Students from Sydney’s Newtown High School of the Performing Arts give Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott a tough question time that he was evidently poorly prepared to answer with grace. The clip begins with Abbott giving weak environmental advice (“plant a tree… but don’t raise taxes”). He then faces questions about why he opposes gay marriage and his inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. Flustered and annoyed, he resorts to his infamous sexism: “Let’s have a bloke’s question, OK?”

Working off the cuff and under estimating Australia’s youth, the Prime Minister is clearly out of his depth.

Since the 1990s Australian law has recognised sexual persecution as grounds for refugee asylum. Still, applicants are forced to go through a protracted process of proving their “gayness.” This excellent video features University of Sydney researcher and activist Senthorun Raj telling the story of Ravi, a Bangladeshi asylum seeker, who was forced not just to establish his sexuality, but to defend his commitment to his queerness. Ravi’s problem was that he was not “visibly” gay in the way the law expected. Yet refuge law on persecution is not simply about looks or physical persecution. Raj writes:

LGBTIQ persecution does not always involve physical violence. Persecution can manifest in persisting psychological abuse, coerced concealment, the inability to subsist, or systemic discrimination that is legitimated/ tolerated by the state. 

In the video, Ravi notes that while his first sexual encounter with a man was consensual it was not pleasurable. This is part of sexuality: we can be attracted to people and not necessarily always enjoy sex equally with everyone. Ravi had also had sex with a woman in the past. This undermined his case as a gay man in the eyes of the Refugee Tribunal. They did not believe that Ravi had “made up his mind” about being gay because of this prior experience.

As Raj points out, sexuality is fluid. Some people can be gay and yet still have had sexual experiences with the opposite gender, or they can gay and not have slept with many people, and you can be gay and not necessarily have enjoyed all your sexual encounters. This works the same for heterosexual people, and yet this somehow doesn’t invalidate their heterosexuality.

This is such an important video to explore the sociology of refugee law and the intersections between migration and queer theory. The story is illustrated wonderfully by Australian artist on Tumblr, Sam Wallman (penerasespaper).

UNHCR News Story: Zaatari: A Day In The Life trailer by UNHCR on Flickr.

120,000 displaced people live in Zaatari.

Deeply affecting TED talk about the dangers of being a refugee from North Korea, by Hyeonseo Lee. She speaks of going through an identity crisis, of learning three languages to help her move between countries, and the perilous journey she made twice - once to leave as a child, and a second time moving through China and Laos to help her family escape North Korea. She ends by reflecting on the power of kindness from the international community.

The man Lee references in her talk is Australian Dick Stolp, with whom she was later reunited by the SBS show Insight.

Video Source: TEDtalksDirector

Refugees Not Allowed “The Dignity” To Work in Australia

Last month, 400 asylum seekers were released from detention centres in Darwin, Australia, on “bridging visas.” An estimated 200 of them came to Melbourne. Under the Government’s “no advantage” mandate, these asylum seekers must now find their own accommodation. Many of them have moved into aged care homes, former convents and student flats. Those lucky enough to already have family in Australia can stay with family members. The precariousness of these asylum seekers’ lives is compounded not just by their temporary and restrictive visas and their temporary lodgings, but also by the fact that they are not allowed to work. Instead, they must live off basic welfare payments. This might go on for years, while their applications for permanent residency are under review.

This not only greatly disadvantages refugees economically, but it further delays their on-the-job skills training necessary to get stable employment later on. Community welfare and refugee advocates point out the injustice of this arrangement. Senior Manager of refugee programs at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Hutch Hussein, says:

That will pose some strain on our services. We hope that people will know the services to come to within the community. I know that the sector is bracing itself for that. It’s a difficult time but it also presents a challenge to the sector to demonstrate the need, and reinforce that, regardless of visa status, all our clients are humans who really want the dignity of work and the dignity of services.

