Like anyone interested in migration, refugees and human rights, the plight of the Rohingya has been constantly on my mind. Since 2013 I have been privileged to work with some of our younger Rohingya refugees who were part of the unflatteringly named ‘legacy caseload’. These are wonderful polite and enterprising young men who we should be very proud to have in our country. However, they are currently in despair watching the tragedy unfold in Myanmar and the danger their families are fleeing.
It isn’t a surprise that the reaction of the government to the recent crisis has been a muted diplomatic one, focusing on money for aid and concerns about Rohingya becoming radicalised moslems, with evidence of concrete ways to assist refugees fleeing the violence. In 2015 when Rohingya fled en masse, dying in their thousands at sea… our Prime Minister responded with his famous ‘Nope Nope Nope” response.
“I’m sorry. If you want to start a new life, you come through the front door, not through the back door…Don’t think that getting on a leaky boat at the behest of a people smuggler is going to do you or your family any good.”
Certainly the refugees should not have fled onto boats. What could they have been thinking? Staying behind to get maimed and killed is a much better option. Better still would be trying to find a way to apply for a visa ‘through the front door’.
The boys I assisted had no option but to come by boat. They arrived terrified and traumatised in 2012 and waited until the end of 2016 before the government allowed them to apply for a visa. They then waited months for an interview and a grant of the famous Safe Haven Enterprise Visa. Between the time they arrived and their grant of a temporary visa the situation in Myanmar worsened.
When reviewing their cases for their immigration interview I found the documentation horrific. I was reluctant to share these documents with the boys fearing the trauma I could cause them. Yet in reality they knew far more than me. They talk to their families when they can, they watch the internet and they have seen and heard reports of atrocities for years.
These documents showed that four years after the violence there remained international concern over human rights violations facing Rohingya and the resulting impact on their ability to work, access basic services, avoid arbitrary arrest, and detention, and deliberate violent attacks. In 2016 DFAT continued to list Myanmar as an area where visitors must exercise a ‘high degree of caution’ due to the overall security situation and possibility of further civil unrest.
The November 2015 updated Report by the United States Memorial Museum for the prevention of Genocide warned that there had been no effort by the Burmese Government to dismantle the structure of persecution against the Rohingya. The report detailed 18 actions currently undertaken against the Rohingya that can be considered warning signs of a future genocide.
DFAT Myanmar Brief of 2016 stated ‘Despite progress, significant human rights challenges remain. Australia continues to stress the importance of resolving the situation in Rakhine State as well as the need to protect the rights of all people living in the country.’
In October 2016 new reports of violence in the Rakhine province reached news outlets. Reports detailed concerning developments in Rakhine and an increase of generalised police violence against Muslim Rohingya in retaliation for alleged killings.
Amnesty International stated in their February 2016 Report that the situation of persecuted Rohingya has deteriorated since 2012. They remain concerned that Rohingya continue to be deprived of citizenship rights, continue to face severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, access to health care, the right to education and equal employment. Amnesty detailed ongoing reports of arbitrary arrest and members of the security forces continued to violate human rights with impunity.
These concerns were upheld by the report of the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2016. The special Rapporteur expressed concerns that there ‘has been no attempt by the government to address the serious human rights concerns on the ground in Rakhine State’. She called for an end to discriminatory practices against the Rohingya in Rakhine pointing out that the ongoing curfews and restrictions on movements imposed only on Rohingya are a form of intentional control. The four-year curfew following the 2012 riots imposed a ban on people gathering in groups of more than five, effectively preventing family celebrations, attendance at funerals, or religious activities including going to the Mosque.
It can be no surprise then to governments around the world that the situation would continue to deteriorate. This year tens of thousands of people were added to the already large numbers of internally displaced persons. Almost 400,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. The question for us as Australians is what can our government do right now to assist the Rohingya when the problem seems to be overwhelming?
Give those who have been granted temporary asylum a permanent visa with family reunion rights. At the moment, they are stuck on five year temporary visas which require them to work or study in a regional area. They have no right to family reunion and limited ability to travel. Their families are amongst the thousands who have fled to Bangladesh. For these people, there is no ‘front door’.
Open the pathway for immediate family reunion for all Rohingya living in Australia on permanent visas, regardless of how they arrived in Australia. (Few people realised that refugees continue to be punished long after they have settled permanently through restrictions on allocation and processing of family visas).
