Since its my 2nd year at HALC, I thought it would be interesting to focus in a more specific area of law at the center for my blog post, Refugees. Since fellow Leitner Intern Kelly Starcevich has been writing about refugees in New Zealand, hopefully my post will show a little contrast between Aus and NZ since they are often times grouped together.
Currently the topic of Refugees and Immigration are big topics in Australia. An election has been called by Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Aug 21. Australia has constantly wrestled with the topic of immigration from its early days as it is a very large country with a very small population. Illegal immigrants or ‘boat people' as they are often called in Australia are a major topic in current election campaign.
The view of Sydney from "The Gap", the entrance to Sydney Harbor.
Previously, Australia had what was called the "Pacific Solution" under Prime Minister John Howard during the 90's and early 00's. Under this scheme, all illegal immigrants stopped in their boats before reaching Australia were sent to a detention center on the small island nation of Nauru.
In 2007, under Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the detention center on Nauru was closed due to complaints over bad conditions and the fact that Nauru was not a signer of the UN Refugee Convention. Instead Rudd sent detained immigrants to Christmas Island which is owned by Australia for processing.
The main reason for using these offshore processing centers for refugees is that Australia has two types of protection visas, an onshore and offshore one. The onshore protection visa is far easier to satisfy.
With a new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and an election approaching, debate has intensified over what to do about refugees. Both parties have pushed to the right and want to look tough on asylum seekers. The Labor Party under Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants to set up new processing center on East Timor and calls for a ‘sustainable Australia'. Meanwhile the Liberal/National Coalition Party (which is actually more right-leaning) under Tony Abbott wants to reopen the center on Nauru and dramatically lower the number of immigrants to Australia by 'turning the boats around'.
Explore the map below to see exactly where Nauru, East Timor, and Christmas Island are located:
View Boat People in a larger map
A clip from the morning television show Sunrise contrasting the immigration policies of Gillard and Abbot.
During my time at HALC this year, I was able to work on several protection visa applications for asylum seekers who were lucky enough to make it to Australia on a tourist visa and can now apply for an onshore protection visa. Generally, to satisfy the criteria for protection (Please see the UN definition of a Refugee), one needs to show that they belong to an identifiable social group and that they have a very real fear of persecution. This persecution should be at the hands of government but if the government fails to protect the group from societal persecution this persecution can often times be attributed to the government to satisfy the criteria of being a refugee.
At HALC most of our applications for protection are based on sexual orientation or HIV. Specific to HIV protection claims in refugee cases, we would argue that HIV+ people are an identifiable social group of people. We would then have to show that failure to provide proper medical care by government amounts to persecution of people living with HIV. Also many times we are able to show that the government fails to prevent persecution from society, and then argue that it should be attributed to government.
Volunteers at HALC attended Bingay, a weekly fundraiser by ACON (AIDS Council of New South Wales, a major funder of HALC) with crazy antics, risque prizes and hosted by a Drag Queen.
Some real world examples of the 'persecution' we argue involve the different types of HIV meds provided by the country. Sometimes people do not respond to the first set of antiretroviral medications or they begin to respond less to the meds over time and require stronger second line treatment for HIV as the virus becomes drug resistant. Unfortunately second line treatments are still very expensive and rarely available or subsidized in the developing world. Many times protection claims can be asserted if the home country of the refugee cannot provide this medication and the refugee requires it.
Other times, the government may fail to adequately educate the populace to prevent HIV or dispel myths about the virus. In some developing countries which I researched this summer, government officials recommended that HIV+ people not fall in love or have children to stop the spread of the virus. At the same time, these governments did little to educate regarding unprotected sex and sharing needles, two of the top modes of transmission of HIV. Often times these countries did little to eradicate the myth that HIV could be spread through air or touching leading to pervasive discrimination and persecution which often strengthened a refugee’s claim for protection.
The 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Just a part of Australia's amazing coastline.
Additional HIV protection claims are often strengthen when adherence is considered. Adherence refers to a patient following dosing instructions from their physician exactly as prescribed. This is particularly important in regards to HIV. If doses are skipped or even late, the virus is able to mutate and become drug resistant faster when the proper levels of medication are not maintained. Physicians recommend that people living with HIV maintain at least 90% adherence. This is particularly difficult because certain medications may need to be taken every 8 hours which would require a patient to set their alarm to wake up in the middle of the night for their dose. In many of the developing countries I researched, proper medical care for HIV was often in far away, more developed areas of their home country which would make adherence even more difficult if they were forced to return home.
Returning to HALC this summer, I was able to see the results of several protection visa applications I worked on last summer. One application was success and granted on the first hearing allowing this client to stay in Australia indefinitely. Another client unfortunately had appealed their denied application and had exhausted all appeals and was forced to leave the country. While disappointing, I try to focus on the success I’ve had while at HALC and know that I put forth my best effort when things don’t turn out right.
Overall, I’ve had another great summer at HALC and have learned even more than last year. Thanks to HALC for providing me with fantastic and rewarding legal work and the Leitner Center for making this opportunity possible.
Proof that the US is not the only country where politicians abuse colloquialisms for votes, this clip highlights the humorous use of Aussie slang 'fair dinkum' when discussing 'the boats' in the election debate. (Fair dinkum means true or genuine)