asylum seekers in australia
A group of 157 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka have been held at sea for over a month by Australian officials. After a long detention and questionable treatment, Australia’s immigration minister Scott Morrison has announced that the group will be brought to the mainland.

Nevertheless, the future of the asylum seekers in Australia remains unknown, as they will be brought to shore to be detained a second time until a decision is made regarding whether or not they will be sent back to Sri Lanka.

Officials have not released any information about where the group will be taken.

The group includes Tamils—a group that still faces repression and violent attacks in Sri Lanka even though the civil war ended five years ago. The civil war took place between the majority Sinhalese Sri Lankan military and the Tamil separatists.

While the Australian government claims its policies are aimed at saving lives by preventing people from boarding dangerous boats and enduring a rough journey, the conditions of Australia’s detention camps have received harsh criticism both from human rights advocates and the United Nations.

UNHCR, a department from the U.N. who specializes in refugees, has spoken up, questioning whether or not on-water screening of asylum claims is at all fair.

The Australian government has been known to enforce tough policies aimed at ending the arrival of asylum seekers on boats. Just last month Australia detained a separate boat populated by Sri Lankan asylum seekers, and returned them to their country after “screening” their claims.

Reports have also come to light noting that Australian officials have been towing boats back to Indonesia, the most common area where refugees originate.

Activists have filed a legal challenge with the goal of preventing this current group of asylum seekers from being treated the same way. Under international law, Australia cannot return refugee seekers who may face maltreatment upon returning back to their homeland.

According to Graeme McGregor, the group’s refugee campaign coordinator, asylum seekers should be given the rights to undergo a “full, fair and rigorous assessment for refugee status” regardless.

Amnesty International has voiced their opinion, which aligns with McGregor’s concerns stating, “Stranding a boatload of people in the middle of the sea, in an effort to ‘stop the boats’ has achieved nothing.”

Indian officials from the Indian High Commission will be given full access to determine the identities of the asylum seekers to see if there is a potential for any of the refugees to be returned to India.

Morrison maintains that regardless of how the rest of the claims are addressed, no members of the group will be allowed to settle in Australia. Next month, the High Court will hear the asylum seekers case.

Until then, 157 men, women and children remain in limbo—awaiting their fate.

-Caroline Logan

Sources: BBC News, ABC News
Photo: News First

AIDS conference
The 20th International Aids Conference took place July 20 -25 and was held in Melbourne, Australia.  The aim of the conference was to create a forum where people could address the problematic impact of AIDS on a global scale.

Speakers at the conference included founder and former U.S. president Bill Clinton, U.S. Global Aids Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Brix, USNG’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia Michel Kazatchkine, among others.

The Melbourne declaration for the International Aids Conference states that in regards to HIV/AIDS, it is vital that everyone, “…call for the immediate and unified opposition to discriminatory and stigmatizing practices and urge all parties to take a more equitable and equitable approach through the following actions.”

The declaration then lists actions such as insisting that “governments must repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatizing practices and increase vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality,” that “all healthcare providers must demonstrate the implementation of non-discriminatory policies as a prerequisite for future HIV program funding” and that “restrictions on funding, such as the anti-prostitution pledge and ban on purchasing needles and syringes, must be removed as they actively impede the struggle to combat HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and hepatitis C among sex workers and people who inject drugs.”

The 2014 AIDS conference had 12,000 attendees from over 200 countries across the globe and was sponsored by the International AIDS Society (IAS).  In addition to raising awareness, the conference also acted as a forum where researchers could present new findings for how to address and hopefully end this epidemic.  The conference included information about other projects like the Global Village and hosted satellite meetings in order to serve as a networking platform to combat HIV/AIDS.

– Jordyn Horowitz


Sources: AIDS 2014, IA Society, USA Today
Photo: USA Today

asylum in australia
Forty-one Sri Lankan citizens returned to their country after being denied entry into Australia. The asylum-seekers were handed over to the Sri Lankan navy without a thorough investigation by Australian authorities. They face charges when they return to their home country.

The returned citizens face a charge of illegally leaving the country. Their sentence will include “rigorous imprisonment,” along with a fine. Although the civil war ended in 2009, human rights violations that existed during the conflict continue; imprisonment in Sri Lanka is still sometimes inhumane. There have been 75 documented cases of torture since the end of the war, according to Human Rights Watch. This includes instances of rape of both men and women. Very few of these human rights abuses are punished.

