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2023 Australia: Offshore Refugee Cohort & Other News

Australian Offshore Refugee News - Jan-Mar 2023
Australian Offshore Refugee News - Jan-Mar 2023

January 2023

Will Albanese visit PNG but leave refugees behind?

There are only around 90 refugees and asylum seekers left in PNG from the more than 1000 initially taken to Manus Island in 2013. But they have suffered terribly; many of them are now in urgent need of physical and mental health treatment.

One Iranian refugee was recently hospitalised for over two months with severe mental health problems. Another Bangladeshi refugee, Alamgir, has liver, kidney and dental problems, as well as debilitating mental health issues.

Another African refugee has been chronically ill and regularly hospitalised with a serious gall bladder problem that requires surgery outside of PNG, yet he has been waiting months for treatment.

“The truth is all of them are in a bad way,” said Ian Rintoul spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, “All of them need help. Bodies and souls have been destroyed by Australia’s offshore detention policies.”

Tragically, the Albanese government has been repeating the Morrison government’s excuses, insisting that they have no responsibility for the refugees in PNG, since the Morrison government’s attempt to wash its hands of the refugees with a contract signed in secrecy in 2021 handing them over to PNG.

But that agreement does not absolve Australia of its moral and legal responsibilities. The United Nations Committee Against Torture insists that Australia ‘maintains legal responsibility because [the refugees and asylum seekers] remain under Australia’s effective control’ (Rintoul).


January 2023

Manus refugees urge Labor to abide by policy on medical transfers

Hundreds of refugees previously held by the Australia government in PNG have written to the Home Affairs and Immigration Minister requesting to act urgently to transfer sick refugees and asylum seekers, still in limbo in PNG, to Australia.

There are now less than 100 refugees and asylum seekers in PNG. Letters from refugees now in Australia, US, New Zealand, PNG and France insist that Australia still has responsibility for those who have been left behind in desperate circumstances in PNG.

A number of the men have such serious mental health problems that they are unable to provide intelligible information or informed consent to health providers or refugee organisations regarding their situation.

Despite Labor’s policy document (p127) committing them to “Improve the medical transfer process, establish an Independent Health Advice Panel to provide medical advice and maintain ministerial discretion in all decision making,” Immigration and Home Affairs have turned a deaf ear to requests for urgent medical transfers from PNG (Rintour).


February 2023

Home Affairs boss Mike Pezzullo admits 'human error' allowed Nauru offshore processing instrument to lapse

The head of the Department of Home Affairs says it was to blame for a lapse in Australia's offshore asylum seeker processing policy, despite assuring multiple government ministers the legal instruments needed were in place.

Department secretary Mike Pezzullo told Senate estimates "human error" and a failure to adequately monitor what is known as the "Instrument of Designation" was behind the blunder. The instrument is a key part of Operation Sovereign Borders and is used by the government to send asylum seekers to Nauru.

But when it was first approved by parliament in 2012 it had a 10-year "sunset clause", meaning it needed to be renewed on October 1 last year to remain effective

That date was missed and Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil was not told about it until mid-December 2022, after parliament had risen for the year.

Last week the government rushed through a renewed instrument of designation to remedy the situation.

Mr Pezzullo said that since January 2021 his department had received multiple warnings that the instrument would expire in October 2022.

"However it failed to adequately monitor, track and report on the instrument that designated Nauru as a regional processing country," he said (Hitch).


February 2023

Sahar won a scholarship to study law at uni – but then the Australian government stepped in

When the email arrived, everything changed.

“Congratulations, you have been … ” The rest of the words swam away through tears.

After the confusion of being forced to flee a violent homeland as a child, after the trauma of five years held on Nauru, Sahar Ghasemi had been accepted into university in Australia. She would study law on a full scholarship.

“I was sitting here crying my eyes out, because I had achieved something for myself, Sahar says. “I had been allowed to. It was the greatest feeling.

“As a refugee, I’d always been made to feel that I couldn’t do things; the things that other people were allowed to achieve, they weren’t for me. So for me to be accepted to university … it was everything. I had fought for my future. I couldn’t stop crying.”

