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Australia offers asylum-seekers $10,000 to return home

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Australia is offering asylum-seekers in its Pacific immigration camps up to $10,000 (US$9,400) if they voluntarily return to their home country, a report said Saturday, prompting outrage from refugee campaigners.

Fairfax Media reported that those returning to Lebanon from detention centres on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the tiny Pacific state of Nauru were offered the highest amount of $10,000.

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Iranians and Sudanese were given $7,000 if they dropped bids for refugee status, Afghans $4,000 and those from Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar $3,300, the report in The Sydney Morning Herald said.

The Herald said under the previous Labor administration — in office until last September — the payments were much lower, ranging from $1,500 to $2,000.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said “return packages” were standard practice but would not reveal what the maximum payments had been.

“It has been the standard practice for more than a decade for settlement packages to be offered to those who voluntarily return home,” Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The packages are tailored individually for every person who decides to voluntarily return home, he said.

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“The packages range (in terms of) value and it’s not just in terms of any financial element, but also training, support and other issues to assist people to get on their feet when they return,” he added.

Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the government should be ensuring that asylum-seekers’ claims were being properly processed, not issuing “blank cheques”.

“When Scott Morrison was in opposition, he opposed Labor’s own reintegration packages and now he is offering sums which are triple the amount,” Marles told the ABC.

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Australia has toughened its policy on asylum-seekers in recent years, with those arriving on unauthorised boats now refused residency in Australia even if they are deemed refugees.

Instead they are held in detention camps on Manus and Nauru and are expected to be resettled in those countries if their claims are valid.

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Since the policy was introduced, more asylum-seekers have chosen to voluntarily return to their country of origin while the number of people attempting to reach Australia by boat has dried up, with no vessels arriving for six months.

Morrison’s office said 283 people had voluntarily returned home from offshore processing centres since shortly after the conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott won power in September.

Refugee campaigners criticised the idea of the payments, and said returning asylum-seekers could still face persecution back home.

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“The idea that you would put people in a hell-hole like Manus Island, treat them abysmally and then try to bribe them to go back to the appalling circumstances they left shows just how morally bankrupt this government is,” Greens party leader Christine Milne said.

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said he had spoken to detainees in PNG who had accepted the money to return home, adding the amounts had risen several times after an Iranian asylum-seeker died in riots on Manus in February.

“The money that’s being offered to some people… it’s straight out bribery,” he told AFP.

But he added: “Relatively few people are taking the money.”

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Ex-cops indicted in fatal shooting of Black woman and ‘public torture’ of Black man in separate incidents

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Two former Mississippi police officers were indicted in the brutal beating of a Black motorist, and one of them was also charged in an unrelated fatal shooting.

Wade Robertson, 28, and Bryce Gilbert, 27, were charged with aggravated assault in the 2018 beating of James Barnett, and Robertson was also charged with manslaughter in the 2019 shooting death of Dominique Henry, reported The Laurel Leader-Call.

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Quarantine, racial strife, Trump have Michelle Obama feeling down

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Former First Lady Michelle Obama said she is suffering from "low-grade depression" from coronavirus quarantine, racial strife in the United States and the "hypocrisy" of the Trump administration.

Obama made the remarks in the latest episode of "The Michelle Obama Podcast" released on Spotify on Wednesday.

"I'm waking up in the middle of the night because I'm worrying about something or there's a heaviness," the 56-year-old former First Lady said.

"I try to make sure I get a workout in, although there have been periods throughout this quarantine, where I just have felt too low," she said.

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Another watchdog at US State Department abruptly gone

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The internal watchdog looking into accusations against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abruptly quit Wednesday, just months after his predecessor was fired.

The State Department's acting inspector general, Stephen Akard, is a longtime aide to Vice President Mike Pence and his installation in May had widely been seen as a way to keep a friendly figure in the role.

Akard informed colleagues that he is "returning to the private sector after years of public service," a State Department spokesperson said.

"We appreciate his dedication to the Department and to our country."

But Akard's departure comes just as his office finalizes a report on Pompeo's controversial decision to bypass Congress to sell $8.1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies.

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