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

Rope isolated on white background
In 2005, Clay Castrission took a trip to a remote Indian village. His trip, in combination with his study of law at the University of Sydney, inspired him to combat poverty in developing countries. As Castrission has said, he left the village by making “a very, very vague promise to build them a school.” Five years later, Castrission fulfilled his promise and more by starting the 40K Group.

The cost of building the vaguely promised school would have been $40,000. Thus, the name of Castrission’s humanitarian project became “40K.” By raising 10 times his original goal in just five years, Castrission’s efforts have helped increase enrollment levels and effectiveness of primary education in India.

The 40K Group is a compilation of three initiatives, each based in Australia, seeking to provide relief in developing areas of India. The first sector of the 40K Group is the 40K Foundation. The Foundation organizes after-school programs called “40K PLUS” for primary school-aged children.

All 40K PLUS programs are supplied with tablets that have educational math and reading programs. The children use the tablets during the after-school programs to supplement their in-school education. Through the reinforced learning, the students become more successful in school. Successful students are less likely to drop-out of school, which is good news for the Indian educational system which currently has one of the highest drop-out rates for primary school-aged children (42 percent).

40K PLUS is also good news for students in rural India, where only 2.2 percent of children have access to computers in school. The 40K Foundation exposes children to technology while supplementing the lessons that they are learning in school already.

The best news of all: the families of children enrolled in 40K PLUS pay one dollar per month for complete use of the Foundation’s services. Therefore, most families can afford to send their children to the after-school programs.

Of course, one dollar a month per enrolled child is not enough to sustain all of the “pod” centers for 40K PLUS in India. For this reason, many of the programs are supported by donations from the 40K Group’s other two sectors: 40K Globe and 40K Consulting.

40K Globe runs a program that sends students from Australian universities and other young Australians to India for one month at a time to experience life as an intern in the field of social business. The hope of 40K Globe is that participants will learn more about why helping developing nations is so important, and that the skills they learn in India will allow them to combine future business endeavors with philanthropy.

40K Consulting is a program that teaches pre-existing Australian businesses to use their products and wealth to help in India. Similar to the skills taught by 40K Globe, the consulting program teaches big business leaders how to integrate social missions into their business’s goals.

In the coming five years, the 40K Group hopes to educate 6,000 Indian children through its various programs. The 40K Foundation is currently in the process of comparing students’ test results from 2013 with those of 2014 to determine the success of the after-school programs in India. If success rates are high, the 40K Group may expand their outreach to one or two more developing countries that are struggling to provide primary education to children.

Emily Walthouse

Sources: 40RTYK, Pro Bono Australia, 40RTYK Globe, UNICEF

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

More than 2.5 million Australians, that is, 12.8% of the Australian population, live below the poverty line. Included in this figure are 575,000 children, meaning that 17.3% of all Australian children are living in poverty. As it stands, the rate of child poverty in Australia has risen by 15% since 2001.

Homelessness is also a huge problem in Australia, with there being currently over 100,000 homeless individuals, a quarter of which are under the age of 18 and 18,000 of which are children under the age of 12. As a result, both the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) and UNICEF Australia are urging the government to develop an action plan to tackle child poverty.

The poverty line is based on the OECD standard of less than 50% of the median income. In 2010, this figure worked out to be U.S. $16,700 per year for a couple and U.S. $35,000 per year for a couple with two children. These figures are far below the Australian national standard.

Part of the problem revolves around the fact that social assistance payments are very low, having not increased since 1994, while the cost of living has increased by a third.

As such, the poverty rate among people living on social assistance is much higher (36.5%) than among the general population. Furthermore, ACOSS argues that social security payments are not high enough to meet basic standards of living and cover necessities such as food, shelter and clothing.

ACOSS is, moreover, requesting that the government raise social security payments by $250 a month in order to help recipients cover basic necessities and to cover job search expenses. One of the most vulnerable groups is single parent led households, especially since half of the children living in poverty belong to families led by single parents.

In fact, Australia has the fifth highest poverty rate for single parent led families of all of the OECD countries. UNICEF Australia’s Tim O’Conner argued that Australia is falling behind many other countries in lifting people out of extreme poverty and ending child poverty.

Another vulnerable group is the indigenous population who make up 2.5% of Australia’s total population. The nation’s indigenous people live in the poorest communities while suffering the effects of poverty the most which includes worse health and having a life span approximately 17 years shorter than the national average.

Moreover, the child mortality rate among indigenous groups is four times greater than that of the general population.

What is shocking is that Australia is one of the richest countries in the world, coming in second only to the U.S. in wealth per capita. Many people are unaware of the rates of poverty in Australia since reports usually focus on the nation’s wealth as a whole.

The fact that there exists so high a rate of child poverty in Australia should be cause enough to prompt this issue of inequality to be addressed.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: Oxfam, ACOSS, Indy Media
Photo: Democratic Underground

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

While a polar vortex has been hitting the United States, weather events of similar proportions have devastated Australia on the other side of the world. However, Australia has dealt with overwhelming heat rather than cold. On a global scale, there seems to be a myriad of chaotic climate events ranging from blistering cold, scorching heat and pouring rain to desiccating drought. The impacts they have had on people are disastrous—and do not seem to be letting up.

2013 marked a difficult year for Australians, as it was the hottest year they have ever had on record. More recently, temperatures have soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and people of Australian provinces such as Victoria have suffered. The majority of people affected by the heat have been those of lower income communities who are unable to deal with the weather or elderly people with pre-existing health conditions.

With an overwhelming number of calls from heat exhaustion and cardiac arrest victims, first responders have been unable to successfully address the calls they’ve been getting. In fact, “at one point paramedics [in Victoria] were receiving a call every six minutes for cardiac arrest victims.” Ambulance Victoria also reported roughly a 700 percent rise in the number of calls they received for cardiac arrests.

However, the community health issues extend to other areas as well. In just a week, paramedics had to treat about 500 heat exhaustion victims and there were reports of around 60 children locked in cars during the extreme heat. With the combination of all of the ramifications of the heat wave, first responders asserted that their workload had increased tremendously.

The Australian government and people have taken notice of chaotic weather events considering how disastrous 2013 was for them. As the heat continues for them in 2014, attitudes towards energy and environmental policy are expected to change. While the global community has far exceeded a consensus on climate change, nations are forced to catch up with policies that are perpetuated the issue.

Australia has begun to acknowledge climate related issues stemming from the burning of fossil fuels and have started to shift towards renewable energy sources. The potential for solar energy specifically is quite vast in Australia and they are beginning to make better use of it.

Nevertheless, with a considerable amount of outdated policies, there are still regulatory and market barriers that have hindered the renewable energy industry. Therefore, as a heat wave continues to overwhelm Australia, leaders are expected to begin taking substantial steps to establishing a clean energy future.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: ABC News, IB Times, UQ
Photo: Business Review Australia

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