2017: Year in review

2 January

Refugee advocates reported that PNG police assaulted two Iranian refugees detained on Manus Island on New Year’s Eve 2016. Both men suffered several broken bones and facial injuries as a result of the attack. In response the the allegations, PNG Government Minister Ron Knight defended the accused police officers, claiming that the officers used ‘reasonable force’.

13 January

The annual report from Human Rights Watch, which reviews the human rights status of more than 90 countries, highlighted Australia’s offshore detention policy as a key human rights concern highlighted Australia’s offshore detention policy as a key human rights concern, stating that the policy is dangerous and does not work.

16 January 

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee was called upon to investigate the circumstances, treatment, and processes surrounding Faysal Ahmed’s death on Manus Island on Christmas Eve 2016. The investigation formed part of the Committee’s inquiry into serious allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers held in Australian offshore immigration facilities.

31 January

The Department of Immigration has paid compensation to nine Save the Children workers who were sacked and deported from Nauru after being falsely accused of deliberately encouraging detainees to protest and self-harm.

3 February

Iranian refugee Loghman Sawari, who fled from Manus Island to seek asylum in Fiji, has been arrested and deported back to Papua New Guinea. He was detained by police while travelling with his lawyer to meet immigration officials in Suva. The UNHCR tried to stop Loghman’s return to PNG after expressing grave concerns about his welfare.  

6 February

A 37-week pregnant Kuwaiti asylum seeker with pre-eclampsia was flown to Australia to receive urgent medical attention. The Nauru Health Department had previously claimed that proper care was being provided to the woman, however Doctors for Refugees advised that Nauru medical services were unable to provide sufficient treatment for her condition, resulting in her being brought to Australia.

9 February

PNG authorities forced the deportation of at least one asylum seeker housed on Manus Island and attempted to deport another, who ran away. Federal Attorney-General George Brandis claimed that both men’s claims for refugee status were rejected and PNG was legally obligated to return the men to their country of origin. Greens senator Nick McKim urged for the deportations to be stopped on the grounds that both men’s appeal processes had not yet been exhausted.

9 February

An asylum seeker detained on Manus Island with a serious heart condition was transferred to Australia for medical treatment after cardiologists confirmed he would die without urgent medical care. The man was diagnosed with ventricular premature complex after experiencing episodes of palpitations, chest pains and dizziness over eight months. His treatment in Australia comes amid reports that he collapsed and took a significant time to regain consciousness.

14 February

A Greens Senate motion highlighting the UNHCR’s concerns over forced deportations from Manus Island was defeated by 49 to 8 votes, prompting serious fears that asylum seekers could be deported without warning nor access to fair appeal processes.

15 February

A coroner’s inquest into Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei’s death on Manus Island in August 2014 has ruled that emergency medical evacuation procedures for detainees at the Manus Island centre were “ambiguous and deficient” at the time of Hamid’s death. The Department of Immigration’s then chief medical officer Paul Douglas told the Brisbane inquest that the Papua New Guinea hospital that was meant to care for sick detainees was inspected but not audited as meeting the required medical standards.

16 February

A global healthcare audit has supported allegations that International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), the healthcare provider at Australia’s offshore detention centres, failed to undertake police checks for all medical staff on Manus Island and lost a working-with-children check for one employee. The audit disclosed that IHMS had been fined $300,000 for healthcare failings between July and December 2015, and a series of recommendations were made to improve healthcare service management by the immigration department.

22 February

Amnesty International released a report labelling Australia’s offshore detention policy as “inhumane” and “abusive”. The report, which analysed human-rights abuses in almost 160 countries, has called for the abolishment of Australia’s offshore detention ‘regime’ for the second straight year.

27 February

The Guardian reported that the Australian Immigration Department sent letters to thousands of asylum seekers on the ‘fast-track’ for refugee determination advising that they will lose welfare payments, access to Medicare, and their right to claim asylum unless they submit complex applications for protection within 14-60 days. The move placed increased demand and stress on legal services that were already struggling to assist with high volumes of asylum applications.

2 March

The Federal Court issued an injunction to stop the Immigration Department from transferring a man with dwarfism from Port Moresby to the Manus Island detention centre amid fears his return would result in death serious injury to the man. He was held at the Manus centre for more than three years before he was transferred to Port Moresby by the Immigration Department for medical treatment, following pressure from medical advocacy organisation Doctors for Refugees.

3 March

An asylum seeker advocacy group reported that four boats carrying asylum seekers from south and south-east Asia, including infants and children, had been brought to Darwin. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton dismissed the claims, instead telling media that a number of illegal fishermen were detained. The Guardian Australia confirmed that The Department of Immigration were holding people at a hotel near Darwin airport.

23 March

The Federal Government denied entry to more than 500 Syrian and Iraqi refugees over the last year because they failed security checks. Some of those rejected were part of 12,000 Syrian refugees being resettled in Australia.