The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has adopted a policy of limiting refugees who enter the country, which is a popular destination for asylum seekers. This has led to a shoddy screening process for the 90 percent of Sri Lankans who attempt to enter Australia. Many boats are turned around on their way to Australia, and dozens of people have drowned because of boats capsizing.

While it is legal to return citizens when they are thoroughly screened and found to not need protection, this was not done. A hasty analysis was performed while still on the water, and no investigation was performed to determine whether the 41 Sri Lankans were in need of asylum. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees commented that Australia has a previous record of illegal screening practices for asylum-seekers.

Two boats were intercepted 12 miles from Australia. While the 41 were handed over, another 153 are still waiting on the sea to learn their fate. The first departed directly from Sri Lanka, while the other originated from the south Indian coast, from Pondicherry. They have been moved to an Australian navy ship. Although first denied, the Australian government has finally acknowledged this second ship’s existence.

Among these people trapped in limbo, 37 are children. Most of those seeking asylum in Australia are minority Tamils, who still face persecution despite the end of the conflict in their home country.

The 153 are awaiting a decision from an injunction called for by the Australian High Court. Numerous legal experts in Australia have commented on the human rights violations by their country. The decision to return the 41 Sri Lankans, and the potential return of the other 153, violate international law and the refugee convention.

The Prime Minister promised not to return the 153 without 72 hours’ notice, and a court hearing on Tuesday will determine what will happen to those still on the water.

Government lawyers have claimed those on board have no right to seek asylum because the ship was stopped outside of Australia’s immigration zone. It is possible the refugees will be sent to Papua New Guinea for further processing.

People on board have reached out to journalists and refugee advocates through satellite phones to advocate for their cause. Their families are also expressing concern for their safe arrival. One man stated through an interpreter, “I am desperate to know where my family is. I can’t function at all not knowing. I know all of them would be in very big trouble if sent back to Sri Lanka.”

– Monica Roth

Sources: The Independent, The Guardian, The Guardian, NPR, The Australian
Photo: Napalese Voice

Solomon Islands Diarrhea Outbreak
The nation of Solomon Islands is facing a new and deadly threat after flooding destroyed delicate water infrastructure. The Solomon Islands diarrhea outbreak has already killed 18 people and threatens to claim more lives if measures are not taken soon.

Solomon Islands was decimated in early April by a series of destructive floods. The small nation, located north and east off the coast of Queensland, Australia, saw 60,000 of its residents made homeless by the storms—over 10 percent of its population.

The flood’s direct damage to human life was great enough, but two months later, outbreaks of diarrhea in late May and early June are extending the death toll. The rotavirus, a deadly and highly-contagious virus transmitted by vomit and fecal matter, has claimed victims in six of Solomon Islands’ ten provinces.

The virus is communicable by food, drink and, depending on the sick person’s hygiene, basic physical contact. Those who contract the virus show symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea within 1-3 days of infection.

Though upward of 20,000 children were vaccinated against the rotavirus following April’s flooding, the contamination of Solomon Islanders’ water supply was complete enough that over 1,000 cases of extreme diarrhea have been reported in the past two weeks. Most of the infected are young, and all 18 of the reported deaths have been children under the age of 5.

Rotavirus causes intense diarrhea, which in turn leads to severe dehydration. If untreated, this dehydration can kill. At a certain point, children simply stop drinking water despite their desperate need for it, and proper medical intervention is required to save a child’s life.

Fortunately, UNICEF is fighting the Solomon Islands diarrhea outbreak with two very basic tools: soap and information. The soap is distributed in the hardest-hit areas, and colorful, hand-shaped information cards are also given out. These cards not only emphasize the importance of hand-washing by their shape, but they also contain valuable tips for staying safe and healthy during the outbreak.

Instructions for preventing the spread of the rotavirus include washing hands for at least 10 seconds after using the toilet, before handling or eating food and after caring for or coming into contact with any infected individuals.

Health officials currently do not plan on bringing the rotavirus vaccine back to Solomon Islands. Instead, they predict that proper hygiene should be enough to put an end to the outbreak.