Grant Rohingya who are on Manus and Nauru a permanent visa to Australia with access to family reunion.
Providing those who are here with the ability to sponsor people to Australia will cost us little and whilst these measures may only assist a few hundred people they relieve some of the burden from Bangladesh and the stress and trauma from those living in Australia. As far as Diplomacy goes actions such as this would demonstrate to the region and the world that Australia can play a concrete role in finding regional solutions. Considering the mayhem and despair we can all see on the news, Australia as a caring nation would see that these solutions are politically viable.
Marianne Dickie is a an academic at ANU College of Law and a migration agent. She has worked with refugees since 1996.
The report was the culmination of a two-year project, in which the ALRC was asked to identify and critically examine Commonwealth Laws that encroach upon traditional rights, freedoms and privileges recognized by the common law. The report canvasses a suite of Commonwealth laws that might be said to encroach on such rights and freedoms, and also provides a framework for analysis of whether such laws are justified.
Unlike other ALRC Reports, there are no concrete recommendations for reform. Rather, in each of the areas examined, the ALRC makes conclusions as to whether laws would benefit from further review. Importantly, the ALRC found many migration laws to encroach on rights and freedoms, and concluded that they be subject to further review.
In the attached briefing note, I consider the report’s findings and briefly examine whether the laws identified by the ALRC are justified, with reference to the ANU Migration Law Program’s submission.
International Women’s day was yesterday. I haven’t taken the time to celebrate it for a number of years. But this time I did. I attended a Vice Chancellor function, held my own afternoon celebration, drank a silent toast to a wonderful woman I know undergoing surgery and went to the Pamela Noonan lecture at ANU. It was a nice day.
Last night I thought about past clients, how women are treated in immigration policy and law in Australia.
In the last ten years I have worked with many women facing family violence and struggling to resolve their visa status whilst doing so. The ‘lucky ones’ fall under the family violence provisions within the Migration Act and may have a way to follow that legislative process and remain in Australia. In many instances even these provisions fail women.
For those that do not fall under these provisions, such as women on student visas or temporary work visas, the prospects of remaining in Australia without their husbands or partner are small. In many cases these women choose to remain with violent partners because to do anything else places them at risk of losing their children, their work and their ability to financially survive.
Women who have Australian children to an Australian citizen father are particularly vulnerable. There is no visa option available to them to ensure that they can remain in Australia with their child. These children are known in the department as ‘anchor children’, a term that reflects a policy perspective which indicates that these women had their babies for the sole purpose of gaining permanent residency.
So women who do not fall into the family violence provisions or those with ‘anchor children’ must seek ministerial intervention through one pathway or another. This is long and arduous and many times unsuccessful. It can take up to five years to reach the Minister, who is not obligated under law to consider the case. I have seen women separated from their children and made homeless trying to traverse this path.
I have also worked with women who have arrived under our humanitarian program and shown great courage when faced with the results of cultural practices they endured as children or faced with separation (sometimes abandonment) from their husbands here in Australia when their husbands decide they have become too ‘independent’, or abandoned because their husband wants to continue the cultural practice of taking a second wife and even third wife.
I have worked with women who don’t attend the English classes available to them because their husbands don’t believe these opportunities should be open to them. And I have worked with highly educated women who arrived on humanitarian visas with loving husbands and partners that were shattered emotionally and mentally by their efforts to save their families. These women then become the sole breadwinners in Australia, learning new languages and skills whilst raising their children.
I have even met and advocated for women on Nauru who were separated from their husbands, brothers and sons due to cruel policies which reduced them to faceless boat people.
I don’t work with skilled visa applicants. The stories I see only become positive when we can find a solution, when we can navigate the complex pathways of the Act, Regulations and Ministerial Directives.
Because of this the world of the women I work with is vastly different from that of an Australian citizen. These women remain the backbone of the family. For many, traditional roles have not changed and great employment advances have not been made. They work in low skilled jobs despite their education and background and their goal is to ensure their children have a better life.
The Migration Act is full of areas that allow women to fall into poverty and risk the safety of women and their children. It is time that a considered review of these areas was carried out so the impact of migration law and policy on women can be fully understood.
I recently came across siblings trying desperately to reunite the ‘right way’. They were separated through marriage and migration. One lived here in Australia. The other in a war torn country.