But after seven weeks at university in the first semester of 2022 – “the best days of my life,” Sahar says – the Australian government, without warning, rescinded her right to study.

She was forced to quit, her university required to disenrol her, and she has never been allowed back.

‘They tried to make me feel like I was not human’ (Doherty).


February 2023

Refugees on Australian detention island sew lips shut in protest

Australia has used Nauru since July 2013 to detain asylum seekers who travel to Australia by boat. Some were also sent to Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island for processing, with all of them told they would never be allowed to settle in Australia.

The policy has had an extreme effect on refugees and asylum seekers held under its stipulations.

About 150 refugees and asylum seekers are currently in Nauru and PNG, with little to no knowledge of when — or, if ever — they will be resettled

... The two men travelled separately to Australia from Bangladesh in 2013, he said, to seek asylum from persecution in their home country. Their boats were intercepted by the Australian navy and they were eventually sent to Nauru. (Osborn).


February 2023

VIDEO: Thousands of refugees to be granted permanent visas

Nearly 20,000 refugees will soon be able to apply for a permanent visa after the Labor Government fulfilled one of its key election promises. It's reignited debate about which elements of our policy to deter people smugglers are really necessary.

Laura Tingle speaks to Sarah Ferguson.


February 2023

Permanent visas welcome but Labor must end limbo for all refugees

There is no announcement about the fate of the 10,000 rejected under Morrison’s fast track refugee assessment process although Labor promised to abolish fast track.

And while the asylum seekers who arrived by boat after July 2013 but were not sent offshore will be eligible for permanent visas, those who were sent offshore but are now in Australia will not.

“While we welcome today’s announcement, Labor must end the limbo for all refugees and asylum seekers,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, “The contradictions in Labor’s policies must be urgently addressed” (Rintoul).


February 2023

Kaldor Centre welcomes pathway to permanency for refugees on temporary protection visas

‘We thank the government for this long-awaited change’, said Centre Director Professor Jane McAdam AO. ‘Temporary protection visas have compounded people’s anxiety, augmenting the distress experienced by those who have fled persecution and other human rights violations. Being separated from family has been a particularly cruel element of Australia’s temporary protection regime and we are pleased that people will now have a pathway to reunite with family members.’

The announcement means that people who have been granted Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs) will have access to permanent protection in Australia through the grant of a Resolution of Status Visa.

This follows recommendations made by the Kaldor Centre in a policy brief last year, which set out detailed proposals for transitioning different cohorts of asylum seekers on to permanent visas. It described temporary protection as ‘an inhumane, unsustainable, and inefficient system that inflicts mental harm and creates costly, bureaucratic burdens.’

Furthermore, it noted that: temporary protection is inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under international refugee and human rights law. Intended to deter people from entering Australia in irregular or unauthorised ways, it discriminates against people on the mode of their arrival and denies access to family reunion. Australia’s approach to temporary protection is also an aberration from international practice. In other countries, temporary protection has generally been conceived as an exceptional, emergency, and time-bound measure.

The human impact of temporary protection was brought to life in the Centre’s award-winning storytelling series, Temporary. Co-created with UNSW’s Centre for Ideas and Guardian Australia, it featured the voices and stories of those directly affected by Australia’s temporary protection regime, offering an intimate understanding of the personal impacts of the policy.

Regrettably, today’s announcement does not provide solutions for those people who arrived in Australia by boat but had their asylum claims rejected under the flawed ‘fast track process’. Significant concerns remain for the several thousand people in this situation, who remain in limbo and have little recourse for appeal. The Centre’s policy brief recommended that people in this cohort also be granted a pathway to permanency in Australia (Kaldor Centre).


February 2023

Defence force ‘surge’ to detect asylum boats in Australia’s northern waters follows visa change

Aircraft surveillance has been boosted and additional ships are on patrol, navy tells Senate estimates. Australia’s defence force has boosted surveillance aircraft and ships to detect possible asylum seeker boats after the Coalition claimed people smugglers would market temporary protection visa changes to asylum seekers.

According to evidence to Senate estimates on Wednesday evening, Defence has provided “surge” support after a request from the Operation Sovereign Borders commander, Rear Admiral Justin Jones.