In the meantime, parents who notice signs of illness in their children are urged to bring them to a doctor right away. Doctors can provide a child with oral rehydration salts and zinc tablets, both of which help prevent dehydration and can reverse even severe cases.

However, this safety net may not be so reliable. Dorothy Wickham, correspondent for Radio New Zealand, reports that hospitals in Solomon Islands are becoming overburdened. Doctors may not be able to treat all of the children who are brought in, and epidemiologist Jennie Musto predicts the outbreak could last up to another month.

For now, both parents and aid groups are doing what they can to combat the outbreak and to keep their children safe.

– Patricia Mackey

Sources: World Vision, WHO, Australia Network News, 3 News, Radio New Zealand International, Pacific Scoop
Photo: Parade

Negotiations for a trade such as this has been in the works for seven years, though only now are the extensive efforts coming to fruition. Concluding with a deal on April 7, Japan and Australia finally reached an accord on a free trade agreement between the two countries.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott express mutual respect for one another, citing security and neoliberal economic agendas as important ties that have connected the two men and their respective nations for some time. A Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation, renewed in 2010, was initially signed between Japan and Australia in 2007 as a formal recognition of their devotion to the defense and support of one another. The Declaration came after years of informal cooperation, in such contexts as United Nations peacekeeping operations in the 1990s. More recently, Abbott has praised Japan’s democratic values and presence in international security activity.

Japan’s agriculture lobby, however, expressed concerns of an internationally aggressive competition and was opposed to easing access to food imports. Though Abe clearly favored opening Japan’s economy to increased competition, Australia was understandably concerned that the rigorous final round of negotiations would fall through as a result of the Japanese lobbying group’s hold on the ruling party that it elected. Yet the signed agreement builds on a trade treaty of 1957 that contributed heavily to the positive sentiment between the two nations. The new free trade agreement, then, is expected to build on the great business and cultural relations, and is consequently considered by many trade officials to be the best deal the Japanese economy has ever granted to another country.

The final version of the free trade agreement calls for joint compromise in both economies. While Japan is now required to phase out its current 38.5 percent tariff on Australian beef exports, Japan will end tariffs on Japanese vehicles, electronics and household appliances. Within 15 years, the Japanese beef tariff is expected to reach only 23.5 percent, with a subsequent decrease to 19.5 percent in 18 years. The Australian Trade Ministry also reported that Japan would increase cheese imports and simultaneously phase out tariffs on fruits, honey, vegetables, nuts and wine. Prime Minister Abbot has thus declared that Japan is “Australia’s best friend in Asia.”

Some argue that the free trade agreement between Australia and Japan, in bringing both nations closer to the United States as a result, could risk a free trade agreement with China, Australia’s number one trade partner. However, Japan is Australia’s number two partner, and the political and security ties could make a difference in the long run. After seven years of intense negotiations, one can only hope that Australia and Japan have made the correct decision.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: The Conversation, Sydney Morning Herald
Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald

The Aboriginals are classified as an indigenous group native to Australia and already face many issues in the country. A Counterpunch article argues welfare officials have been stealing children from Aboriginal families since the 1970s.

According to the author, John Pilger, the stolen children “were given to institutions as cheap or slave labour.” Though officially banned by the Australian constitution, the act of separating children from their mothers is an assimilation policy similar to the eugenics movement in Nazi Germany.

“Today, the theft of Aboriginal children – including babies taken form the birth table – is now more widespread than at any time during the last century,” Pilger said. “As of June last year, almost 14,000 Aboriginal children had been ‘removed’.”

Pilger said the “secretive” Children’s Court often exploits the indigenous mothers for not being aware of their own constitutional rights.

Moreover, Olga Havnen, once the Co-ordinator-General of Remote Services for the Northern Territory, told Pilger that she was fired when she disclosed that the cost for removing Aborigninal children for political reasons in 2012 exceeded the cost of helping the community fight poverty ($80 million versus $500,000.)

“The primary reasons for removing children are welfare issues directly related to poverty and inequality,” she told Pilger. “If South Africa was doing this, there’d be an international outcry.”

Having their children taken from the state is not the only issue affecting the Aboriginal population. Today, indigenous Australians fall victim to health problems and other human rights abuses as well.

“While some health and socioeconomic indicators are improving for indigenous Australians, they still on average live [10 years to 12 years] less than non-indigenous Australians, have an infant mortality rate almost two times higher, and continue to die at alarmingly high rates from treatable and preventable conditions such as diabetes and respiratory illnesses,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its 2014 World Report.

