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Committee expected to recommend changes to proposed citizenship laws

Parliament's intelligence and security committee has recommended changes to the Federal Government's proposed citizenship laws.


The legislation would make it possible to revoke the Australian citizenship of dual nationals involved in terrorism.

The committee has heard a range of views and is expected to suggest changes to address concerns about it being in breach of the constitution.

University of Sydney constitutional law expert Anne Twomey said the bill had not been well drafted, and that it was rushed.

"That's not a criticism of the bureaucracy, that's part of the problem with it being rushed," she said.

"The legislation is too broad in some particular areas."

Professor Twomey said it was not clear cut, but the legislation could also be struck down by a court on the grounds it is in breach of the constitution.

"If what's happening is that the parliament is [viewed as] punishing a person by taking away their citizenship and punishing them for something that they've done, then that's exclusively a judicial power and that can't be done except by a court exercising judicial power, so if a court took that view it would be unconstitutional," she said.

Overall she said the committee should recommend changes.

"They might endorse it from a political point of view but if they're looking at it in terms of the technicalities of the legislation and the legality of it, then I think they ought to make some recommendations that it be changed," she said.

The Government wants the legislation debated in the next session of parliament.


12,000 places for Syrian Refugees

The Abbott government believes it can fill all of a special 12,000-place Syrian refugee resettlement allocation this financial year.

In a stunning change of heart, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott stared down anti-immigration hardliners in his own party room and reversed his steadfast opposition to granting extra places to displaced Syrian nationals.

The intake will prioritise "women, children, and families" within persecuted minorities — in other words, no single men, and probably only Christians.

The change came despite some government MPs complaining of "too much compassion" and one, Queensland hardliner George Christensen, warning that refugees would take Australian jobs.

The increase, which is in addition to the 4400 Syrian places reserved from the current 13,750 refugee and humanitarian program, will cost an additional $700 million over four years to be spent on housing, education, healthcare, and in some cases trauma counselling. Extra funds will also be needed for processing.

The one-off intake has been applauded by the Federal Opposition, which had itself called for 10,000 places.

"I want to begin by welcoming the Prime Minister's decision to accept an additional 12,000 refugees displaced by the humanitarian crisis in Syria," Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told Parliament.

"Importantly, these places are being offered on the basis of need and no other consideration."

The lucky ones will be selected from camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, while some 240,000 others will benefit from an Australian commitment to "directly fund" basic needs in the camps including food, water, blankets, and cash. That will cost $44 million, taking Australia's financial humanitarian commitment to the Iraq/Syria conflict to $230 million.

World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello told Fairfax Media it was a "good day" because although the funding was well short of what was required, Australia's overall refugee intake this year was "in the ball park of the 30,000 places we asked for".

Mr Abbott denied suggestions from some critics that the selection criteria to be used for filling the 12,000 places would discriminate against Muslims.

"I do want to stress, women children and families, the most vulnerable of all ... it's those who can never go back that we're focussed on," he said.

However, he acknowledged that Syrian Christians were among the most persecuted, as he said the intake would also include other religious and ethnic minorities from Shiite Muslims, to Turkmens, to Jews and Armenians.

The 12,000 places will be permanent residencies rather than the temporary protection visa class that has been used in the past, with the government arguing the people being chosen will come from communities whose hopes of returning to their ancestral homelands are non-existent.

NSW and Victoria have already indicated they will take 4000 Syrians each and Western Australia has put its hand up for 1000.

NSW Liberal Premier Mike Baird, whose call for compassion had pushed many Liberals to a pro-refugee approach, praised the federal decision as "bold and generous decision".


Who are Syria’s minority groups?

In his recent announcement that Australia would resettle additional refugees from Syria, Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he wanted to give preference to those from persecuted minorities. So what are the minority groups that make up Syria? And are some more persecuted than others?

Mr Abbott outlined that Australia wants to ensure refugees permanently resettled in Australia under the government's new humanitarian plan are from persecuted minority groups: "There are Muslim minorities, Druze, Turkoman, Kurds, there are non-Muslim minorities, Christians - various sorts - Jews, Yazidis, Armenians."

