Tag Archives: Australia

Do the most vulnerable refugees get resettled?

Googling this question results in headlines such as “World’s most vulnerable refugees struggle as US welcome mat shrinks”, “Pausing the Refugee Resettlement Program Will Harm the Most Vulnerable” and “World’s most vulnerable: are we responsible for them all? ”, reflecting US President Trump’s recent – now suspended – Executive Orders that, among other things, reduced the US’s intake of resettled refugees to 50,000 per fiscal year.

[Featured photo: “Canada ‘an inspiration’ on Syrian refugee resettlement”]

What is resettlement?

Resettlement is the transfer of refugees (who have, by definition, fled persecution in their country of origin) from one country to a third country where they are given a permanent legal status and expected to settle permanently; it’s been around since the 1970s in greater or lesser numbers. Resettlement globally is an established arrangement, whereby families and individuals are identified and screened by UNHCR according to seven categories (to which participating States have agreed) and are then sent to different resettlement countries. The resettlement countries evaluate the cases, conduct security checks, interview the families in many cases, and give a decision. Successful resettle-ees are transferred to their new country by IOM, and are received either by NGOs or the government entities responsible for them. Refugees in the resettlement pipeline are extensively vetted and screened, and it is the resettlement country that makes the final decision who goes and who stays. States have a legal obligation to receive refugees who show up on their territory, but resettlement is completely voluntary – which is why the two concepts should not be conflated, nor is resettlement the solution to a State’s unwillingness to abide by their legal responsibilities.

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What is vulnerability?

‘Protection’ vulnerability

UNHCR and countries, together, have established a number of categories that they have collectively agreed represent the most vulnerable refugees, or, phrased differently, the refugees most in need of resettlement. These categories are: medical needs, women and girls at risk, survivors of violence and/or torture, children at risk, legal and/or physical protection needs, and refugees lacking foreseeable alternative durable solutions. Although they probably don’t cover all possible eventualities, these categories do seem to encompass quite a number of vulnerabilities that would make resettlement the best solution for that particular family. Often, two or more of the categories are applicable – people who were tortured often have medical needs or may fear continued persecution, for example; a woman at risk may also have children who are at risk.

 

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“New study finds child marriage on the rise among vulnerable Syrian refugees.” Also, what’s with the signs?

 

The resettlement categories are all centered around a perspective of vulnerability that focuses on “protection” (protection, in refugee speak, is ensuring access and fulfillment of rights under national and international law). For example, someone with legal or physical protection needs might be in a situation where their rights to physical security, safety, liberty, etc., are not being respected; if there is no way to change the situation (i.e. where their asylum country is not able to ensure security or justice) they may need to be resettled to a different country. Or a woman who is head of household is at risk for sexual exploitation by her landlord or employer due to her vulnerable situation. Or an unaccompanied child who is vulnerable to exploitation or abuse. The focus on ‘protection’ is very understandable; after all, it is one of UNHCR’s core functions, and it is a logical extension of the concept that UNHCR exists to provide protection where the country of nationality can’t or won’t and where the country of asylum can’t or won’t. A protection-centred resettlement programme also makes for compelling individual stories of continued persecution, exploitation, or abuse. Although programming generally includes efforts to prevent or mitigate protection risks as well as establishing response mechanisms, identification of cases that have suffered abuse or exploitation, or are at individual risk, is difficult when considering the population as a whole, and many if not most cases are identified because the person or family themselves reported the situation.

