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2023 Australia: Offshore Refugee Cohort & Other News

Australian Offshore Refugee News - April - June  2023
Australian Offshore Refugee News - April - June 2023

April 2023

UN refugee chief condemns Australia’s offshore detention regime and slogans like ‘stop the boats’

Filippo Grandi praises Australia’s refugee reset but is ‘very upset’ by UK moves to mimic its offshore detention policy. “Myopic” policies of deterrence, and slogans like “stop the boats” are ineffective in addressing the movement of asylum seekers across the world, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi has said, in a major speech urging greater cooperation between nations.

Speaking at the University of Melbourne’s Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness, Grandi said: “Far too often, rich countries have a myopic approach to global forced displacement and population movements, focusing overwhelmingly on border controls.”

Grandi said governments rarely responded strategically to the arrival of significant numbers of people forced to move.

“They are seen as either someone else’s problem, or something unmanageable to deal with when it reaches domestic borders or shores. The reality is that simple slogans like ‘stop the boats’ are no more effective a solution to this challenge than those that say ‘let them all in’ (Doherty).


April 2023 The AAT: abolishing a system of indefinite torment

The abolition of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) is a crucial part of Attorney General Mark Dreyfus KC’s integrity platform. In the last decade of Coalition governments it had become overwhelmed by partisan appointments, creating a bedlam of incompetence and politically-motivated decisions.

Many of these Coalition appointments were unqualified, with no legal training or experience: there are rumours that AAT librarians had been asked on occasion to write findings. To pour salt on the bleeding wound, salaries of up to $385,000 were granted these politicians’ friends.

The term “competitive authoritarianism” describes the path from an elected (if flawed) democracy to illiberal democracy or authoritarianism. One of the key ways that an elected government can tilt the playing field is to own the referees.

An egregious act by Tony Abbott’s Coalition government in 2015 was the abolition of the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) and absorption of its role into the AAT. Expert adjudicators with an understanding of the crises faced by asylum seekers were squandered and replaced by people sympathetic to the Abbott government’s western chauvinism. As a result, roughly 70% of the AAT’s cases tested the claims of refugees refused by an immigration department determined to fast track white au pairs and to reject people it defined as “non-white” seeking safety from genocide (Hamilton).


April 2023

Shorten, Mitchell clash over overflow of 'asylum sneakers'

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten and 3AW presenter Neil Mitchell have clashed over visa holders trying to claim refugee status in Australia.

Dubbed "asylum sneakers", people on student and holiday visas are arriving in Australia by plane and claiming they are refugees once already here, reports the Daily Telegraph.

There is an estimated 100,000 clogging the Australian migration system, meaning delays for asylum seekers legitimately waiting overseas. But Shorten, who is now Minister for Government Services and NDIS, told Today the number of people doing this is below pre-pandemic levels and directed the blame on the previous government.

"Forty per cent of the people who are doing this have been here more than two years, so they came under the Libs," Shorten said (Livingstone).


April 2023

This man was almost murdered on Nauru as a refugee. He wants protection in Australia

... People like Rajeskuma Rajagopal do not feel safe on Nauru, so travel at night in groups of at least four other men.

But on February 9, 2021, the Tamil refugee was riding a motorbike alone when he heard a Toyota Harrier revving behind him.

As the car approached, it did not stop but increased speed and knocked him to the ground.

Rajagopal saw five people in the car before the driver changed gear into reverse and drove over him again, dragging him along the road. That’s the last he can remember but health workers familiar with his treatment, who are prevented from speaking publicly due to confidentiality agreements, said he was driven over several times and then kicked repeatedly.

“He was crushed, run over, beaten,” said one person who treated Rajagopal. “He was very lucky to be alive" (Grieve).


April 2023

Outram gets another 18 months as Border Force commissioner

Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram has been reappointed to the top role at the frontline Home Affairs agency, but only until November next year.

A respected former London detective, Outram succeeded Roman Quaedvlieg in 2018 after a period of internal turbulence at the agency that was created after the Australian Customs Service and Immigration’s Border Protection Service were controversially fused together amid an industrial stoush.

“Mr Outram has been with the ABF since 2015, and acted as commissioner from May 2017 before being sworn in as commissioner on May 14, 2018,” home affairs minister Clare O’Neil said.

“He has provided exceptional leadership and stability to the ABF and has brought a sharp focus on driving operational excellence, professionalism, culture and values (Bajkowski).


April 2023

High court ruling casts doubt on hundreds of Australian visa refusals

Hundreds of visa decisions have been thrown into question by a high court ruling that the government cannot “circumvent” the law by setting policies limiting which cases will be considered by the minister.