However by mapping out a refugee strategy that factors in ethnicity and religion, Mr Abbott has caused a stir. Many people have the impression that Australia will consider some groups over others, rather than treating all refugees equally.

Dr Benjamin Isakhan, Convenor of the Middle East Studies Forum at Deakin University, believes it causes problems to favour persecuted minorities. "No-one goes to bed feeling safe in Syria - no-one. It doesn't matter what religion or what ethnicity or what background. It's completely collapsed. So there is no one group that stands out as heavily persecuted. Everyone's in trouble," he said.

Syria is made up of many ethnic and religious minorities. Dr Isakhan says the region is diverse, and always has been. "This is the graveyard of empires. This is the place where human civilization was not only born, but each successive wave - from Alexander the Great, through to the Romans, through to ancient Mesopotamia, through to the classical Islamic period, and right up until today.. what we've seen is many different waves of civilisation coming though. And each one of them leaves their mark on Syria."

So which groups make up Syria today?

It is difficult to get a precise picture - before the conflict, official Syrian census data did not record religion or ethnicity. What is clear is that Sunni Muslims make up the broad majorityof the population, around 75 per cent.

Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, constituting around 10 per cent of the population - around 2 million of the pre-conflict population of around 22 million.  The Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslim, but also include Yazidis and Christians.  Around 12,000 to 15,000 Kurdish Yazidis are estimated to be living in Syria, though some historians believe more than half of the community may have emigrated from Syria in the past 30 years.

It is estimated around 10 per cent of Syria's population is Christian, with the Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches making up the largest denominations. But many have been forced to flee due to the rise and territorial spread of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or IS.  Australian government ministers have referred to Christians as the most persecuted group in Syria, but Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh, from the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, says this kind of language is reductive.

"The Christian community in Syria is of course persecuted under ISIS, but that's not the only community that's being persecuted. ISIS, in fact, reserves most of its venom for the Shia community and the Alawite community, not the Christians so much. But, the question of return affects everyone equally in reality, and I think the current government is really playing a political game with the refugees," he said.

Alawites, a branch of Shia Islam, make up the largest religious minority in Syria, and represent between 8 and 15 per cent of the population.  Ismailis and Twelvers are the other primary branches of Shia Islam that have a presence in the country.  The Druze population in Syria, another group specifically mentioned by the government, is estimated to number between 500,000 and 700,000. They follow a monotheistic religion drawn on Ismailism, the second largest branch of Shia Islam.

Professor Akbarzadeh says while Syria has a long history of peaceful religious and ethnic diversity, the growth of IS has fundamentally shifted the geopolitical situation, and caused upheaval for many different communities that once lived in harmony.

"You have the Sunni population, you have Christian populations living in the region for centuries. You have Ismailis, you have Druze, you have the Alawites in Syria. So these communities have lived there for centuries and mostly peacefully. The current crisis with ISIS being there and the various factions fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime, has displaced a lot of these communities from their traditional homelands."

Deakin University's Ben Isakhan says Syria's diversity is both a defining part of its cultural identity, and a source of fragility.

"Syria and Iraq are the birthplace of human civilisation and since the earliest empires, people of all walks of life have come and gone through this part of the world and each one of them leaves their mark. And that's why these countries are so diverse, that's why they're so complicated and it's also precisely why they're so fragile," he said.


Government mulls 7-Eleven visa amnesty

The Abbott government is “actively considering” introducing an amnesty for 7-Eleven workers on student visas who have been victims of the convenience store chain’s half-pay scam.

Greens MP Adam Bandt said he supported a visa amnesty for international students who have been victims of exploitation while working at 7-Eleven.

It comes as a 7-Eleven-funded investigation into widespread exploitation of thousands of workers across the convenience store giant’s franchise network began. The 7-Eleven review under Professor Alan Fels has called on current and former workers at the chain’s stores who have been victims of the scam to come forward.