This man wanted information on how to help his sister apply for a refugee visa. His sister was in a country at war. The war had been going on for many years and the safety of his sisters and her husband and children was now at a crisis point.
The whole family had fled to a neighbouring country but were returned by the authorities. They now had no options open to them other than legitimate migration or forced migration.
Unfortunately for this family there is no legitimate migration pathway to Australia. None whatsoever. The reaction to my news was disbelief. And many questions.
After all, this man said to me:
‘I am an Australian citizen so my family should be a priority. What if I told them I am trying to stop my sister, my brother in law and their small children getting on a boat and sailing to Greece? I can write down the story of what is happening to them and I can get all the documents we need …this is legitimate’.
I had no doubts at all about the legitimacy.
I went through the visas available under Australia’s humanitarian program. The program includes a number of offshore visas that the government likes to point to as one of the most generous in the western world. These include the;
Refugee visa subclass 200,
Special Humanitarian subclass 202, and
Woman at Risk subclass 204.
For these visas, the applicant must be outside of their country and must be persecuted in their country (presumably why they fled and are now outside). Leaving aside how hard it is to meet the Convention definition of a refugee, let alone navigating the way it is defined under our migration legislation, the family was not outside their home country. They had tried to leave and have been forcibly returned. So these visas don’t apply.
In Country Special Humanitarian subclass 201 seemed like a hopeful option until the details of the visa are examined.
The visa applicant must be proposed by either an approved proposing organisation (that is willing to pay over $18,000 for the application) or a person who is now an Australian citizen or permanent resident …well this seems ok.
Except that Australian citizen must have come to Australia on the same visa (subclass 201) within 5 years of the proposal.
And of course you must be a member of the immediate family — a spouse, de-facto partner or dependent child — to be a sponsor. So siblings don’t count.
There is a good clause in this visa. It is made available for those who have been in Iraq or Afghanistan working as interpreters or in specific capacities with the Australian army. But this is not useful for this family.
In other words if you are an Australian citizen trying to sponsor a member of your immediate family to Australia you cannot do so unless you yourself where granted this particular visa less than 5 years before. If you did have a visa such as this and you want to sponsor your siblings you cannot do so because sisters and brothers are not considered immediate family.
So my client came to Australia on skilled visa 15 years ago. The country he left was not great but it was not in the crisis it is now. His parents had not been killed. His brother had not disappeared and his sister and her family were not in danger. They are now and he has no options for her.
She cannot meet the criteria for an Aged Dependent Relative, Remaining Relative, Carer, Orphan Child or Parent visa.
She does not have a Distinguished Talent, nor is she is not highly skilled and she is definitely not someone who can invest gold bullion or millions in cash.
She is a loved family member. Her family is a young one with small children. There is no doubt they need to be safe. And no doubt that because countries like Australia have closed all options to them they will try to find that safety in an unsafe way.
A new pathway providing New Zealanders who hold Special Category Visas (SCV) an opportunity to obtain Australian citizenship has been broadly welcomed.This pathway will make it much easier for New Zealanders to become an Australian permanent resident, as it has lowered the threshold requirements for grant of a visa in the Skilled Independent category. 12 months after obtaining the permanent residence visa, the holder would be eligible for Australian citizenship. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) announcement[ 3] sells the new pathway as a privileged advantage, and an acknowledgment of Australia’s close bilateral relationship with New Zealand. This however doesn’t tell the full story.
New Zealanders living and working in Australia benefit the economy. Providing a flexible workforce for Australia to tap into. Filling both skilled and unskilled jobs. This workforce comes without incurring much of the associated education and training costs, and provides workers who contribute directly to Australia through their labour and income tax.
Instead of acknowledging this contribution, government rhetoric has largely focused on the idea that New Zealanders should not be ‘welfare bludgers’. The Australian Government has been clear that New Zealanders living in Australia should be “lifters not leaners” and has created laws  to ensure this. Certainly since February 2001, the ‘non-protected SCV holder’ has paid income tax despite their continued inability to access the majority of social security payments. Since 2014 SVC holders have also paid a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) levy, without being eligible to receive cover from the NDIS.
This new pathway follows the same vein. It ensures the Australian economy continues to benefit from the contribution of New Zealanders, with very little risk. By design it categorises New Zealanders living in Australia as either lifters or leaners. It will filter out people who are higher risk of accessing welfare benefits in Australia. Only lifters need apply.