Photo and Information Source: SBS News.

doctorswithoutborders:

Photo: Looted and burned houses in Pinga after fighting between armed groups caused the majority of the town’s population—together with many of MSF’s Congolese staff—to flee the area in October. DRC 2012 © MSF
Violence in North Kivu, DRC, Displaces Thousands, Forces Majority of MSF Personnel to Evacuate
Active fighting has hit the town of Pinga in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) once again, forcing 20,000 inhabitants and the majority of Congolese personnel employed by MSF to flee for the second time in six weeks.
Armed groups have clashed in the last few days, causing widespread panic and alarm in the area. Fearing for their lives, people grabbed whatever they could carry and ran into the surrounding forests. While displaced from their homes and villages, people’s access to health care is extremely limited. Some of those wounded in the fighting were brought to the MSF-run hospital 50 kilometers [about 31 miles] away in Mweso where doctors treated 24 people for violent trauma. Twelve more managed to reach the Mpeti health center 18 kilometers [about 11 miles] away from Pinga.
“What we see in Pinga is the tip of the iceberg,” said Grace Tang, MSF head of mission. “This kind of violence and mass displacement is happening throughout the province of North Kivu. We’re trying to respond as best we can in very difficult and challenging circumstances.”
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doctorswithoutborders:

Photo: Looted and burned houses in Pinga after fighting between armed groups caused the majority of the town’s population—together with many of MSF’s Congolese staff—to flee the area in October. DRC 2012 © MSF

Violence in North Kivu, DRC, Displaces Thousands, Forces Majority of MSF Personnel to Evacuate


Active fighting has hit the town of Pinga in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) once again, forcing 20,000 inhabitants and the majority of Congolese personnel employed by MSF to flee for the second time in six weeks.

Armed groups have clashed in the last few days, causing widespread panic and alarm in the area. Fearing for their lives, people grabbed whatever they could carry and ran into the surrounding forests. While displaced from their homes and villages, people’s access to health care is extremely limited. Some of those wounded in the fighting were brought to the MSF-run hospital 50 kilometers [about 31 miles] away in Mweso where doctors treated 24 people for violent trauma. Twelve more managed to reach the Mpeti health center 18 kilometers [about 11 miles] away from Pinga.

“What we see in Pinga is the tip of the iceberg,” said Grace Tang, MSF head of mission. “This kind of violence and mass displacement is happening throughout the province of North Kivu. We’re trying to respond as best we can in very difficult and challenging circumstances.”

The Republic of Mali, located in Western Africa, is experiencing a humanitarian crisis as thousands of people flee extremist violence. A military coup forced President Amadou Toumani Toure out of office in March. Interim President Dioncounda Traore was sworn into leadership in April but his appointment was met with violent political resistance. Two armed groups have formed an uneasy alliance to take control of the Northern region of Mali. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamist insurgent group Ansar Dine hold tenuous control over locals, using torture and other forms of severe punishment, such as amputating hands of suspected thieves and reportedly stoning a couple who had a child out of wedlock. The New York Times reports that the groups are having trouble providing basic services for locals, including electricity and food.

In recent weeks, over 90,000 people have been forced to the Mauritania-Mali border in search of asylum and medical aid. They are living in overcrowded refugee camps. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that 53,000 Malians have fled to Niger and 96,000 to Mauritania. 

Photos via Top News Today, Africa in Transition.

doctorswithoutborders:

Sudanese Refugees Battle To Endure Disease and Desperation in Yida An aerial views of the Yida camps, where some 60,000 Sudanese refugees are seeking sanctuary just 12 miles inside the borders of South Sudan, and where mortality rates for children and adults alike are well above emergency thresholds. Having fled aerial bombardments and longstanding deprivation, they found in Yida a sprawling camp short on resources and services and offering living conditions that have worsened dramatically with the onset of the rainy season. Photographer John Stanmeyer of VII Photo is in Yida this week, and captured the following images of people in dire need of assistance, enduring circumstances that are already claiming, according to epidemiological data, the lives of more than five children each day. “The number of children dying in Yida is appalling,” said André Heller Pérache, MSF head of mission in South Sudan, earlier this month.Photo: South Sudan 2012 © John Stanmyer/VII
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doctorswithoutborders:

Sudanese Refugees Battle To Endure Disease and Desperation in Yida

An aerial views of the Yida camps, where some 60,000 Sudanese refugees are seeking sanctuary just 12 miles inside the borders of South Sudan, and where mortality rates for children and adults alike are well above emergency thresholds.