Socio-economic vulnerability

But ‘protection’ is not the only metric by which one can assess vulnerability. Socio-economic vulnerability builds on work and research done on poverty and economic vulnerability to come up with a concept of vulnerability that focuses primarily on economic indicators, such as expenditures and assets, but should also encompass social metrics as well. The benefit of this kind of approach is that it is frequently more easily quantifiable – rather than the qualitative kind of approach taken with protection-related vulnerabilities – and hence can be applied over a wider population if proper tools are developed. Such initiatives in the Middle East, for example, have resulted in the Vulnerability Assessment Framework applied in Jordan; the VAF “defines the concept in terms of what a given person is vulnerable to, taking different sectors – such as lack of education, lack of documentation, or health liabilities – into account.” As UNHCR describes it, “vulnerability is notoriously difficult to capture […]  One broadly applied way to circumvent this measurement difficulty is to use expenditure as a proxy for refugee welfare.” The VAF therefore calculated a vulnerability score based on an individual interview/assessment with each family. Some of the assumptions and process behind the VAF are described here and some additional material can be found here. A similar approach was taken in Kakuma camp in Kenya, again focusing on expenditures as a proxy for welfare. In Lebanon, socio-economic vulnerability was assessed through a yearly vulnerability assessment (called the VASYR) conducted in a similar manner to the VAF but on a yearly basis so as to track trends over time, and as a second step, by using a predictive statistical model to identify vulnerable families without needing to conduct an individual interview.

Of course, socio-economic vulnerability and protection-related vulnerabilities are inter-linked: lack of (access to) work or documentation leaves people vulnerable to exploitation; people may be exposed to (or expose themselves to) hazardous situations out of economic desperation (for example, pulling children out of school; marrying off children at an early agesurvival sex; falling victim to trafficking; etc); and medical conditions may require expensive medications or require the presence of a caregiver which can impact a family’s earning potential or increase expenses. Anecdotal impressions suggest a strong correlation between socio-economic and protection vulnerability, but the causal logic could run in both directions.

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Vulnerability and resilience

[You could just skip this whole section and read the study that is extensively quoted here]

Resilience fundamentally concerns how an individual, household, community, society or state deals with shocks and stresses. […] According to the Regional UN Development Group (R-UNDG) Position Paper, prepared by a UNDG Regional Working Group on Resilience, the resilience-based development approach specifically looks at supporting resilience through development assistance, which aims to support institutions to respond to increased demand and pressure (characterised as “coping”), promote household recovery from the negative impacts of the crisis (“recovering”) and strengthen local and national economic, social and political institutions to protect development gains and enhance performance (“sustaining”).” (Source, p.iii)

This ODI study analyses definitions of vulnerability as considered by different humanitarian actors, and its relationship with the concept of resilience as being interrelated:

“In crisis contexts, vulnerability broadly refers to the likelihood of individuals or systems experiencing negative consequences on account of characteristics that make them exposed to those consequences in the first place ( i.e. exposure) such as being present in zones affected by the crisis and limited ability to manage the impacts of the crisis (i.e. coping capacities). Vulnerability and resilience are closely related because they both concern responses to shocks; they have been characterised as being two sides of the same coin, at opposite ends of the well-being spectrum and part of the same equation. [Furthermore]. analysis of vulnerability applies to different levels (e.g. individuals, households, communities, countries and systems) and to different shocks.” (Source, p.9)

But even if we are considering vulnerability to be an inability to withstand shocks, humanitarian actors still use traditional metrics (protection or economic-based models) to assess vulnerability:

[The Syrian Response Plan in Jordan] highlights the use of chronic poverty, the exposure to refugee influx, more ‘traditional’ categorical individual (or household) characteristics and social exclusion as indicators of vulnerability. The criterion of ‘reduced access’ stands out because, rather than saying that people with disabilities are necessarily vulnerable, it highlights that people with reduced access to resources and services are vulnerable and this may be due to disabilities. It therefore could shift analysis towards ‘who has access’ and ‘who participates’ rather than assuming that all women and older persons are vulnerable. (Source, p.11)

