No deportation reprieve for Iraqi refugees

June 20, 2014
Immigration minister Scott Morrison said the bloodshed unfolding in Iraq would not affect the government’s policy of deporting

More than half a million Iraqis have been displaced and hundreds killed after the fall of Iraq's second largest city of Mosul to Islamic fundamentalists. But even as the crisis in Iraq dramatically worsens, Australia is refusing to offer any reprieve for the thousands of Iraqi refugees in its care.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has tried to move a motion in parliament to stop any deportations of Iraqi nationals who have sought protection in Australia. She said about 500 Iraqi refugees are currently in Australian detention centres, including on Nauru and Manus Island, and estimated that thousands more live in the community on bridging visas.

Hanson-Young's motion said the government should offer a reprieve to “those detained in immigration [detention] on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island to allow them to apply for protection in Australia”.

But immigration minister Scott Morrison said the bloodshed unfolding in Iraq would not affect the government's treatment of asylum seekers, which has been carrying out hasty deportations of asylum seekers in detention and the community, while preventing any new applications for protection. “Those people who seek to illegally enter Australia will face the same set of policies that have been in place for the past nine months,” he told Radio National.

He said in the case of so-called voluntary returns it would be “a strange situation to detain them when they want to go home”.

It is difficult to imagine why any refugee who fled their home in the first place would want to return to such a war-torn country now. But it shows the effectiveness of the Coalition's cruel policies. Its detention centres orchestrate a climate of extreme fear, despair and isolation. Many lose hope, wish to be reunited with families, or are simply duped into signing off their rights in Australia.

“Voluntary” returnees are given financial help while those who are forcibly repatriated receive nothing.

The government's offshore detention and resettlement policy has compounded the conditions that may make the thought of return more preferable than the desolate conditions on Manus Island and Nauru. Asylum seekers lose hope in the belief that they will never be settled in Australia and instead face a long detention and an uncertain future in Manus or Nauru.

Figures released by the immigration department in March revealed 606 people had been returned to their country of origin since Operation Sovereign Borders was launched. Of those, 240 were from mainland or community detention and left “voluntarily”; 198 were on Nauru or Manus Island. said that month that asylum seekers were choosing the return option at a rate of 10 per week.

Figures for the number of Iraqi refugees deported by the Coalition government were not available.

But Hanson-Young said: “Those currently in detention on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island are living in fear of being sent home as they are unable to apply for protection.

“The Minister must lift the bar and allow these people Iraqi nationals who are currently detained in immigration detention to apply for the protection we know they deserve.”

The Greens' bid to protect Iraqi refugees came as a High Court case ruled offshore processing constitutional and a Labor caucus again upheld the party's offshore processing policy.

The High Court case was launched last August by an Iranian detainee on Manus Island. His lawyers argued that the government did not have constitutional power to designate another nation an “offshore processing country” and the previous Labor government had failed to consider international treaties and laws when declaring PNG an offshore processing country.

The High Court ruled that a law drafted after the “Malaysia solution” was overturned in 2012 allowed the government to make such designations.

Labor MP Melissa Parke spoke out against the “inhumane, unsafe and unsatisfactory” conditions on Manus Island and Nauru. She moved a motion with MP Anna Burke in Labor's caucus on June 17 to have the party dump its support for offshore processing.

A caucus meeting of NSW Young Labor Left on June 15 also agreed to challenge Labor’s support for mandatory detention and offshore processing. In a statement it said: “NSW Young Labor Left will not doorknock, letterbox or make calls on behalf of any candidate that does not support an end to the indefinite imprisonment of asylum seekers in detention centres, and encourages rank and file activists from Young Labor all around the country to move similar motions in their respective branches, with a view to putting pressure on the leadership from the ground up.

“The motivation behind this motion is making the Senior Party realise that there is significant rank and file dissent over this issue.”

Parke’s motion was rejected and Labor's support for the policy upheld with the addition of “principles” to apparently protect asylum seekers' rights.

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