Having fled aerial bombardments and longstanding deprivation, they found in Yida a sprawling camp short on resources and services and offering living conditions that have worsened dramatically with the onset of the rainy season. Photographer John Stanmeyer of VII Photo is in Yida this week, and captured the following images of people in dire need of assistance, enduring circumstances that are already claiming, according to epidemiological data, the lives of more than five children each day. “The number of children dying in Yida is appalling,” said André Heller Pérache, MSF head of mission in South Sudan, earlier this month.

Photo: South Sudan 2012 © John Stanmyer/VII

LEIGH SALES: Do you - I’m asking you though, not about the Government. I’m asking: do you accept that it’s legal to come to Australia to seek asylum by any means - boat, plane - that it is actually legal to seek asylum?

TONY ABBOTT: I think that people should come to Australia through the front door, not through the back door. If people want a migration outcome, they should go through the migration channels.

LEIGH SALES: That’s an answer to the question if I asked you: how do you think people should seek asylum?, it’s not an answer to the question: is it legal to seek asylum?

TONY ABBOTT: And Leigh, it’s the answer I’m giving you because these people aren’t so much seeking asylum, they’re seeking permanent residency. If they were happy with temporary protection visas, then they might be able to argue better that they were asylum seekers, but obviously the people who are coming to Australia by boat, they want permanent residency; that’s what they want and this government has given the people smugglers a business model by putting permanent residency on the table. And even though the Government has adopted just one of the Howard Government’s successful policies, it won’t adopt temporary protection visas or the willingness to turn boats around where it’s safe to do so.
LEIGH SALES: Do you think that the nature of politics allows politicians to be a little bit free with the facts in their statements just as part of the game of politics?

TONY ABBOTT: I certainly think that we had an example today in the Parliament of the Prime Minister caught out misleading the Parliament, but typically of this prime minister she just tries to brazen her way through it by refusing to answer the question. She said …

LEIGH SALES: But how about - speaking of answering the question, how about you? I mean, what do you think? Are you absolutely scrupulous about making sure what you say in public is accurate?

One of the best political interviews I’ve seen this year. Leigh Sales grills Opposition Leader Tony Abbott about being “loose with the truth”. Watch the whole thing - it’s electrifying.

Via 730 Report, ABC.

This article was originally posted on my blog, The Other Sociologist.

Australia’s refugee policies have been increasingly problematic since the 2001 lead up to the Federal election, which was focused on “the problem of boat people” and the so-called “Tampa Boat Crisis”. A new program that links asylum seekers with Australian families is causing some controversy, but it promises to be a more humane alternative to off shore detention of refugees.

In August 2011, the media beamed images of refugees being rescued off an overcrowded, sinking fishing vessel that was stranded six hours away from one of Australia’s offshore territories, Christmas Island. The Tampa was the ship that answered their distress call for rescue.

The then-Liberal government and mainstream media interpreted the images of women and children seemingly being plunged into the sea for rescue as proof that people smugglers were manufacturing sympathy for people seeking to enter Australia under a refugee status. Sociologist Katharine Betts argues that support for immigration had been decreasing steadily since the late 1980s whilst support for border control had been rising. The Tampa crisis seemed to intensify public anxiety about border protection. Australian sociologist Peter Gale argued that the subsequent public debates were bound up with racist fears of Muslim migrants.  Other advocates and academics further note that such xenophobia intensified after the September 11 attacks in the USA(Betts disputes such assertions, arguing that the Tampa debate reflects public desire for national cohesion.) 

Anti-refugee sentiment also centred around people smugglers enabling “queue jumpers” - that is, migrants who were not following protocol in seeking asylum via the legal methods. Studies find that this vexing argument continues to hold sway with public perception in the present day, despite the fact that Australia does not always have an embassy in war torn or conflict-afflicted countries where people can go and apply for asylum. A survey of 1,000 Australians undertaken for the United Nations Refugee Agency was released yesterday. It finds that whilst many people have some sympathy for refugees, they also hold highly negative views of them as “queue jumpers” and “boat people”.