This is strange for the organization, considering Australia is among the world’s richest nations yet still fails to provide many indigenous people with access to food, water, and healthcare.

Just recently, the Australian parliament passed legislation that recognizes indigenous Australians as the nation’s “first inhabitants of Australia,” said HRW. But as Pilger describes in the Counterpunch article, these constitutional rights mean nothing since the Australian officials systematically abuse the indigenous population.

Support networks in Australia proclaim that the aid given to the indigenous people living in poverty is a “smoke screen” for the bureaucracy’s true intention: to divide and control the natives of the land.

The world community might investigate whether the policies regarding the indigenous population in Australia are indeed discriminatory.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Counterpunch, Human Rights Watch
Photo: The Stringer

Australia is considered to have one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Universal healthcare is provided to their citizens in the form of the government run ‘medicare’ program as well as a vast private healthcare system. In addition to covering its own residents, Australia sold over 26 million dollars in medical care to tourists from all over the world.

Behind the seemingly successful exterior, there is a deep disparity in how Aborigines are treated in the healthcare system.

Many suffer from diseases that are preventable and not seen anywhere else in the developed world. The average life expectancy of an Aborigine is over a decade less than a non-indigenous Australian. Aborigine children are ten times more likely to commit suicide and the prevalence of other diseases such as depression, gastroenteritis and kidney disease are much higher than in non-indigenous people.

It is not surprising that without access to healthcare for preventable diseases, many indigenous people live in poverty. Homes are made from carcinogenic asbestos and many do not have access to clean water or proper sanitation. Many also suffer from debilitating diseases that make work impossible to get to or employment difficult to obtain.

This level of poverty and lack of access to healthcare in a wealthy country has been described as shocking.

This glaring failure in the Australian healthcare system can be in part attributed to the amount of spending spent on citizens. Hospital spending on indigenous citizens in 2010 was AUS $3,630 as compared to AUS $1860 for non-indigenous people. This means many indigenous citizens were relying on hospital visits when they were sick, due to the lack of access to preventative care.

Much of this disparity in healthcare is attributed to the lack of representation of indigenous people in the decision-making process.

There also needs to be improvements made to the public health initiatives aimed at promoting cultural awareness.

University of West Australia professor Pat Dudgeon said, “For there to be an improvement in indigenous health, there has to be a cultural aspect present in health programmes. Studies from around the world have shown when you engage indigenous people in cultural reclamation and self-identification, there is far more retention.”

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Al Jazeera, NCBI
Photo: You Should Know

Australia is known for gorgeous beaches, the Great Barrier Reef and incredibly attractive accents. Many people would be shocked to hear that according to the Australian Council of Social Service and the Social Policy Research Centre (ACOSS), almost 13 percent of the population is struggling with poverty.

Low income families can get assistance from programs like NewStart, an ‘allowance’ payment similar to the welfare system in the United States.

However, ACOSS has determined that the payment of thirty five dollars per week has fallen well below the cost of living. That allowance numeral has not been updated since its implementation in 1994. Per week, the allowance is about two hundred and fifty dollars and the poverty line income is three hundred and sixty as of today.

Families with children meet the poverty line at seven hundred and fifty dollars, which the allowance payment is obviously not qualifying. Critics are fighting for new policies and programs that address the real number needed to live above the poverty line, and a way to fix the outdated New Start allowance amount.

One idea is to increase the allowance immediately by fifty dollars per week and help families find sustainable incomes so that eventually they can support themselves.

One issue that is being brought to the fore-front of the fight against poverty in Australia specifically is climate change. The poor population of Australia spends a large chunk of their income on basic needs like water sanitation and energy. Both of these basic services are going to become more expensive as the world’s climate continues to change, and coming up with policies to deal with this change and prevent poverty from spreading is of the utmost importance.

It will cost the nation more if they do not act now than if they spend the necessary funds to create solutions to the problems that climate change will inevitably bring. Heating, insulation and more weather related activities are more costly to low income families than to wealthier ones.

Officials in Australia and United Nations are committed to making climate change a priority in order to help citizens of the outback better their quality of lives and their futures. Reintroducing the unemployed and underpaid into jobs with increased wages and lasting security of future employment will help pull families out from under debilitating circumstances.