The shadow home affairs minister, Karen Andrews, has claimed the move could result in an increase in people smuggling, although the government insists no incentive is created because the changes apply only to the legacy caseload and there is “zero chance” of new arrivals being allowed to stay in Australia (Karp).


February 2023

Detain the rage

Labor must be forced to reckon with the suffering it is inflicting on refugees

There was, Indi MP Helen Haines noted, an “excruciating” irony in the fact Labor was seeking to limit debate on a motion relating to offshore detention on the same day that refugee advocate Behrouz Boochani was speaking in Parliament House.

The motion being rushed was to re-designate Nauru as a regional processing country, after the requisite legislation lapsed in October (an “offshore bungle”, according toThe Australian, even as it noted the lapse had no tangible impact on Australia’s ability to send refugees there). The Greens, who yesterday moved to bring the remaining 150 refugees on Nauru and Papua New Guinea to Australia, will seek to disallow the motion, and it seems the teal crossbenchers feel the same way, with several rising to oppose today’s suspension of standing orders. Indeed, just because the bill is largely procedural and likely bipartisan, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth debating. On the contrary, Labor must be forced to reckon with the suffering it is inflicting, each and every day it continues.

That is largely what Boochani has been attempting over the past 24 hours, as he puts the Albanese government to shame over its ongoing policies. The Kurdish-Iranian journalist – who was previously detained on Manus Island before being granted a visa by New Zealand – garnered applause on Q&A last night as he called out the money being wasted on offshore detention, noting that the government had just renewed a $420 million Nauru security contract (so much for that tight budget). Boochani was not taking any of Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones’s excuses about “inherited contracts”. “I met many people in Australia that voted Labor to create some change, but actually we haven’t seen any change,” Boochani said (Withers).


February 2023

Inquiry into the Human rights implications of recent violence in Iran

Commonwealth of Australia 2023


March 2023 We provided health care for children in immigration detention. This is what we found

Australia’s immigration policies allow for indefinite locked detention, including for children and families. Detention is mandatory for people arriving without a valid visa – all those who arrived by boat between 2009 and 2013 were held in Immigration Detention Centres in Australia, or in Australian-contracted detention in Nauru or Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Australian detention numbers peaked in mid-2013, with 2,000 children detained at this time. By mid-2014, the average duration of detention exceeded 400 days.

While the last children were released from locked detention at the end of 2018, Australian law and policy still mandate detention for children arriving without visas. While the government refers to “held” or “locked” “detention”, to be plain, these children were imprisoned for seeking asylum.

Our team has been seeing refugee children for more than 20 years. We have extensive experience in refugee health, forensic medicine and child development, but nothing prepared us for the complexity of looking after these childre (Tosif, Paxton, Graham 2023).


March 2023

A STUDY: Health of children who experienced Australian immigration detention

Shidan Tosif, Hamish Graham, Karen Kiang, Ingrid Laemmle-Ruff, Rachel Heenan, Andrea Smith, Thomas Volkman, Tom Connell, Georgia Paxton

Background Australian immigration policy resulted in large numbers of children being held in locked detention. We examined the physical and mental health of children and families who experienced immigration detention. Methods Retrospective audit of medical records of children exposed to immigration detention attending the Royal Children’s Hospital Immigrant Health Service, Melbourne, Australia, from January 2012 –December 2021. We extracted data on demographics, detention duration and location, symptoms, physical and mental health diagnoses and care provided. Results 277 children had directly (n = 239) or indirectly via parents (n = 38) experienced locked detention, including 79 children in families detained on Nauru or Manus Island. Of 239 detained children, 31 were infants born in locked detention. Median duration of locked detention was 12 months (IQR 5–19 months). Children were detained on Nauru/Manus Island (n = 47/239) for a median of 51 (IQR 29–60) months compared to 7 (IQR 4–16) months for those held in Australia/Australian territories (n = 192/239). Overall, 60% (167/277) of children had a nutritional deficiency, and 75% (207/277) had a concern relating to development, including 10% (27/277) with autism spectrum disorder and 9% (26/277) with intellectual disability. 62% (171/277) children had mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression and behavioural disturbances and 54% (150/277) had parents with mental illness. Children and parents detained on Nauru had a significantly higher prevalence of all mental health concerns compared with those held in Australian detention centres. Conclusion This study provides clinical evidence of adverse impacts of held detention on children’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Policymakers must recognise the consequences of detention, and avoid detaining children and families (PLOS ONE).