There are limitations in the extent to which such an approach is operationally applicable: the study notes how actors have attempted to establish categories of vulnerabilities that take into account economic constraints, profiles perceived as exposed to risks, and factors expected to represent access to certain rights or services. Although tools have become increasingly sophisticated (see some of the examples from Jordan and Lebanon) in assessing vulnerability for the purposes of identification and prioritization of beneficiaries, the results of these assessments are not frequently used to determine the type or extent of an intervention, and are often constrained by the particular framework of analysis (individual/household assessment vs community vs national level or regional analysis). Finally, there is a twofold limitation to this approach, which is that these models typically identify the symptoms but not the cause, and that, secondly, they do not focus on capacities but only vulnerabilities:

Categories, however, do not identify the ‘drivers’ of vulnerability. Drivers of vulnerability are the factors that influence and determine vulnerability. For individuals, gender inequality can be such a driver. For households, these can include lack of assets, resources and access to power structures. Scorecards and similar approaches can assess that a household is vulnerable because they are in debt and have poor food consumption, but alone do not provide analysis on the factors that are leading to their debt and poor household food consumption. (Source, p.13)

What does this mean for resettlement?

The short, and obvious, answer is that it is not so easy to determine vulnerability, much less assess it in a way that is both objective/systematic, and contextual/individualised. Even more so, how these assessments are conducted determines which families are included in the beginning of the pipeline of the resettlement process, to be screened and analysed for their individual needs and suitability for resettlement.

The Syrian populations in Lebanon and Jordan have proven ideal populations for these kinds of assessments: individually registered, located in areas that are accessible (both due to infrastructure and security), and with substantial international attention that brought the resources needed to conduct massive assessments and develop innovative approaches, especially as agencies were forced to prioritise resources for the “most vulnerable”. Many refugee populations are difficult to access due to security or infrastructure (Yemen, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan) or there are not sufficient resources to carry out such assessments in the face of budget and ration cuts.

Further distortions are caused by the resettlement system itself: countries select the populations that best fit their humanitarian and political goals, which may not directly correspond to the objective needs. Resettlement countries additionally can set additional criteria (in addition to refugee status and meeting one of the above-named vulnerability criteria) such as the “integration potential” requirement that is part of the legislation of some Nordic countries. “Integration potential” does not appear to be clearly defined in law, but is a legal provision that could well be at complete odds to the aims of resettlement itself: after all, those who are most exposed to risks and have the least capacity to withstand them may be the families most in need of resettlement but who will require more assistance once they get there.

With over 1.19 million refugees considered in need of resettlement in 2017, any measure of vulnerability will indicate that the needs far outstrip the available capacity for countries to receive them.

 

 

 

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Offshore Justice: could Australia end up at the ICC for abusing asylum-seekers? | Justice Hub

“This isn’t the first time that it has been suggested that the ICC examine allegations of abuses against asylum-seekers in Australian detention facilities. In 2014, Andrew Wilkie, an independent member of parliament, insisted that the Australian government was committing crimes against humanity against asylum-seekers and requested that the ICC investigate. Wilkie argued that the Australian government was guilty of imprisonment and other severe deprivations of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; deportation and other forcible transfer of population; and other international acts causing great suffering, or serious injury to body and mental and physical health.”

See the whole article here.

And see the documentary:

The plot thickens: Australia to close Manus Island centre; staff demanding end to offshore detention; Australia doesn’t bother to investigate any of the Nauru files before declaring them bunk

After the PNG supreme court ruled in April that the detention centre was “illegal and unconstitutional”, we have been waiting with bated breath to see what convoluted legal explanation Australia will find in order to keep avoiding their responsibilities under national and international law. This week, after the leak of over  2,000 incident reports detailing systemic physical and sexual abuses, humiliating treatment and harsh conditions, and widespread self-harm and suicide attempts on Nauru, the Australian Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, and the President of Nauru have decided, respectively, that the reports were only “hype” or “cooked up” the reports just to discredit them. Of course, the standard institutional response to allegations of abuse, exploitation, or assault, particularly when perpetrated by one’s own officials, is to claim that the victim is lying and the allegations are baseless. And the fact that the official response notes that, “Many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims – they are not statements of proven fact. The Australian government continues to support the Nauruan government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees in Nauru.” Although advocates dispute the characterization as “unconfirmed allegations,” the government response does highlight one salient point: that there was no effort to investigate or substantiate these allegations. Except when they want to file charges against someone for attempting suicide, like the Iranian asylum-seeker was criminally charged and ordered to pay $165 for attempting suicide (suicide and homosexuality were legalized a month later, in May 2016).