Public commentators contributing to the hyperbole surrounding Australia’s immigration policies regarding “boat people” fundamentally ignored the fact that only a tiny minority of people enter Australia in unauthorised boats. The Australian Bureau of Statics shows that in the 2001-2002 period, Australia’s population was 19.7 million, which included a net migration growth of 133,700 people. Of this group, only 2,400 people arrived without authorisation. Also in 2001, half the people who entered Australia without the required documentation arrived by plane and overstayed their temporary visas (usually students or people on holidays).

All nations police their borders and exercise the right to screen potential migrants and asylum seeker applications. Nevertheless, over the past decade, both the Liberal and Labor governments have subsequently struggled to manage asylum visa processing in a humane way. These two most recent Australian governments have invested in off shore processing of refugees. This effectively means locking asylum seekers in detention centres off the mainland, for protracted periods of time that drag out over several months. The Australian Human Rights Commission President reports that in 2011, there were 4,000 people in detention. Seventy percent of these people had been detained for over six months and the rest had been in detention for over 12 months. Asylum seekers wait for their asylum applications to be processed in limbo. As many asylum seekers have first-hand experience with war and trauma, this experience often leads to further psychological stress, particularly for children. Three men committed suicide in the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney in 2010. Following an inquest, the New South Wales Coroner found that detention centre was “chaotic”, as staff did not follow proper procedures. Staff were found to be be “careless” or “ignorant”, while one staff member engaged in “deplorable” treatment of the asylum seekers entrusted to their care. Asylum seekers in other Australian detention centres as well as overseas have undertaken hunger strikes in protest of their treatment whilst in detention and awaiting visa processing.
The latest refugee program currently being trialled by the Labor government is no less controversial, but it promises to be more ethical. While detention centres continue to operate off and on shore, the current program involves Australian families volunteering to host asylum seekers in their homes for a six week period, in an effort to help integrate newcomers into Australian society. The video below by SBS News provides a brief insight into one of the homes participating in the “asylum home-stay program”. The program is being defended on financial grounds. SBS News reports that the home-stay program costs $AU140 dollars a week plus food, while detention centres cost $A2,600 dollars per person. Only a minority of refugees are currently eliglible for this home-stay program. They are the lucky few who have been allowed to enter Australian society on bridging visas as they seek to find work and permanent housing during the six week program. Around 800 asylum seekers are scheduled to participate in this program this year.

SBS News: Inside the asylum homestay program. 19 June 2012:

Read more on Australian asylum seekers who arrive by boat on the Refugee Council of Australia website.

Watch Four Corners from October 2011, a show dedicated to the plight of asylum seekers in detention centres.

Image by Newtown Grafitti via Flickr.

Six months after donors poured money and aid into the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, aid groups are warning the situation remains dire. Dadaab is the world’s biggest refugee settlement, with almost half a million Somalis living in their neighbouring country. Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste is the first journalist to visit the camp since the security crisis began last October.

Via Al Jazeera English YouTube.

doctorswithoutborders:

Lebanon: Healing Those Deeply Affected
Recently, with thousands of Syrians—many of whom have physical wounds—fleeing the violence in their country and seeking refuge in Lebanon, we dispatched medical teams to evaluate their health status. This resulted in our setting up a new health program in Wadi Khaled, in the north of Lebanon, in November 2011. We have been working in Lebanon for three years, and were therefore in a position to closely monitor the health situation for Syrians arriving in the country.
Read more about the work of MSF in Northern Lebanon here.
Photo: Lebanon 2010 © Dina Debbas
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doctorswithoutborders:

Lebanon: Healing Those Deeply Affected

Recently, with thousands of Syrians—many of whom have physical wounds—fleeing the violence in their country and seeking refuge in Lebanon, we dispatched medical teams to evaluate their health status. This resulted in our setting up a new health program in Wadi Khaled, in the north of Lebanon, in November 2011. We have been working in Lebanon for three years, and were therefore in a position to closely monitor the health situation for Syrians arriving in the country.

Read more about the work of MSF in Northern Lebanon here.

Photo: Lebanon 2010 © Dina Debbas