Assistance programs and awareness of what needs to be done in Australia will help not only their own citizens but also the rest of the world as new wealth and innovation comes from the newly assisted people down under.

– Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: The Australian, ACOSS, ACOSS
Photo: An Infinite Summer

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently announced Australia’s plans for its foreign assistant budget in 2014 to the tune of over AUD$5 billion, which will be implemented through foreign aid expenditures. Unfortunately, Australia will be making $107 million in cuts in comparison to last year’s budget, which will ultimately affect many ongoing programs, particularly in Africa.

It was also confirmed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) that Australia’s share of the latest round of funding towards the International Development Association (IDA,) will be cut to AUD$735 million. Bishop spoke openly about the cuts in funding recently and defended them by saying it is an effort to move away from a “hand out culture” and improve Australian foreign assistance efficiency.

“In this way, we have an aid budget that the Australian people will be proud of. We believe that this refocus of our aid budget will deliver effective outcomes. Under Labor’s last budget, they were to receive 2.5 percent of overseas development assistance (ODA.) Under this revised budget they will receive 2.7 percent of ODA- [which] is four times what these non-government organizations received from 2007 and 2008,” said Bishop.

Other organizations also spoke about the cuts, but more critically. Archie Law, the executive director of ActionAid, which operates in 40 countries internationally, said, “But what it hasn’t done until now is given a little bit more detail of where those cuts are coming from. Particularly concerning is the fact that it looks like the Africa program will be cut in half. The region which has more people living in poverty per capita than anywhere else in the world will receive half the assistance from Australia when they receive pretty little in the first place.”

While there is valid support for both sides of the situation, what is universally agreed upon is that there needs to be a healthy level of accountability overseeing how Australian aid money is spent. Australia will continue to meet many of its prior obligations such as the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative and will focus its efforts in the 2014 year specifically in the Indo-Pacific area.

Jeffrey Scott Haley
Feature Writer

Sources: The Australian
Photo: The Guardian

A recently married couple from Tehran just made their third attempt, along with 57 other asylum seekers, to reach Christmas Island, Australia.  If the weather is stable and the small boat holds up, their more than 200 mile trip across the Indian Ocean into Australian territory should last three days.  However, since June, this three day trip has ended tragically taking the lives of over 100 people.

The first “boat people” to seek asylum in Australia were the Vietnamese during the mid-1970s.  According to Luke Mogelson, a NY Times correspondent that actually endured one of these journeys posing as a refugee, Australia is extremely concerned with such people and, in response to such concerns, they adopted The Pacific Solution as a way to send asylum seekers to detention centers with the help of the Australian navy.

These detention centers are located in Papa New Guinea, or on the miniscule island state in Micronesia called The Republic of Nauru.  Both locations rely heavily on Australian aid.

Mogelson also mentions that, “over the past four years, most European countries have absorbed more asylum seekers, per capita, than Australia – some of them, like Sweden and Liechtenstein, seven times as many.”

As a result of such absorption, the Pacific Solution has been denounced repeatedly by refugee and human rights advocates.  The BBC reports that Australia plans to increase the capacity of their refugee center to more than 2,000 beds to cope with the demand.  Furthermore, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, also according to the BBC, promised to take a hard line approach to people smugglers, but insists that anyone seeking asylum will be treated humanely.

For the most part, the issue surrounding human smuggling prompts Australia to be weary of refugees.  Luke Mogelson from the NY Times has lived in Afghanistan and explains that the refugee smuggling business is conducted through a money transfer system known in the Muslim world as hawala.  This system is convenient especially for Afghani people that do not have legitimate bank accounts, but have family living abroad that are in need of remittances.

Unlike most refugees, the recently married couple from Tehran previously mentioned continuously persisted in getting to Christmas Island so their child would be born there.  Other refugees typically expect to be reunited with their respective families after arriving in Australia, few want to risk the lives of their children on the treacherous trip.

Despite the fact that thousands of refugees have died attempting to reach Christmas Island, people continue making the trip, some even more than once.  The conditions they endure during their trip are unthinkable, their dreams of a new life quickly being countered with the nightmare of a ride they face on the way to safety.

Lindsey Lerner

Sources: NY Times, BBC
Photo: The Australian