On Wednesday, a majority of the high court ruled in favour of two appellants who were unable to have their visa refusals overturned due to a home affairs department policy stating the immigration minister would not consider personal intervention unless the department believed that there were “unique or exceptional circumstances”.

All justices except Simon Steward found that departmental decisions in line with the 2016 policy were not consistent with the Migration Act, which gives the power to intervene to the minister “personally”, meaning decisions cannot be delegated to the departmen (Karp).


April 2023

UNHCR reported that on 30 April 2023, there were 84 people left in PNG

UNHCR reported that on 30 April 2023, there were 84 people left in PNG (p. 112). When the arrangement with PNG ended in 31 December 2021, there were 105 people in PNG.

The Department no longer publishes data on the numbers left in PNG. (RCOA 2023).


April 2023

How an Australian mother and son rescued dozens of children from this war-ravaged nation

Dozens of vulnerable children have been evacuated from Afghanistan to Australia in a daring, year-long mission led by a mother and son based in Sydney, with the help of lawyers, community members and two governments (SBSNews 2023).


May 2023

22 May: The Australian Government reports there are 22 people in Nauru

(p. 110 of linked file).


May 2023

Exclusive: UN set to sanction Australia over human rights abuses

Australia is on the verge of becoming the first OECD nation to be placed on a United Nations non-compliance list over its failure to implement a human rights agreement it signed onto more than five years ago (Sadler 2023).


May 2023

Nauru offshore processing to cost Australian taxpayers $485m despite only 22 asylum seekers remaining

Offshore processing on Nauru will cost Australia $485m this year, despite the fact there are just 22 refugees and asylum seekers left at the Pacific Island’s regional processing centre.

Department of Home Affairs officials revealed the new figures at a Senate estimates hearing on Monday evening, but disputed suggestions from the Greens this amounted to a cost of $22m a person.

Officials expect that in the next year no refugees and asylum seekers will remain on Nauru, but maintaining facilities for offshore processing will continue to cost at least $350m a year as a “contingency” to send people in the event of future boat arrivals.

David Pocock blasts Albanese government as it reauthorises Nauru offshore immigration detention Read more

The department’s secretary, Michael Pezzullo, said it was both government policy and its direction to the department to “reduce the population to zero, and transition the facility to an enduring contingency” (Karp, Shepherd 2023).


May 2023

Morrison government paid corrupt businessman millions for offshore processing on Nauru

The former Australian government continued to pay millions of taxpayer dollars to a businessman convicted of corruption to provide offshore processing services on Nauru, even after he had pleaded guilty to bribing Nauruan government officials.

In August 2020 Mozammil Gulamabbas Bhojani was convicted of paying more than $120,000 in bribes to two Nauru government officials, including an MP and government minister, for favourable deals on phosphate mining contracts for his Radiance International group of companies.

But, at the same time, the Radiance International group owned an accommodation block – the Budapest Hotel – in Anabar, in Nauru’s north, which Bhojani’s company was leasing to the Australian government for its offshore processing regime on Nauru (Doherty, Touma 2023).


May 2023

Women sexually assaulted and exploited while under Australia’s care

... One day, she was riding her motorbike home from work when a group of men, including two adults and one adolescent, stopped her and forced her to the ground where they sexually assaulted her.

Her medical documents detailed the graphic sexual assault and sex acts she was forced to perform.

She says that verbal and sexual harassment, such as “sexual innuendos, comments, groping, touching, and intimidation,” were widespread occurrences towards many refugee women and girls residing in Nauru (Vasefi 2023.


May 2023

Desperate PNG refugee attempts self-immolation after years of neglect

Abolfath Gheitasi, had gone to the offices of Chatswood at Waigani in Port Moresby, the supposed service provider for refugees in PNG company around 9.15am Wednesday morning, carrying petrol and a lighter. He had poured the petrol over himself, and inside and outside the building.

Firefighters were called to the building, and after a stand-off, with security and PNG immigration officers, Abolfath eventually handed them the lighter.

“The attempted suicide highlights the desperate circumstances for the 88 refugees and asylum seeker still being held in PNG,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition (Aimn 2023).


May 2023

The Billion Dollar Shack

... “If you look at a map of the Pacific, there's hundreds of islands scattered throughout,” the writer Jack Hitt tells me. “But right there in the center, like a little bellybutton, a little omphalos of the globe, is Nauru.”

Surrounded by vast, empty ocean, the island is one of the most isolated countries on the planet. It’s also one of the smallest. Manhattan is three times larger. It’s an almost perfect circle, an atoll created millions of years ago by volcanic activity deep beneath the ocean.