March 2023

Australia condemned for indefinitely ‘locking up’ Iranian political dissident

A United Nations panel has called for the immediate release of an Iranian political dissident held in immigration detention by Australia for more than five years and has condemned his indefinite incarceration as arbitrary and unlawful.

The 42-year-old man, referred to by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention as Mr A, is a member of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab community.

Several of his family members in Ahvaz, in south-western Iran, have recently been shot and killed by security forces during the uprising against the Iranian government.

Refugees alleging horrific treatment in Australian detention centres face lengthy court delays

“Mr A is entitled to the right to liberty … the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr A immediately,” the UN panel said.

However, Mr A remains in indefinite detention in Australia – despite no criminal convictions – and on an “involuntary removal pathway”, the Australian government insists (Doherty).


March 2023

Australian government urged to ‘stop playing with people’s lives’ as people returned to detention

Lawyers have called on the Australian government to “stop playing with people’s lives” as it moves to re-detain dozens of people who were released from immigration detention over Christmas.

About 160 people had been released from detention due to a full federal court case ruling that aggregate sentences do not count for the purposes of the Migration Act’s automatic visa-cancellation provisions.

An aggregate sentence refers to when a person is given a single sentence for more than one offence.

Up to 100 people released from immigration detention after Australian government loses court case

Rather than appeal, the Albanese government pushed legislation through parliament restoring its original interpretation. It passed the Senate with the Coalition’s support on Monday despite outcry from refugee and asylum seeker groups about its retrospective provisions (Doherty, Hurst, Karp).


March 2023

Refugees alleging horrific treatment in Australian detention centres face lengthy court delays

Fifty refugees who allege they endured horrific treatment in now-defunct South Australian detention centres are facing vast and unexplained delays to their cases against the government, which threaten to languish in the courts for more than a decade.

Documents filed in the 50 cases before the South Australian district court paint a disturbing picture about the treatment of detainees in the Port Hedland, Woomera and Baxter onshore detention centres in the early 2000s (Knaus).


March 2023

David Pocock says offshore asylum seekers ‘victims of our collective political failure’ as evacuation bill defeated

Independent senator David Pocock has spoken out against the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, arguing that for two decades Australia had denied them basic humanitarian rights.

Pocock, who made the comments in support of a proposed law to bring to Australia about 150 refugees and asylum seekers held offshore, said those remaining on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea were “victims of our collective political failure”.

The Evacuation to Safety bill, introduced by the Greens senator Nick McKim, was defeated in the Senate on Wednesday morning by 24 votes to 12, with the Greens, Pocock and Lidia Thorpe in favour and the Coalition, Labor and One Nation opposed.

The bill proposed moving refugees and asylum seekers held offshore to Australia while they await resettlement in a third country, likely New Zealand or the US. All those moved to Australia would be required to pass an Asio security assessment.

Late on Tuesday, the government-controlled legal and constitutional affairs legislation committee said offshore detention was damaging and “cannot be allowed to continue”, but said the bill should not be supported (Doherty & Karp).


March 2023 Gillian Triggs: Saving lives at sea

Fear, desperation, and persecution push people to take great risks and embark on perilous sea journeys. Unless conflicts are resolved and safer legal routes provided, such risky movements of refugees and migrants at sea will continue.

Too often these movements lead to many going missing and to tragic loss of lives. In 2022, more than 159,000 persons attempted to crossthe Mediterranean Sea and more than 1,950 people died or went missing. In Asia, more than 3,500 Rohingya refugees attempted deadly sea journeys from Bangladesh and Myanmar, leaving more than 340 of them dead or missing. Along the sea routes in the Caribbean at least 320 people were accounted as dead or missing in 2022. But figures do not tell the full picture. These figures are incomplete as many missing or dead also go unreported and they cannot convey the pain and anguish of family members desperately waiting for news of their loved ones.