Those that will be excluded are mainly lower income earners. Applicants will need to prove income over a five year period that is at least equal to the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) used for the subclass 457 visa. This is currently set at $53,900.
People with a disability will also be excluded if their health care requirements are considered a burden on Australian resources.Significant application charges will also apply to applicants using this pathway. A family with two parents and three children under 18 years old can expect to pay approximately $8,100 in visa application charges.
This announcement comes at a time when tension between the two countries (about how New Zealanders living in Australia are treated) has hit a peak.  The New Zealand Government has long been critical of perceived inequitable treatment of New Zealanders. However when the Australia Government started to detain and remove New Zealanders in record numbers during 2015 on character grounds, it seemed to rub salt into the wound.
Interestingly New Zealand’s economic performance is currently outstripping Australia’s. Statistics have shown that more people moved from Australia to New Zealand in 2015. It is the first time since 1991 that New Zealand has had a net increase in migration from Australia.
The DIBP predict approximately 60,000 to 70,000 of the 140,000 New Zealanders on SCV visas in Australia will qualify under this new pathway. It remains to be seen how many take up the offer.
Natalie Dawson is an academic in the Migration Law Program at ANU College of Law
 Only New Zealand Special Category visa (SCV) holders who arrived after 26 February 2001 and on or before, the date of the announcement, 19 February 2016 will be eligible.
 Upon satisfying s22(1)(c) of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth) amongst other requirements
 Section 7 of the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) was amended with effect from 26 February 2001 to include a ‘Protected SCV holder’ in its definition of an ‘Australian resident’. The ‘Non-Protected SCV holder is excluded from this definition and therefore is ineligible for most social security payments’
 The vast majority of New Zealanders who arrived in Australia after 26 February 2001 are ‘Non–protected SCV holders’, making them ineligible for Social Security payments.
Yesterdays announcement by John Key that New Zealand would break the stalemate facing 276 asylum seekers waiting return to Nauru is wonderful news. However it is not the first time this small country has shown compassion and maturity in the face of Australia’s belligerent commitment to inhumane policies.
Under the legislative changes of 2001 which introduced the Pacific Solution, asylum seekers were sent to Nauru and Manus Island for processing of their claims. The policy was the same as that used today. People were told they would not be granted protection in Australia. At the same time some asylum seekers who had managed to get to the mainland had their claims recognised and were granted temporary visas which prevented family reunion.
As a direct consequence of this policy women and children began to make the dangerous journey by boat to join their husbands in Australia. A handful of women and children found themselves on Nauru with no hope of reaching their husbands who had been granted temporary visas in Australia.
In all cases the government inexplicably accepted the claims of refugee status for the husbands and rejected the claims for their wives and children.
The wait for these families for a durable solution took years. The stalemate created by an inhumane and illogical approach from the government was solved when New Zealand accepted these families and offered them the chance to begin a new life.
What did Australia lose? Putting aside credibility as a regional player and mature country Australia lost multiple opportunities.
These people had been recognised as refugees by Australia. They had visas and they had begun to work, study or recover in our communities. Their relief, good will and commitment was rejected by Australia in the pursuit of a policy. Instead New Zealand gained citizens who would contribute to their economy and growth. Children who would grow up safely and go on as proud citizens who wanted the best for their small adoptive nation.
I come from a migrant family. My mother was a refugee, I have worked with and made many friends who are refugees and I can attest to the wealth a country inherits when it invests in providing a safe place for people to grow and live out their dreams.
It’s criminal that Australia is prepared to give that away so readily. But our loss is New Zealand’s gain and I am thankful we have a compassionate neighbour who is prepared to burden share not burden shift.
This morning we were sent this story by AZ. It is a beautiful and moving story and a reminder of the human facet of Europe’s refugee crisis.
Crossing the Danish border: A welcome, of sorts.
On the evening of Tuesday October 27th, Tony Abbott delivered the Margaret Thatcher Lecture calling on European Leaders to adopt Australia’s policy of ‘turning back the boats’. That same evening, in the heart of Europe, I crossed paths with a group of refugees taking their own boat journey to find a new home.