A joint media investigation by Four Corners and BusinessDay has revealed 7-Eleven’s head office in Australia had been complicit in a major cover-up of exploitation of workers at the chain’s stores.

There are concerns many victims of the half-pay scam – where workers were paid only for half the hours they worked and were often in breach of the conditions of their visa – for no financial benefit, will not seek repayment for lost wages without the amnesty.

Under Australian visa rules, most holders of student visas can only work 40 hours a fortnight.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said: “The department has this matter under active consideration”.

Mohamed Rashid Ullat Thodi would like to apply to the panel for money owed from 7-Eleven if he was eligible.

He went to Fair Work and the court case ordered his franchisee repay $150,000 to Mr Thodi and five other employees. The franchisee went into liquidation and so the staff received only a few thousand dollars in compensation.

Mr Thodi said if the panel is to succeed an amnesty is essential.

Other workers have expressed doubt over the ability of 7-Eleven’s review panel to accurately review claims without an amnesty for students. “We think the panel is a trap from head office to trick us into admitting working over 20 hours per week and then get us deported,” one worker told Fairfax Media.

One of the victims of the 7-Eleven half-pay scam Pranay Alawala – who has risked deportation by coming forward as a victim of the half-way scam – said he had other concerns about the panel.

“I spoke with the panel. They said the forensic accountants from Deloitte will speak to me. I don’t think it will work because all the records they are using are falsified,” Mr Alawala said.

Business and consumer relationships advocate Michael Fraser said workers are “very reluctant” to come forward. “Workers are very telling me, we are watching this very closely. Nobody will come forward until we have the piece of paper from immigration that tells us we will be safe/. If you get us that piece of paper, you will not believe how many thousands will come flooding forward.”

Maurice Blackburn is offering pro bono advice to exploited workers.

Sydney Morning Herald – 8 September 2015

7-Eleven workers pay up to $70,000 for work visa

Franchisees at the troubled 7-Eleven chain have been charging staff up to $70,000 to help secure Australian work visas for their staff as a sideline revenue stream to help plump up low income from their stores.

Fairfax Media has uncovered further evidence that some franchisees are running as one-stop recruitment shops providing a steady stream of heavily indentured students and other workers into 7-Eleven stores.

Foreign students as well as workers on 457 visas are understood to be part of the "visa factory" scam operated by some 7-Eleven franchisees. The model has franchisees charging workers $25,000 to $70,000 to sponsor them on a visa., an unethical practice which will soon become a criminal offence if legislation currently before Parliament is passed.

7-Eleven has been in damage control since a joint investigation by Fairfax Media and Four Corners revealed widespread wage exploitation of staff across its franchise network of 620 stores. Senior executives from the company as well as 7-Eleven workers who have been victims of wage fraud will appear at a Senate hearing in Melbourne on Thursday.

Under the scam, some student visa-holders are even enrolled in courses at colleges linked to 7-Eleven franchisees.

One Sydney franchisee, who Fairfax has chosen not to name, is a campus manager of a private, little-known college based in the small office of a migration agent above a shop in the Sydney CBD.

The franchisee is believed to have offered places in his education courses, which then lead to a student visa, in return for a $40,000 fee.

Those students are then employed at his 7-Eleven stores, which are now in the sights of the Fair Work Ombudsman for underpaying staff.

Fairfax Media also understands the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is keeping an eye on the visa-issuing activities of the franchisee in the wake of Fair Work's investigation into his 7-Eleven business.

Several workers have told Fairfax Media that if they complained about their working conditions they were threatened with losing their jobs and being reported to immigration authorities.

Another franchisee, based in Newcastle, is understood to have made thousands of dollars "selling" 457 visas to workers in 2012. In return for the money, the franchisee would sponsor the employee's immigration application.

One former employee says he "bought" a visa for $25,000 and was forced to work up to 80 hours a week for $14 an hour.