These movements do not affect only the Andaman Sea and Pacific Ocean in Asia-Pacific, the Mediterranean or the Caribbean Sea but many other waterways in other parts of the world, from the Atlantic, the Channel and North Sea coasts of Europe and North Africa, the Gulf of Aden and coastlines of the African continent, or other waterways in the Americas. This is a global issue which requires better responses and cooperation among States and other actors.

These losses of lives are avoidable, and the primacy of human life needs to guide all actions and remain at the forefront of decision-making. This should always be the paramount priority. Rescue of persons and vessels in distress at sea is not only a humanitarian and moral imperative but also a well-recognised obligation under international law of the sea (Triggs 2023).


March 2023 RCOA helps launch the first Parliamentary Friends of Refugees Group

The Refugee Council of Australia has recently achieved an exciting win for refugee advocacy–the establishment of the first-ever cross-partisan Parliamentary Friends of Refugees Group.

This group was formed from a multi-party collective of MPs and Senators, who share our vision of creating a country that is more welcoming to refugees. Members of this newly formed group will help promote fairer, more humane treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum.

We are pleased to announce the new group’s co-chairs:

  • Kate Thwaites MP, Labor

  • the Hon Dan Tehan MP, Liberal

  • Senator Nick McKim, Greens

  • Zoe Daniel MP, Independent

In their new role, these politicians have reached out to other MPs and Senators, inviting them to join. At the time of publication, 50 members have joined.


Commonwealth of Australia 2023, Inquiry into the Human rights implications of recent violence in Iran, February 2023,

Doherty, Ben, Hurst Daniel & Karp, Paul 2023, Australian government urged to ‘stop playing with people’s lives’ as people returned to detention, The Guardian [online], February 2023,

Doherty, Ben 2023, Sahar won a scholarship to study law at uni – but then the Australian government stepped in, The Guardian [online], February 2023,

Doherty, Ben 2023, Australia condemned for indefinitely ‘locking up’ Iranian political dissident, The Guardian [online], March 2023,

Doherty, Ben & Karp, Paul 2023, David Pocock says offshore asylum seekers ‘victims of our collective political failure’ as evacuation bill defeated, The Guardian [online], March 2023,

Hitch, Georgia2023, Home Affairs boss Mike Pezzullo admits 'human error' allowed Nauru offshore processing instrument to lapse, ABC News [online], February 2023,

Kaldor Centre 2023, Kaldor Centre welcomes pathway to permanency for refugees on temporary protection visas, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law [online], February 2023,

Karp, Paul 2023, Defence force ‘surge’ to detect asylum boats in Australia’s northern waters follows visa change, The Guardian [online], February 2023,

Knaus, Christopher 2023, Refugees alleging horrific treatment in Australian detention centres face lengthy court delays, The Guardian [online], March 2023,

Refugee Council of Australia 2023, RCOA helps launch the first Parliamentary Friends of Refugees Group, March 2023,

Rintoul, Ian 2023, Manus refugees urge Labor to abide by policy on medical transfers, Refugee Action Coalition News, January 2023,

Rintoul, Ian 2023, Will Albanese visit PNG but leave refugees behind?, Refugee Action Coalition News, January 2023,

Rintoul, Ian 2023, Permanent visas welcome but Labor must end limbo for all refugees, Refugee Action Coalition News, February 2023,

Tingle, Laura 2023, VIDEO: Thousands of refugees to be granted permanent visas, ABC News [online], February 2023.

Shidan Tosif, Hamish Graham, Karen Kiang, Ingrid Laemmle-Ruff, Rachel Heenan, Andrea Smith, Thomas Volkman, Tom Connell, Georgia Paxton, 2023, Health of children who experienced Australian immigration detention, PLOS ONE, March 2023,

Tosif, Paxton, Graham 2023, We provided health care for children in immigration detention. This is what we found, The Conversation,20 March 2023,

Triggs, Gillian 2023, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW [online], March 2023,

Withers, Rachel 2023, Detain the Rage, The Monthly [online], February 2023,

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