While on a month-long holiday in Europe with my partner, we decided to to weave in a quirky railway side-trip. It would connect our two weeks of hiking in Scotland with our time in Eastern Europe at the end of our trip to visit my aunt, uncle and grandmother. We wanted to visit Copenhagen along the way, but instead of flying from the UK to Copenhagen, we decided to catch the train. This route has the benefit of taking in several significant travel experiences.
Catching the Eurostar through the channel tunnel and spending a half day in Brussels, home of European key institutions, would both be new experiences for my parter. The route would also take us through Cologne; a city I had visited in 1982 as a 3 year old with my family after they had fled the Communist regime beyond the iron curtain and sought refuge in the West. I was keen to surprise my parents with some recreated photos from 33 years earlier. Finally, it would take us on one of the world’s two remaining train ferries. Our train would roll onto a ferry to take us, and the train, across the sea, from Germany to Denmark.
In all we decided that the additional day and a half travel was worth it.
Having visited Brussels for half a day, we arrived in Cologne by train. This Western European City is known for being home to one of Europe’s tallest Gothic buildings and for a time the tallest building in the world – the Cologne Cathedral. It is a building where I had had my picture taken as a 3 year old by my father. The photo featured in a family photo album. My parents would draw attention to it when recalling our trip to Cologne – a rare day trip beyond the city where we lived for just over a year, not 100km away. Months earlier, my family had escaped the Communist regime beyond the iron curtain. Then, as now, Germany took in thousands of refugees seeking a new life for their young families. My parents, with two young boys under the age of 3, took whatever possessions they could fit into two suitcases, left their families behind and fled the land of their birth seeking out a better life in the West. A journey that would ultimately see us resettled in Australia.
Having recreated the photos from my parents’ photo album we set out the next morning by train for Hamburg, and on to the train ferry, and Copenhagen beyond.
A rare train delay into Hamburg caused us to miss our connecting train by seconds. This resulted in a two hour layover. Without even going out of our way we witnessed the present-day response to Germany’s new wave of refugees three decades on – this time fleeing from wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Eritrea.
First there were the volunteers in fluorescent vests. From a mix of ethnic backgrounds, European, African and Middle Eastern, these teams of volunteers would organise and provide assistance to the various groups of recent arrivals. Guiding them around the station, taking them to platforms to board regional trains, explaining the German text on their rail tickets, translating timetables, and providing general assistance. They also provided meals, staffed the temporary refugee waiting rooms, amenity tents, among countless other jobs. No sooner has one group of a dozen or so refugees been bundled onto a train with what few belongings they could carry (if any at all), there would be another group to replace them. The volunteers were impressive. They appeared energised, confident, efficient and focussed on the practical task before them.
Next was the makeshift infrastructure. Temporary information desks under stairs, waiting rooms under tents, fencing made from wooden pallets and ribbons, hand written signs in Arabic, German and English. This was obviously an amateur operation. It was unclear whether it didn’t have government support, or whether there was insufficient government resources to help with the efforts at the railway stations. It only reinforced the sense of engagement by the local community with Germany’s response.
Perhaps most striking was the attitude of everyday German commuters. I sensed a genuine warmth in their attitude towards the new arrivals. From helping the new arrivals to find a place to stow their bags on the train, standing back to let a family make its way onto an escalator, explaining how to open an automatic door, or giving a young dad 50c to take his young son to the pay-in toilet, there seemed to be a genuine welcoming attitude and sense of concern. I couldn’t help but be moved by the stark contrast to the attitudes and public ‘debate’ that has permeated Australian political discourse over almost the past two decades.
Our Copenhagen-bound train pulled up to the platform. In addition to the regular travellers – suits, backpackers, young mums with kids returning home after a weekend of visiting grandparents – there were a large number of refugees on our platform. All of them keen to board the short train. (The train to Copenhagen consists of only a few carriages, maybe 4 or 5, as the length of the entire train must fit on the ferry). There were going to be more passengers than seats. Railway guards stood at each door checking tickets and reservations. Those with a reservation would board first. People amassed at the doors. With our reservations in hand, my partner and I climbed aboard and found our places – two aisle seats facing each other, one facing forward, the other backward. The seats began to fill with a large number of people still waiting to get on. Among the Germans, Danes, Swedes, Canadians, British and Australians, to my right was a group of 4 Afghan gentleman, two older, two younger. A few rows behind me, a young Syrian family with two young girls. Elsewhere a group of three teenage Afghan boys, travelling alone. A north African lady with a young son. As people tried to find space for their bags, the conductor tried to find spare seats for people. The train was full. People sitting on the floor, standing in the walkway between carriages and next to the toilets.