In the early 20th century, an Australian prospector named Albert Ellis picked up a rock that was being used as a doorstop in his office, a rock that he knew had come from Nauru. At first glance, Ellis thought it was petrified wood. But as he studied the rock more carefully, Ellis realized what it really was: some of the densest, purest phosphate that had ever been seen on the planet.

As Jack Hitt explains, “that awakened in everyone's imagination the idea that Nauru might be this goldmine of what was then a much sought-after chemical for farming.” It was white gold for rich countries thousands of miles away. Over the next few decades, most of the surface of Nauru was strip mined and shipped away, leaving a desolate wasteland in its place. Paradise was no more.

But the Nauruans, who had lived a sustainable subsistence lifestyle for millennia, were suddenly rich. They bought big, luxury cars, even though the tiny island had only one road. With their own land destroyed, they started to import processed, sugary food from factories in Australia to replace their diet of coconuts and fresh seafood. It wasn’t long before Nauru had the highest rate of Type 2 diabetes in the world, afflicting forty percent of the population. (Today, ninety-seven percent of Nauruan men are obese).

Like a sugar high that wears off with a crash, the phosphate eventually ran out. It would take thousands of years to replenish it. But Nauru didn’t have thousands of years. The island quickly went broke. They were rescued, temporarily and unexpectedly, by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of oligarchs in a lawless new Russia. Fantastic quantities of money changed hands in the years after the Iron Curtain fell. Some of it was illicit cash, and it needed to be stored, hidden away from prying eyes. Nauru spotted an opportunity.

Other countries were developing sophisticated mechanisms for secretive, offshore bank accounts. But there was still a risk: someone else’s bank could someday be forced to disclose its crooked accounts to investigators. Nauru decided to one-up the offshore accounts and offer corrupt kingpins the privilege of an offshore bank instead. For $25,000, anyone on the planet could set-up their own entirely independent financial institution, housed in a server on Nauru.

When Hitt visited the island, he tracked down the illicit servers, housed in a ramshackle building with air conditioners sprouting out of every possible opening. Hitt dubbed it “The Billion Dollar Shack.” When he arrived outside (in the island’s only taxi), nobody was there except for a woman sweeping the floors with a broom. “So I did meet the cleaning lady of the emerging global economy,” Hitt says with a smirk (Klaas 2023)


June 2023

What has changed since I became a refugee ambassador, and can I take credit for it?

There are still 8 refugees marooned on PNG - Australia says it has no responsibility for these people and their health and well being at all. There are over 160 people who arrived by boat over 10 years ago and applied under the fast track assessment process for protection. They are still waiting (First Dog)


June 2023

Last refugee on Nauru evacuated as Australian government says offshore processing policy remains

Decention centre on Pacific island ‘ready to receive and process’ any new unauthorised maritime arrivals at an annual cost of $350m (Gillespie, Doherty 2023).


June 2023

After the Morrison government, we hoped for a new way on refugees. Instead it is a brutal business as usual

The last refugee is off Nauru, but Australians will still pay $350m a year to keep the island’s detention centre ready for future arrivals

The Albanese government has announced that after 11 long years, the last refugee has finally been taken off Nauru.

But before you break out the brass band, unfortunately the detention centre gates will remain ready to incarcerate any future refugees arriving by boat. Oh, and 80 refugees remain on PNG. And the $350m bill, paid by you, the Australian taxpayer, will continue each and every year.

After the messy demise of the Morrison government, which made cruelty its own personal calling card, many people hoped for a change in approach (Newhouse 2023).



June 2023

Government must act on pledge for more refugee places as global displacement reaches all-time high

Today’s release of a new global report on forced displacement highlights the need for the Albanese Government to act on Labor’s pledge to increase Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) says.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR today released Global Trends: Forced Displacement 2022, which shows that the number of people forcibly displaced by persecution, war, violence and human rights abuses increased in 2022 by 19.1 million to 108.4 million. These include 35.3 million refugees who have crossed an international border to find safety, 5.4 million people seeking asylum and 62.5 million people displaced within their own countries.

“Around the world, communities in low and middle income countries are playing the largest role in welcoming and supporting refugees, collectively hosting 76% of those with refugee status,” RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said.

“The Australian Labor Party has committed itself to reversing recent cuts to the Refugee and Humanitarian Program and increasing it to 27,000 places a year with 5000 additional places for community sponsorship.

“That Labor commitment has no timeframe attached to it but the alarming growth in forced displacement provides a compelling case for the Albanese Government to act now on its plan to offer more refugee places. (Relief Web 2023).


