Refugee Watch

February 11, 2017
Logham Sawari.

Australia–US deal

Is it back on? No one knows. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the media that after that phone call with US President Donald Trump his strong approach had led many politicians in the US to call him to say the deal for the US to take up to 1250 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru will go ahead.

The situation is causing a lot of stress to refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. In response, the PNG government is requesting that additional police officers be deployed to Manus Island.

US immigration officials have also asked that the process be put on hold while they get clarification on what “extreme vetting” entails compared to their usual stringent vetting process. Even if every refugee passes the vetting, not all of them will be resettled in the US, as the deal has a limit of 1250 people — less than the number of people on Nauru and Manus Island.  

Mass Deportations on the cards

The PNG government has started moving towards mass deportations from Manus Island detention centre. It was reportedly finalising travel documents on February 6 to deport 60 asylum seekers to their countries of origin.

On February 9 immigration officials handed out negative assessment papers to asylum seekers, telling them to go back to their countries.

The same day, PNG police attacked Mike compound at 4am with the intention of deporting two Nepalese asylum seekers. One escaped and at time of writing is still at large.  

The PNG government said people who have not been assessed as genuine refugees have no legal basis to remain in PNG.

The PNG refugee assessment process has been widely criticised as designed to make it difficult to prove you are a refugee. At least 30 asylum seekers on Manus Island have been refusing to take part in PNG’s refugee assessment process. They have asked to be assessed by Australia and resettled there, not PNG. They have been given negative refugee status.

Many are from Iran, which does not accept people who are forcibly repatriated. Previously this has led to people being held indefinitely.

Pregnant refugee flown to Australia

A 37 year old pregnant Kuwatiti refugee was flown to Australia from Nauru days before she was expected to give birth in a complex and life-threatening delivery. Doctors for Refugees and other medical professionals had been lobbying for months for her to be taken to Australia.

The baby, a boy, was delivered safely on February 9. Her partner remains on Nauru.

Refugee forcibly returned to PNG

Logham Sawari was returned by force to PNG last week after fleeing to Fiji where he sought asylum from Australia’s detention system. He was forcibly taken from Fiji before his refugee claim could be assessed. The UN has said it is concerned for his welfare.

He was arrested on February 3 as he and his lawyer were driving to meet the Fijian immigration minister to present his application for asylum. Police officers forcibly pulled him out of the car, took him to the airport and put him on a plane.

On arrival in PNG, he was bundled into another car and held incommunicado for more than 30 hours before being allowed to contact his lawyer.

Sawari has allegedly been charged with using false information to obtain a passport, a criminal offence in PNG, which carries a fine of up to 10,000 PNG Kina and up to six months imprisonment.

The 20-year-old was being held at a Port Moresby police station but was later transferred to hospital.

He was brought to court in Port Moresby on February 8 to apply for bail, but there was a problem with the lodgement of his bail application and the matter was deferred.

Sawari was visibly upset and shaking while he waited to apply for bail. He showed journalists apparent self-harm injuries on his arm and said he had developed serious mental health problems from his detention and deportation.

The Fijian government, which is a signatory to the UN refugee convention, gave the UN assurances it would assess Sawari’s claim — it did not and has violated the convention by sending him back to danger.

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