27 March

The United Nations refugee agency confirmed that at least 850 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru will be resettled in the US. The deal was first announced in 2016, however US President Donald Trump later labelled it a “bad deal” during a phone call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, leading to speculation that the settlement would not proceed.

31 March

The Manus Island detention centre’s controversial healthcare provider, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), has been forced to leave the island after it was found to be practising medicine unlicensed. The company was replaced by staff from a PNG company, Paradise, which is providing only basic and emergency medical care.

8 April

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that the Manus Island detention centre would close by the end of 2017 during a press conference held in Papua New Guinea.

14 April

An armed group of PNG locals fired shots whilst attempting to break into the facility to attack the men inside. Personnel from the naval base where the detention centre is located were reportedly among the attackers. One asylum seeker was injured by a thrown rock during the attack, however on 22 May, the Immigration department confirmed that 9 people had been injured . Immigration Minister Peter Dutton alleged that the shooting occurred after local people witnessed asylum seekers leading a five-year-old boy towards the centre. The local police commander, Inspector David Yapu, denied Dutton’s account. Inspector Yapu instead blamed the incident on drunken soldiers, accusing members of the PNG Defence Force of “unethical and unacceptable behaviour”. Video footage of the shooting was later released on 18 May.

21 April

A seven-month senate inquiry into allegations of abuse on Manus Island and Nauru concluded that the Australian government must take responsibility for its offshore processing centres. The report arising from the inquiry labelled the federal government’s offshore processing policy as “disturbing”, adding that the Department of Immigration had failed to deliver the policy in a safe and transparent manner. The report led human rights groups to demand the immediate closure of both centres.

26 April

A nine-year-old girl held in the Christmas Island detention centre for 12 months was awarded a settlement by the Immigration Department over claims that her physical and mental health deteriorated during her time in detention.

21 May

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced that 7,500 asylum seekers living in Australia must lodge their applications for refugee status by 1 October 2017 or be cut off from Government payments and face deportation from Australia.

14 June

The Australian government and its offshore detention contractors were ordered to pay more than $70 million in compensation to nearly 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers for illegally detaining them in dangerous conditions on Manus Island. This settlement was the result of a class-action brought by Slater and Gordon on behalf of 1,905 refugees and asylum seekers detained on the island.

21 June

A refugee in the Manus Island detention centre suffered serious injuries when he was robbed and attacked with knives by a group of men, believed to be PNG locals. Refugee advocates have called for the man to be brought to Australia for medical treatment. Another man was also robbed at knife-point on the same day.

5 July

Refugees on Manus Island were warned that they will jeopardise their chances for resettlement in the United States if they refuse to move to a new transit centre near the township of Lorengau once the Manus centre closes.

24 July

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, released a statement accusing Australia of failing to follow through on its promise to settle refugees currently detained on Manus Island and Nauru with their families in Australia. Grandi said that the UNHCR was ‘misled’ by the Australian government as they were assured that their assistance with the relocation of refugees to the US was “on the clear understanding that vulnerable refugees with close family ties in Australia would ultimately be allowed to settle there”. The UNHCR was subsequently informed that Australia refused to accept these refugees, leaving them with only three options: remaining in offshore detention, returning to their country of origin, or being transferred to Cambodia or the United States.

30 July

Two men were seriously injured in two separate machete attacks on Manus Island. A 27-year-old Sudanese refugee had his leg cut with a machete by locals inside a guest house in the main town of Lorengau, while a 27-year-old Iranian asylum seeker had his wrist cut with a knife when he was attacked and robbed on the street.

1 August

Dozens of people seeking asylum on Manus Island have come together in a peaceful protest following power cuts at the largest compound in Manus detention centre to tell the Australian government to, ‘stop pressuring people to live in PNG’ (Behrouz Boochani).

5 August

A Nauruan security guard has been charged and sacked after physically assaulting a 27-year-old Bangladeshi refugee he was employed to protect.

7 August

An Iranian-Kurdish refugee, Hamed Shamshiripour, becomes the fifth death on Manus Island, after being found in a jungle near refugee accommodation. Reports demonstrated that the Australian Border Force knew of Shamshiripour’s deteriorating mental health for more than a year. This followed with repeated calls by the men on Manus that they were unsafe.

14 August

Amendments to the secrecy provisions in Section 42 of the Australian Border Force Act 2015, which initially prosecuted staff with two years imprisonment (including teachers, social workers, cleaners and security guards) for revealing information on alleged abuses of people seeking asylum, have now been removed unless it ‘threatens national security, defence or criminal investigations’. Healthcare workers had been exempt since October 2016. The amendment was made in an attempt to avoid a High Court challenge.

21 August

Nearly 50 refugees and people seeking asylum on Nauru, including three women requesting to terminate their pregnancies have been refused for overseas medical treatment in defiance of doctors’ recommendations who have stated that there are a variety of conditions that cannot be performed on the island. Since abortions are illegal on Nauru, women are being denied the right to end their pregnancy. Since July, the Department of Immigration & Border Protection mandated that all medical transfers must be approved by the Nauru hospital overseas medical referral committee rather than Border Force and International Health and Medical Services (IHMS). Staff say that this is a political effort to obstruct medical transfers.