"Last year they terminate me without any notice." The employee asked that his identity be protected but he says the franchisee would show the employee status on the payroll as full time but the staff were not getting the full-time salary or benefits including holiday pay.

When asked whether 7-Eleven head office was concerned about the alleged visa scams, a spokeswoman for the company said: "If that was the case we would be horrified and we would do anything in our power to stamp it out, reporting any instance to the Department of Immigration."

It can also be revealed that a former 7-Eleven "state franchisee of the year" who has run afoul of immigration authorities and been found by a court to have underpaid staff is now running a consultancy business targeting 7-Eleven store owners.

Brisbane-based Mubin Ul Haider, who previously won 7-Eleven's franchisee of the year for Queensland, placed a series of ads for his consultancy business on social media and trading site Gumtree just days after being fined by the Federal Circuit Court for underpaying staff at his 7-Eleven store in Brisbane.

"I (Mubin Ul Haider) committed to manage best franchise business," the ad reads.

Mr Ul Haider started "sponsoring" workers on 457 visas in February 2012. Two years later the Department of Immigration launched action to ban him after finding evidence he was underpaying his workers. In August 2014, he was banned from sponsoring visas for two years. Mr Ul Haider ceased being a franchisee in 2014.

The spokeswoman for 7-Eleven declined to confirm during which month of 2014 the company and Mr Ul Haider parted ways. Mr Ul Haider did not respond to inquiries.

Prakash Kumar, who won a Fair Work Ombudsman case against Mr Ul Haider, says Mr Ul Haider offered to sell him a visa in 2012 but he declined.

"He charged … $40,000 to $70,000 to the max, I have heard," he said.

Mr Kumar is still in contact with the workers who bought visas from Mr Ul Haider. He says some of them had paid for the visa on their credit card, some had taken a loan from overseas to pay him.

Mr Kumar said when he worked for Mr Ul Haider he often didn't pay staff for months at a time. He recalls finding one employee rummaging in the bins for old sandwiches because he hadn't been paid for eight weeks. Another stood in front of the store with a placard saying "This store hasn't paid me for three months, please help".


Transfield given new five-year contract for Nauru

The detention centre at Nauru is badly run and despite the Australian government spending billions of dollars on the camp, its knowledge of what goes on inside is inadequate, a Senate inquiry has found.

Despite the inquiry revealing a litany of alarming allegations including child rape and sexual assault of asylum seekers, operator Transfield Services announced it had been chosen as preferred tenderer to run the government-funded detention camps at Nauru and Manus Island for another five years.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young described the decision as "shameful".

The select committee's findings were supported by Labor and the Greens, but opposed by government members who said the inquiry was unfair and politically motivated.

The report cited a case revealed by Fairfax Media, in which a Wilson guard allegedly framed an asylum seeker for assault. It said "the [immigration] department's ignorance of such events" demonstrates its limited control and oversight at Nauru.

It said the camp is apparently "not run well" and contractors Wilson and Transfield Services are not "properly accountable to the Commonwealth despite the significant investment in their services", which totalled $1.2 billion to run Manus Island and Nauru for the last 20 months.

The committee also called for all children to immediately removed from Nauru.

It concluded conditions were "not adequate, appropriate or safe" for asylum seekers and the government must adjust the balance between enforcing security and providing "a decent quality of life".

The Department of Immigration and Australian Federal Police should fully audit all criminal conduct allegations, the committee said.

The Australian government says it refers such allegations to the Nauru Police, despite that agency laying charges in just five out of 50 cases, and reportedly being under-resourced. The Nauru police deny they are ill-equipped.

The inquiry called for mandatory reporting of any suspected sexual assault or other serious allegations, saying were it not for the inquiry, many cases would have remained hidden.

It said the Immigration Ombudsman should independently review all complaints involving Australian staff and contractors, following concern that Wilson Security and Transfield Services investigate their own behaviour.

Last year the Naruan government increased the cost of a journalist's visa from $200 to $8000. The committee said the media and human rights groups should be granted reasonable access to the camp.