Dutton also accused asylum seekers of committing acts of self-immolation in order to get to Australia. He does not seem to take the point that people prefer to burn to death than to stay in indefinite detention as an indication that the situation is inhumane.

Now, more than 100 former employees from Australia’s offshore detention centres have called for asylum seekers to be brought to the mainland rather than sweeping it all under the rug with yet another inquiry. (see the full list). This, in a context where they might face criminal charges by Australia for speaking up. Their voices join over 1,800 academics and dozens of  human rights, legal, religious and medical groups that have demanded the Australian government put a stop to the suffering of asylum seekers and refugees in its offshore processing regime.

There is some good news:,according to the PNG govenment (later backed up by the Australian government), Australia has agreed to close the controversial asylum seeker detention centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG) declared unconstitutional earlier this year.As described by the Guardian,

The Manus Island detention centre has had a troubled existence since being reopened in 2012. In 2014 three days of unrest and an invasion of the detention centre by PNG police and others saw more than 60 asylum seekers seriously injured. One man was shot, another had his throat slit and 23-year-old Reza Barati was murdered by guards who beat him with a nail studded piece of wood, and kicked and dropped a rock on his head. PNG’s supreme court heard up to 15 expatriate and local guards killed Barati. Two local men were convicted of his murder this year.

The detention centre has also been plagued by consistent allegations of abuse and privation. Rape, physical and sexual assault and drug abuse are common, the centre’s water supply has failed, and detainees are fed expired food. Suicide attempts and acts of self-harm are common, and some men have alleged they have been beaten and tortured in solitary confinement.

Australia still claims that none of them will settle in Australia, and organizations such as Human Rights Watch have highlighted that simply shifting them elsewhere will not work:  “These men should immediately be moved to Australia or a safe third country, not simply shunted down the road to a transit centre or moved to Nauru or Cambodia. Nearly a thousand men on Manus have already lost three or more years of their lives locked up in limbo for no good reason. They’ve endured dirty, cramped conditions, inadequate medical care and violence. Finally, it is time to let them move on with their lives in safety and dignity.” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch claim that Australia has a “deliberate policy” of not addressing issues on Nauru as a strategy to “deter” further boat arrivals, as well as that asylum seekers are suffering immensely from inadequate medical care.

“Australian authorities are well aware of the abuses on Nauru. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Senate Select Committee, and a government-appointed independent expert have each highlighted many of these practices, and called on the government to change them. The Australian government’s persistent failure to address abuses committed under its authority on Nauru strongly suggests that they are adopted or condoned as a matter of policy.”

“Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom,” said Amnesty International’s senior director for research Anna Neistat, who went to Nauru to conduct the investigation.

Continue reading The plot thickens: Australia to close Manus Island centre; staff demanding end to offshore detention; Australia doesn’t bother to investigate any of the Nauru files before declaring them bunk

Nauru: “what’s the point of surviving at sea if you die here?”

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/australia-news/video/2016/aug/10/nauru-australia-refugees-detention-centre-asylum-migration-video
Today, around 2,000 reports were leaked of abuse, psychological disturbance, sexual assault and degrading treatment that the people, particularly children, detained on Nauru have experienced. The scale, variety, and seriousness of the allegations should be shocking.The institutional response is appalling (from the Guardian article):

In one report an asylum seeker described being told she was “on a list” written by local Nauruan guards naming single women they were “waiting for”. “She has received offers to get her pregnant when she gets out,” the caseworker wrote.