6 September

A judge has approved a $70 million compensation pay out for current and former Manus Island refugees and people seeking asylum over illegal detention and dangerous conditions. This was part of Australia’s largest human rights class action settlement in June which included 1,923 members in a 166-page statement. Behrouz Boochani stated that, ‘refugees have never been happy with this amount because it cannot cover all of the suffering of four years being in prison for no reason’.

9 September

The Victorian government, led by premier Daniel Andrews, announced a $600,000 accommodation and basic living package after the Turnbull government cut welfare payments to over 100 people seeking asylum within Australia. This group was moved to a ‘final departure Bridging E Visa’. The package included a housing fund, basic food, medical, clothing, transport expenses and funding for caseworkers.

13 September

The families of the 50 Iraqi and Iranian people seeking asylum killed in the 2010 Christmas Island boat crash have lost a class action. The NSW Supreme Court ruled that the Government did not have duty of care to them because it had no control over the primitive nature of the vessel or of those controlling it, had no control over the weather, and did not send the boat out to sea.

19 September

The Australian government has offered up to $25,000 to Rohingya refugees who agree to return to danger in Myanmar, which had experiencing a series of militaristic ethnic cleansing campaigns against the Muslim minority.

26 September

25 people on Manus and 27 on Nauru become the first set refugees flown to the U.S following the resettlement deal of up to 1,250 refugees in 2016 between Malcolm Turnbull and then President, Barack Obama. Those resettled will be assisted with housing, physical and mental healthcare, English lessons, enrolment of children in schools and employment.

1 October

A 32-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil man becomes the sixth death on Manus and ninth overall death in offshore detention, ruled by suicide.

11 October

Refugees on Manus have been offered the chance to move to Nauru as medicines, food and other service are diminished close to the October 31 closure of Manus detention centre. Hundreds have refused to leave and warned of their own safety.

31 October

Peaceful protests continue as the Manus detention centre closes as food, water, shelter, power and medication are cut off. More than 600 men have refused to leave the centre in fear of their safety. Greens Senator Nick McKim visited the facility and joined the protest in an escalating humanitarian emergency with claims that the new accommodation facilities were not ready for the men.

31 October

Senior doctor Dr. Nick Martin, who is the most senior official deployed on Nauru, has spoken publicly about a series of medical failures and clinical injustice by the Australian Government in its care of refugees and people seeking asylum. Martin states that evacuation deadlines set by him and his staff were frequently breached and that delays were ultimately the responsibility of the Australian Government. The Greens later accused them of stripping the men from essential mental health medications.

1 November

UNHCR backs up reports that all three Lorengau accommodation units are not ready for more than 600 detainees from the closed Manus detention centre. Nat Jit Lam, regional representative for the UNHCR said that heavy machinery was still on the ground and fences were still being constructed.

2 November

Photos posted by Behrouz Boochani shows some men on Manus digging into the ground in an effort to find fresh water as detainees share the remaining food and supplies left behind.

3 November

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, offers to help Australia resolve the humanitarian crisis on Manus and reiterates the nation’s offer to accept up to 150 of the detainees. On November 5, Malcolm Turnbull declined the long-standing offer. The UN also shared concerns about the welfare, safety and wellbeing of the men and called upon the Australian Government to restore services and provide protection.

9 November

The Papua New Guinea court decision rejected bids to restore basic services to the Manus detention centre as the PNG Government warns the men that they have 48 hours to leave the site or be removed by force. Fences around the facility were subsequently taken down, placing the men at risk of danger.

10 November

As media access to the detention centre has been tightly controlled, footage from GetUp! shows blocked toilets and filthy bathroom facilities with no running water and men sleeping outside on folding tables in sweltering conditions. It also shows wheelly bins used to catch and store water for drinking and cooking.

13 November

Immigration officials arrived at the Manus Island detention centre and destroyed water supplies and makeshift shelters in an effort to pressure the 379 men inside to leave the facility. Police have said they would not forcibly remove the men still in the centre and would allow voluntary transfers to continue despite previous threats of force.

23 November

Papua New Guinea policy have removed some of the men who have been refusing to leave the decommissioned Manus detention centre to alternative accommodation.

1 December

The Australian Government has pushed back on requests to medically treat Manus Island refugees and people seeking asylum, as claimed by the Australian Medical Association. Peter Dutton promised the AMA that the group he would act immediately on improving healthcare services on Manus as well as the flow of information on the health of people seeking asylum.

11 December

Locals have made death threats against the men on Manus Island at the new accommodation, in video evidence which documents four local men who arrived at their accommodation and threatened them at the main gate of the West Haus accommodation compound.

15 December

Almost 200 refugees will leave Manus and Nauru for the U.S as early as January. This includes 130 people from Nauru and 60 people from Manus. This will be the second group of refugees to resettle in the U.S since 54 people left in September.