The committee recommended the government build more permanent infrastructure, after hearing asylum seekers lived in mould-infested tents in hot, humid conditions.

It questioned evidence given to the committee by the department, Wilson Security and Transfield Services about an incident in which Wilson staff spied on Senator Hanson-Young on a visit to the island.

The evidence was at odds with that of Wilson guards with intimate knowledge of the incident "suggesting these organisations have misled the Senate, either wilfully or as a result of inadequate investigations", it said.

In a dissenting report, government senators said the inquiry accepted "unsubstantiated submissions as fact" and the inquiry sought to advance the perspective of those opposed to the government's asylum seeker policies.

"The department is committed to working with Nauruan authorities to ensure that people accommodated at the [centre] are provided with a safe and secure environment," they said.


Mass movement of desperate people pushes refugee totals up 83 percent

As Australia debates the fate of 2200 asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, Europe is in the grip of its worst refugee crisis since World War II. More than 250,000 people have landed on Italian and Greek shores this year, and thousands more have died in desperate attempts to cross the Mediterranean.

In the first six months of this year, 137,000 refugees and migrants crossed the central Mediterranean Sea route from Libya to Italy, travelling in appalling conditions in unseaworthy wooden boats and rubber dinghies.

That number has now topped 150,000 as the summer months in the northern hemisphere – June, July and August – are the safest for those making the treacherous journey.

The season has not yet ended and already the number of refugees making the Mediterranean crossing is an extraordinary 83 per cent higher than last year.

More than 157,000 refugees – mostly Syrians – have made the journey from the Turkish coast to a handful of small Greek Islands, the majority of them landing on Lesbos, Kos and Chios.

More than 2000 people have died this year, most of them attempting to make the central Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy. In April, 800 people died in the largest refugee boat wreck on record, forcing the European Union to consider establishing a more effective response to this mass movement of desperate people fleeing war and government repression.

Not surprisingly, Syrians are the largest single group of refugees trying to get to Europe, accounting for 34 per cent of all arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Eritreans accounted for 12 per cent of maritime arrivals and Afghans made up 11 per cent. Citizens of Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan and Iraq also made up a significant number of those trying to find a safe place to call home.

The issue of maritime rescues in the Mediterranean has been a fraught one. In October 2013, a boat carrying hundreds of refugees from Libya to Italy sank near the island of Lampedusa, killing 368 people.

Italy responded by launching a search and rescue operation called Mare Nostrum – it saved thousands of lives but attracted criticism from some countries that described the lifesaving mission as a "pull factor". By December 2014 Italy had abandoned Mare Nostrum.

No – refugees continued to try to make the Mediterranean crossing in increasing numbers, reflecting the growing instability in Libya, enduring oppression in Eritrea and across Africa and the horrifying, deadly civil war in Syria.

Add to that, the rising pressure of an ever-expanding number of Syrian refugees moving into neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, left many people feeling they had no choice but to keep moving towards the safety of Europe.

During the first four months of 2015, the numbers of those dying at sea reached new heights. By the end of March 479 refugees had drowned or were missing and in April, an unprecedented 1308 people drowned or went missing at sea, compared to 42 the year before.

This horrifying number of deaths led European leaders to agree to increase their operations, including the participation of naval vessels from several EU states.

At the same time, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Migrant Offshore Aid Station announced a joint search, rescue and medical aid operation in the central Mediterranean between Africa and Europe from May to October.

By the end of 2014, 59.5 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes, driven out by persecution and war, the highest number ever recorded. European Union countries host a relatively small share of those refugees. In contrast, Turkey is host to the world's largest number of refugees (1.59 million), followed by Pakistan (1.51 million), Lebanon (1.15 million), Iran (982,000), Ethiopia (659,500) and Jordan (654,100).

But it is Lebanon that hosts by far the largest number of refugees by population, with 232 refugees per 1000 inhabitants.

Syria is the source of the largest number of refugees in the world: more than 4 million people have been forced to flee a war that is now in its fifth year, with a death toll of at least 200,000 and rising. Of those refugees, at least 1.6 million are children.