They reveal allegations of misconduct by Wilson Security guards at the detention centre. In one report a “cultural adviser” for Wilson Security, the company that employs guards at the detention camp, allegedly told an asylum seeker who had been sexually assaulted in camp that “rape in Australia is very common and people don’t get punished”.

The caseworker who filed the report wrote that the female asylum seeker also told her the guard had questioned whether the sexual assault had occurred and said: “If that happened to you why didn’t you scream at the time?”

“You have to take it out of your head if you go into Nauru then he [the alleged perpetrator] could be your neighbour or if you go to Cambodia then he could be on the plane next to you,” the adviser reportedly told the woman. “You also have to teach your son to treat this man nicely.”

The Nauru Database: Interactive

A few things are worth pointing out:

  1. Not all allegations are always substantiated. The government claims that these reports are only that, and are “evidence of rigorous reporting mechanisms.” From this we can infer that these reports were not followed up or investigated or prosecuted, because then the government would be able to reply with an actual statistic of the steps they have taken to address the issues. Quite a lot of the allegations are involving crimes that, in the case of some of the sexual abuse allegations, would involve criminal sentences of 10 to 25 years if prosecuted in Australia.
  2. The fact that access to the facility is extremely restricted does not bode well for the alleged transparency and humane conditions supposedly found there. Nothing is more suspicious than a secret facility with indefinite detention – it is why organizations like the ICRC spend a lot of time monitoring detention facilities.
  3. There is a conflict of interest when the agency required to investigate is the agency also responsible for the staff who are allegedly the perpetrators of the misconduct.
  4. Australia has a duty of care, and legal responsibility for all of the people in this facility, whether or not they have contracted it out.

This is what Australian taxpayers are funding to the tune of 1.2 billion per year.

 

The Nauru files: 2,000 leaked reports reveal scale of abuse of children in Australian offshore detention (the Guardian)

The devastating trauma and abuse inflicted on children held by Australia in offshore detention has been laid bare in the largest cache of leaked documents released from inside its immigration regime.  More than 2,000 leaked incident reports from Australia’s detention camp for asylum seekers on the remote Pacific island of Nauru – totalling more than 8,000 pages – are published by the Guardian today. The Nauru files set out as never before the assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and living conditions endured by asylum seekers held by the Australian government, painting a picture of routine dysfunction and cruelty.  The Guardian’s analysis of the files reveal that children are vastly over-represented in the reports. More than half of the 2,116 reports – a total of 1,086 incidents, or 51.3% – involve children, although children made up only about 18% of those in detention on Nauru during the time covered by the reports, May 2013 to October 2015.

Focus on Australia: Go to Hell, go directly to Hell. Do not pass go, do not collect asylum in Australia

Photo: Australian Refugee Council’s 2016 calendar.

 

Australia: Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru (Human Rights Watch / Amnesty)

About 1,200 men, women, and children who sought refuge in Australia and were forcibly transferred to the remote Pacific island nation of Nauru suffer severe abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. The Australian government’s failure to address serious abuses appears to be a deliberate policy to deter further asylum seekers from arriving in the country by boat.

Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, most of whom have been held there for three years, routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government, as well as frequent unpunished assaults by local Nauruans. They endure unnecessary delays and at times denial of medical care, even for life-threatening conditions. Many have dire mental health problems and suffer overwhelming despair – self-harm and suicide attempts are frequent. All face prolonged uncertainty about their future.

“Australia’s policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel in the extreme,” said Anna Neistat, senior director for research at Amnesty International, who conducted the investigation on the island for the organization. “Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom.”

By forcibly transferring refugees and people seeking asylum to Nauru, detaining them for prolonged periods in inhuman conditions, denying them appropriate medical care, and in other ways structuring its operations so that many experience a serious degradation of their mental health, the Australian government has violated the rights to be free from torture and other ill-treatment, and from arbitrary detention, as well as other fundamental protections, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

‘We are dead souls in living bodies’: Australia accused of abusing refugees (CNN)

Daily violence, suicide attempts and children left without medical treatment were among some of the allegations documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch during a visit to Australia’s detention center on the remote Pacific Island of Nauru in July.