May 2023


Summary (Full document found at the link)

Recommendation 1 A strategic Humanitarian Program responsive to international needs The offshore component of the Humanitarian Program should be responsive to UNHCR-identified global refugee needs and ways that Australia can strategically contribute to protection needs.

Recommendation 2 Using global leadership opportunities to expand durable solutions and champion meaningful refugee participation The Australian Government should use its global leadership roles in 2023-24 to: champion and support meaningful refugee participation at a national and international level; lead by example by expanding and embedding resettlement and complementary pathways; and reinvigorate global dialogue on the strategic use of resettlement.

Recommendation 3 Progressively expand the Humanitarian Program The Australian Government should plan to expand Australia’s response to global resettlement needs by progressively increasing the size of the Humanitarian Program, including shift the language from a ceiling to quota to facilitate stronger planning and accountability, and increasing access to complementary pathways through the Skilled and Family streams of the Migration Program.

Recommendation 4 Expand and extend the Skilled Refugee Labour Agreement Pilot The SRLAP should be expanded to 500 places in 2023-24, progressively expand its size to meet private sector demand, and transition this from a pilot to an established program within the Migration Program within the next four years.

Recommendation 5 Urgently review the situation of Refugee visa-holders whose resettlement has been significantly delayed The Department of Home Affairs should conduct a review of the situation of all Refugee visa-holders currently overseas whose arrival has been delayed by more than 12 months with a view to renewing efforts to address systemic barriers and developing a targeted communication strategy so that visa- holders understand the status of their case, next steps and the context of travel delays.

Recommendation 6 Ensure that the Program retains its protection focus The Australian Government must ensure the Humanitarian Program retains its protection focus, selecting refugees and humanitarian entrants based foremost on vulnerability and need, rather than consideration of religion, skills, English language ability or any other attribute. Recommendation 7 Increase the quota and processing of SHP applications The Australian Government should increase the Special Humanitarian Program, as part of an overall increase to the Humanitarian Program and increase processing of applications for a SHP visa.

Recommendation 8 Remove restrictions to SHP for proposers who arrived by boat The Australian Government should urgently remove restrictions to the Special Humanitarian Program for proposers who arrived by boat, including those recently granted a Resolution of Status Visa. Recommendation 9 Abolish processing priorities which place boat arrivals at the lowest priority

The Department of Home Affairs should remove the processing priorities under the SHP policy which place boat arrivals at the lowest priority.

Recommendation 10 Increase Processing for the In Country Special Humanitarian Visas The Department of Home Affairs should increase processing and support for people to utilise the In Country Special Humanitarian Visa, especially for those in Afghanistan.



Aim Network 2023, Desperate PNG refugee attempts self-immolation after years of neglect,

Bajkowski, Julian 2023, Outram gets another 18 months as Border Force commissioner, The Mandarin, April 2023,

Doherty, Ben 2023, UN refugee chief condemns Australia’s offshore detention regime and slogans like ‘stop the boats’, The Guardian [online], April 2023,

Doherty, Touma 2023, Morrison government paid corrupt businessman millions for offshore processing on Nauru, The Guardian [online], May 2023,

Gillespie E, Doherty B 2023, Last refugee on Nauru evacuated as Australian government says offshore processing policy remains, The Guardian [online], June 2023,

Grieve,Charlotte 2023, This man was almost murdered on Nauru as a refugee. He wants protection in Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald, April 2023,

Hamilton, Lucy 2023, The AAT: abolishing a system of indefinite torment. The Guardian [online], April 2023,

Karp, Paul 2023, High court ruling casts doubt on hundreds of Australian visa refusals, The Guardian, April 2023,

Karp, Shepherd 2023, Nauru offshore processing to cost Australian taxpayers $485m despite only 22 asylum seekers remaining, The Guardian, May 2023,

Klaas, 2023, The Billion Dollar Shack, The Garden of Forking Paths, 5 May 2023,

Livingstone, Tom 2023, Shorten, Mitchell clash over overflow of 'asylum sneakers,' Nine Now, April 2023,

Newhouse, George 2023, After the Morrison government, we hoped for a new way on refugees. Instead it is a brutal business as usual, The Guardian, 27 June 2023,

Refugee Council of Australia 2023, Offshore processing statistics,


PAYWALL: Sadler, Denham 2023, Exclusive: UN set to sanction Australia over human rights abuses, The Saturday Paper,

Vasefi 2023, Women sexually assaulted and exploited while under Australia’s care, News.Com au 2023,

YosufZaei, Rashida 2023, How an Australian mother and son rescued dozens of children from this war-ravaged nation, SBSNews,

Senate Hansard 2023, LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE, Estimates (Public) Monday, 22 May 2023, CANBERRA,;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22legal%20and%20constitutional%22

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