Australian Border Force: Tony Abbott promises officers will ‘never’ stop people for visa checks

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott reassured the Australian public that Border Force officials will never stop them randomly in the streets to check their visas.

Mr Abbott said neither he nor his office had prior knowledge of a joint agency operation in Melbourne, which was cancelled by Victoria Police within hours of being announced after public outcry and protests in the city's CBD.

The controversy centred around the suggestion Australian Border Force (ABF) officers would be on the streets to crack down on visa fraud under Operation Fortitude.

The Former Prime Minister said an ABF media release that stated officers would be "speaking with any individual we cross paths with" was "over the top and wrong".

"I want to make it absolutely crystal clear, as far as this Government is concerned, people will never be stopped in the street randomly and asked for their visa details," Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.

"That's the sort of thing that would never, ever happen in this country."

Mr Abbott said it was to be a "standard law enforcement operation" and anyone suspected of having a visa issue would be referred to ABF officers in "the normal way".

"Nothing untoward happened except for the issue of a poorly worded press release," he said.

When asked if he or his office was aware of the nature of the operation and of ABF's involvement, Mr Abbott repeatedly said "nope".

ABF Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg confirmed the initial media statement was "clumsily worded" and approved at "low-level" by the Commander for Victoria and Tasmania Don Smith, who was directly quoted in the statement.

"You need to be aware of the conditions of your visa; if you commit visa fraud you should know it's only a matter of time before you're caught out," Commander Smith said in the statement.

Following public backlash over the crackdown, the ABF issued another statement saying: "To be clear, the ABF does not and will not stop people at random in the streets ... the ABF does not target of the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity."

A scheduled press conference to reveal details of Operation Fortitude had to be cancelled, after demonstrators began assembling outside Melbourne's Flinders Street Station to protest against the operation.

Victoria Police then issued a statement saying the operation had been cancelled.


Hereford couple married for 45 years separated by visa row

Toughening of Partner Visa processing is not only happening in Australia. A couple who have been married for 45 years say they have been separated after immigration officials refused her visa as he began cancer treatment.

Briton David Summers and his wife Maria left Canada for Hereford in 2013, but now Mrs Summer has left her husband in hospital to fly back to Canada.

The retired pair claim immigration officials said they failed to prove their love and lacked finances.

The Home Office said it did not comment on individual cases.

The couple, who returned to Hereford to care for his mother, said they were "self-sufficient" with pensions and a mortgage-free house in Holme Lacy.

They have a son and granddaughter.

Mr Summers, 70, a Herefordshire councillor for Dinedor Hill, underwent surgery for bladder cancer on Thursday and remains in hospital.

Mrs Summers said she appealed to the authorities to be allowed to stay to care for her husband and his 95-year-old mother.

However, she said the Border Agency asked for documents to prove his ill health but Mrs Summers did not hear back before her time was up and she flew back to Canada earlier on Sunday.

"It's terrible that I can't be here for him," said Mrs Summers, a retired optician.

"First they said we could not prove we had an affectionate relationship, then they said we don't feel you have the money to support yourselves.


Conversion of Protection visa applications to TPVs

Select Legislative Instrument – F2015L01461 – Migration Amendment Conversion of Protection Visa Applications Regulation 2015 – amends the regulations to clarify the effect of the regulation 2.08F.

The intended effect of Reg 2.08F is that any application made by certain prescribed applicants, including an unauthorized arrival, for a permanent Protection visa (PPV), which was not finalized on 16 December 2014, will be converted into an application for a Temporary Protection visa (TPV).

The conversion was intended to occur on 16 December 2014 if the application was still being considered by the Minister on that date or, if the application had already been refused and was being reviewed by a tribunal or court, the conversation would occur if and when the tribunal or court found in the applicant’s favour and remitted the matter to the Minister.

The Instrument also makes a consequential wording change resulting from the amalgamation of the tribunals.

MIA Notice – 18 September 2015

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