The additional crowd and chaos saw the train leave 20 minutes late. We had at least five and a half hours ahead of us. The seat next to me was somehow still vacant. I offered it to a young North African man, not older than 25. I noticed that he had a female partner seated a few seats behind me. He hadn’t yet found a place to sit. I later learned that they also had with them a 5 year old boy. He seemed surprised at my offer, but was grateful. He sat in the window seat beside me. His demeanour remained worried, concerned. His English was limited to only a few words. We didn’t make conversation. Occasionally he would ask if we had arrived in Copenhagen but we still had a long way to go. My partner and I began to explain that the train would roll onto a ferry on the German coast, then sail to Denmark before travelling through Denmark to Copenhagen. A difficult concept to explain even without a language barrier. He seemed concerned, possibly worried whether he was on the right train, whether he had the right ticket. I wondered whether the ferry brought back memories of another recent sea crossing, possibly more treacherous and less comfortable than the one on which we were about to embark. I explained by drawing pictures. He seemed somewhat relieved.
Aboard the ferry, it was obvious that there were more refugees on board than westerners. During the Baltic Sea crossing, all passengers must leave the train, leaving their bags behind, and go up to the passenger decks. Confusion reigned. We western travellers led the refugees to the upper decks by signalling that they should follow us off the train and to the upper decks, leaving behind what few belongings they had.
My father is a great story teller. Growing up, he had often told a story of a sea crossing from the Soviet port of Tallinn to Stockholm. It was a period when some young Poles were briefly allowed to travel to the west. Before the regime hardened and re-introduced travel restrictions, and before the economic and political situation became much worse. It was before I was born, and before my parents resolved to escape. My mum and dad were among those who set off to travel. Spending all of their savings, they went to visit a cousin in Sweden. Sailing on a Swedish ferry, on a cold and rainy night my parents were tired and hungry. Dad recalls that there was a restaurant on board, with a buffet with the most amazing western food that people in the east could only dream of. Not realising that the buffet restaurant was included in the price of the fare, mum and dad sat back hungry and dreaming of what it would be like to eat the food that back home would be the preserve of only the connected and privileged communist party operatives.
There was also an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant on our ferry. It wasn’t included in the fare, but it was somewhere a family could get a decent feed. The train ride had already been tiring, and there was still a distance to go. I imagined that my fellow traveller and his young family would be getting hungry. I wanted to ensure they could be fed before we went back onto the train. I walked across the passenger deck and asked the young father, whether he would like some food for his family. Even if he had wanted to politely decline, the expression on his face would have betrayed him.
I arranged with the head waiter for the north African family to come in and eat and that I would settle the bill. She hesitated for a brief moment but agreed. I went over and collected my fellow travellers. The restaurant was mostly empty but for a few westerners. As the young African family entered the restaurant, the other waiters shot concerned glances – almost alarmed – towards the head waiter. She signalled that it was okay and followed the guests to a table, sat them down and explained that they could have whatever they wanted. I later caught a glimpse of the family eating dinner and wondered whether it would be a meal that they would remember. As we descended back down to the train deck, the grateful smiles on their faces suggested that they probably would.
The train had not long rolled off the ferry into Denmark before it pulled up to a platform. We just sat there. The doors weren’t opening. After some time waiting in the dark of night, I could see uniformed officers in the next carriage, moving down the length of the train. There were several of them, wearing high-vis vests. And they weren’t talking to everybody, just some.
They made their way into our carriage, walking slowly through the first few seats looking everybody up and down in the dim train light. I could now see that they were in police uniforms. Suddenly the police woman leading the group started asking somebody questions in heavily accented English. By asking, I almost mean ‘snapping’. “Where are you from? Where are you going? Who are you travelling with?” She was questioning an Iraqi man. The carriage, now otherwise silent, was filled with her focussed Scandinavian tone. Earnest, business-like, to the point, impatient for an answer, and clearly oblivious to the skill of communicating through a language barrier.
I wasn’t able to hear all of the responses to her first exchange. Seemingly satisfied, she moved on. She glanced everyone up and down, moving past the western-looking travellers. She glanced at me, then focussed on my fellow traveller, the young dad seated next to me.
“And you! Where are you from?”