Australia Allows Abuse of Refugees to Deter Others, Rights Groups Say (NYT)

 “The Australian government is commissioning the abuse of these people,” Anna Neistat, a senior director for research at Amnesty International who spent five days on Nauru in July, said by telephone from Paris on Wednesday. “It pays for the companies that detain the refugees, it pays for the guards, and it fails to provide adequate medical care. Australian taxpayers are funding it. And the world does not know this place exists.”

See also: Australia deliberately ignores refugee abuse: report (Al Jazeera)

Two leading rights groups accuse Australia of ignoring abuse to deter people from trying to travel to the country.

Australia – liable for criminal prosecution

It should be noted that while Australia’s policies might be among the more egregious, few Western countries have clean hands when it comes to treatment of migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees.

The United Nations has found that Australia’s immigration detention regime breaches international law, amounting to arbitrary and indefinite detention, and that men, women and children are held in violent and dangerous conditions.

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It’s not just in Greece that refugees are stranded (IRIN)

Indonesia had long been a transit country for thousands of asylum seekers trying to reach Australian shores. But Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013, policing its waters and turning back boats with such efficiency that it has all but blocked off the route. Several hundred new asylum seekers, however, are still arriving in Indonesia every month. An ever-increasing number are now spending years in limbo in a country that neither recognises them as refugees nor offers any possibility of local integration.  Resettlement to a third country is the only option for most of the nearly 14,000 asylum seekers and refugees now stranded in Indonesia (up from 10,000 two years ago). Australia used to be the country that accepted the majority of refugees in Indonesia for resettlement, but now it only takes those who registered there before July 2014.  Other countries with resettlement programmes, many of them preoccupied with the refugee exodus from Syria, have done little to help.  With no right to work and little support available from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, many new arrivals simply hand themselves over to the Indonesian authorities knowing that at least they’ll be fed and sheltered while they’re detained.

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Australia ordered to resettle nearly 900 asylum seekers held on Manus Island detention centre after PNG ruled the centre illegal (Trust.org)

The asylum seekers come from across the Middle East and Asia predominately, with Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan accounting for the bulk. Some have been held in detention for several years. Lawyers for the 898 Manus island detainees have asked the Supreme Court for compensation of 1,500 kina ($462.75) for every day they were held illegally. The Supreme Court said it would call on Australia to provide a representative on Thursday to provide details on a resettlement plan.

See also: The cost of Australia’s asylum policy

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 Australia (US State Department)

The main human rights problems were domestic violence against women and children, particularly in indigenous communities; indigenous disadvantage; and policies affecting asylum seekers, including detention and detention center conditions for some attempting to reach the country by sea.

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Continue reading Focus on Australia: Go to Hell, go directly to Hell. Do not pass go, do not collect asylum in Australia

Australia: liable for criminal prosecution?

It should be noted that while Australia’s policies might be among the more egregious, few Western countries have clean hands when it comes to treatment of migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees.

The United Nations has found that Australia’s immigration detention regime breaches international law, amounting to arbitrary and indefinite detention, and that men, women and children are held in violent and dangerous conditions.

One asylum seeker was murdered by guards on Manus Island, while another died because there were no appropriate antibiotics to treat infection.

On Nauru, asylum seekers and refugees are regularly physically and sexually assaulted, and say they are frightened to complain because of a culture of impunity on the island. At least 29 cases of rape and sexual assault – including against children – have been reported to Nauru police, but there have been no arrests or charges laid.

Several arms of the UN have repeatedly condemned Australia’s offshore regime, including the UN high commissioner for human rights, the UN committee against torture, the UN special rapporteur on torture, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and the UN high commissioner for refugees.

Continue reading Australia: liable for criminal prosecution?