department submission asked Dutton to consider that the "exceptional [transfer] will likely be characterised by refugees in Nauru, and others as a direct contradiction [of] your strong messaging that refugees determined under regional processing arrangements will not be resettled in Australia".

The department warned that allowing a Nauru-determined refugee to settle in Australia "may undermine this strong policy stance and create a loophole through which the policy can be circumvented" through new illegal maritime arrivals to Australia. It promised to maintain "strong messaging that Australia is not a settlement destination for illegal maritime arrivals".

The department also warned that allowing "select refugees access to Australia could trigger risky and undesirable behaviour", be seen as "inequitable" and result in protests or "increased self-harm attempts among the refugee cohort (including minors) in an attempt to orchestrate passage to Australia".

The submission sets out a proposal to bring the refugee to Australia as a "transitory person", place him in community detention in the care of a relative, and then grant him a temporary protection visa.


Dutton noted the arrangements and risks set out in the submission, signing and dating the document on 19 July 2015.

The case of the refugee – who turned 18 in September 2015 – was first raised by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2014 with the then immigration minister Scott Morrison.

Morrison referred the request to Adeang, the child's legal guardian, who then wrote to Dutton, the new immigration minister, in February 2015 asking him to transfer the refugee to Australia "on a very exceptional basis".

Adeang said the boy was "highly vulnerable and experiences ongoing emotional and psychological distress". He noted that after the boy's parents were murdered, the child's only surviving family members were an elderly grandmother in Myanmar, and two relatives in Australia.

The justice minister concluded that "it would be in the boy's best interest to be reunited with his family members in Australia".

"While I am aware of Australian policy, I am also aware that occasionally individual exceptions need to be made."

The refugee arrived at Christmas Island in October 2013, after the July 2013 cutoff when the Rudd government decided that all asylum seekers who arrived by boat would be transferred to offshore detention.

He was transferred to Nauru in April 2014 after an immigration department assessment found "there were no particular vulnerabilities or issues identified" with his case.

The submission states that Nauru asked for "permanent resettlement" of the refugee in Australia and that Dutton agreed that he be "brought to Australia to settle with his [relative]".

The Coalition was elected in September 2013 promising "maximum deterrence" against people smuggling, including through reintroduction of temporary protection visas.

Since then the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments have argued that any deviation from a zero tolerance approach by Labor would lead to a resumption of people-smuggling boats.

The home affairs department said: "The government has consistently stated that people in regional processing countries will not permanently settle in Australia."

Dutton was contacted for comment.


Source ISI, 11 July

(thanking the Dutch parliament for requesting the Dutch Government to explore legal proceedings against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice)

ISI commends the parliament of the Netherlands for requesting the government to explore possible legal proceedings against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), for acting in contravention of its obligations under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Motion passed on 4 July with the support of a cross-party parliamentary majority, requests the government to investigate whether there is a realistic possibility that such a case could be brought before the ICJ by a sufficient and diverse number of likeminded countries.

Many Rohingya activists, who represent the victims of the genocide and other gross and systematic violations of human rights, also applaud this development. Rohingya delegates at the recently concluded World Conference on Statelessness as well as a number of other members of the Rohingya community - Abdul Hamid (United Stateless); Anwar Arkani (Rohingya Association Canada); Habib (Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation); Hafsar Tameesuddin; Khin Maung (Free Rohingya Coalition – based in Bangladesh); Muhammed Saifullah (Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative); Nay San Lwin (Free Rohingya Coalition – Based in Germany); Nurul Islam (Arakan Rohingya National Organisation); Raiss Tinmaung, Yasmin Ullah and Zainab Arkhani (Rohingya Human Rights Network Canada); Razia Sultana (Rohingya Women Welfare Society); Sujauddin Karimuddin (Elom Empowerment); and Tun Khin (Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK) – shared the following message in this regard:

As members of the Rohingya community who have over many decades suffered persecution, displacement, statelessness and genocide; we thank the Dutch parliament for requesting the Dutch Government to explore legal proceedings against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice. As the victims of these crimes, our demand is for justice and accountability, and the right to return to our country to live in security and dignity, as equal citizens. The international community must hear our voices and do everything in its power to uphold international law and bring the perpetrators to justice. Please include us in these processes, which are ultimately about us. We are available to be consulted and to share our perspectives, experiences and solutions with you.

Myanmar's genocide of the Rohingya and the crimes against humanity inflicted on the community, have been well documented by UN and non-governmental actors. The scale, degree and severity of atrocities committed against members of the Rohingya community since August 2017, as well as the systemic violence and atrocities committed against them in the decades prior to this, are a blight on our collective human conscience.

The Genocide Convention, ratified in the wake of the holocaust, recognises in its preamble that "in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international co-operation is required". The Convention further articulates the commitment of all contracting parties to prevent and punish genocide, which is a crime under international law (Article 1); and stipulates that disputes between contracting parties "relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment" of the Convention, including those relating to the "responsibility of a State for genocide", shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice (Article 9).

It is evident, therefore, that State Parties to the Genocide Convention have a legal and moral duty to hold Myanmar to account for the genocide perpetrated against the Rohingya, along with other associated violations of the Convention, and to bring the matter to the ICJ.

As victims of persecution and genocide, the responsibility to protect the Rohingya, secure justice on their behalf and uphold the rules-based international order lies with the international community. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the global Rohingya community have repeatedly asserted their demand for justice and accountability, the right to return with dignity and the right to nationality of Myanmar. All these demands are interconnected; one cannot be achieved without the other. Holding Myanmar to account before the ICJ is integral to the demand for justice and accountability. This is also a necessary precursor to asserting their right to return with dignity. Further, unless their right to Myanmar nationality is asserted, the Rohingya will remain vulnerable to further exclusion and persecution in future as well.

The statelessness of the Rohingya has been a key element in their decades-long persecution in Myanmar, in their lack of protection as refugees outside Myanmar, and, ultimately, in the Rohingya genocide. Research and evidence collected over decades, indicates that the imposed statelessness on the Rohingya, and consequent serious restrictions on a range of fundamental human rights including their freedom of movement, right to work, access to education, right to marry and have children, was part of a wider strategy aimed at "

The Institute is encouraged by these developments in the Netherlands as well as parallel initiatives in Canada, the Gambia and elsewhere. The perpetration of the crime of genocide demands strong, unified and decisive action by responsible members of the international community. However, it is of paramount importance that such initiatives are followed through with. We urge the Dutch government to respond positively and decisively to the parliamentary motion, recognising that to fail to act is to fail to protect the most vulnerable people in the world. In this regard, we urge the Netherlands and other States to also continue to explore other ways in which pressure can be brought upon Myanmar, in the pursuit of justice, accountability and a durable solution. This includes further scrutiny of the business dealings of companies controlled by the Myanmar military and steps to ensure that these companies do not in any way benefit from the investment or partnership of the global business community.

You can download the full statement here