“Are you saying Eritrea?”
“Where are you going?”
“Denmark? This is Denmark! You are in Denmark. Where are you going?”
“Copenhagen? What are you going to do there?” … “Are you going to live there?”
This unproductive exchange went on for what seemed like several minutes.
“Are you travelling alone?”
Not understanding the question, our fellow traveller was unable to answer. It seemed to be quite important to the police that they knew whether or not he was travelling with someone.
“Well, I think you need to come with us. Collect your things and come with us”
He didn’t understand, but the officer gestured for him to stand and he did so.
My partner interjected. “He is travelling with his family”.
“What? You have a family?”
No answer, just a confused expression.
“You are travelling alone, or with someone else?”
“Take your bags and come with me. You have to come with me”
Not knowing whether it was the right or wrong thing to do, I spoke up as well. I figured that if they’re unable to communicate, at least they won’t be separated.
“They are sitting a few seats behind me”.
She ignored me and kept questioning my Eritrean fellow traveller.
“Who are your family?”
Pointing to nearby people. “Are you travelling with this person? This person?”
He pointed to his family.
Turning to me she asked “How do you know these people? How do you know who they are?” “Are you travelling With them?”
“How do you know who they are?”
“I saw them on the boat together. They are a family travelling together”.
The police woman abruptly moved on. Two other police officers following behind her. It was unclear whether she had finished with him or not.
She moved onto the black man sitting behind me.
“What about you? Where are you from?
“No, but where are you from?”
“I’m from Germany”
“Yes, but you must be from somewhere. Which country are you from?” the frustration in her voice rising.
“But… ? Where are you from?”
He pulled out a German driver’s licence.
She abruptly moved on once again.
“And you! Where are you from?” Selecting anybody who didn’t immediately appear European.
People responded. Iraq. Afghanistan. Eritrea. Syria. This went on seemingly randomly.
Some refugees weren’t asked at all. Some families seemed not to be asked. Others were. The group of four Afghan men next to us weren’t. A Somali girl was pulled aside. She was travelling alone. She was sitting next to the wife of my Eritrean fellow traveller and his 5 year old boy.
“You need to come with me. Take your bag and come with me. Which is your bag? Is this your bag? This one? This one?”
None of them were. She didn’t have a bag. Only the clothes on her back. She was taken to the front of the carriage. I could see another policeman asking her how old she was. Using her finger, she penned 18 on the palm of her hand.
“Come with me”
The policeman led her off.
An Iraqi boy was also escorted off the train. Barely a year or two older than the 18 year old girl, if at all. Also with only the clothes on his back.
The police left, with the refugees they has identified for removal. The train began to move. After a few moments, my Eritrean companion turned to me and quietly whispered, “This – now – Denmark?”
His face took on a new expression of concern.
The train rolled on into the night.
Two long hours later we arrived at Copenhagen Central Station. The remaining passengers disembarked from the train, carrying their bags. Some greeting relatives. Some calling their loved ones to say the train was delayed and that they would be home soon. But mostly stepping off the train, into a new land, new culture, language and customs. Faced with the unknown and hoping to build a better life.
As we left the train, the Eritrean man and his wife shook our hands and with warm smiles on their faces thanked my partner and me. The mass of people travelled up the escalators. The family of three looked lost, gazing around the station, taking in its cavernous enormity. Holding hands, they walked off into the night.
Jessica Kinsella from The Australian National University (ANU) helped collate the Australian data, which focuses on providing migrants with the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as non-migrants.“The fact that Australia’s policies are deemed less favourable for integration is disquieting given it is vital for social cohesion and ongoing prosperity,” Ms Kinsella said.
“Australia is a nation built on migration and recent policy reforms are not placing enough importance on enabling migrants to settle properly.”
The MIPEX measures policies in European Union member states, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.
Speaker: David Manne, Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, human rights lawyer and the executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre in Fitzroy, Melbourne.
As a first generation Australian, David has personal experience of migration and the refugee narrative. He has worked in migration and refugee law for almost twenty years. By focusing on Australian domestic migration legislation, his legal team highlight the intersection of international human rights law with the policies and legislation implemented in Australia.
Date: Friday, 1 May 2015 – 6.30pm – 8.00pm
Venue: Fellows Road Law Theatre 1, ANU College of Law, Building 5, Fellows Road, The Australian National University