Legal Cuts Undermine Refugee Rights for Protection - NFP
31 March 2014 at 4:11 pm
Asylum seeker Not for Profits are describing the Federal Government’s axing of its legal advice service for asylum seekers as “unfair decision making” that puts those seeking protection at risk of being returned to persecution and danger.
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, said the decision to cut the Government funded immigration advice and assistance under the Immigration Advice and Application Scheme (IAAAS) was a Coalition Government election commitment that would save the Federal Budget $100 million.
“Australia's protection obligations do not extend to providing free immigration advice and assistance to those who arrived in Australia illegally,” he said.
“If people choose to violate how Australia chooses to run our refugee and humanitarian programme, they should not presume upon the support and assistance that is provided to those who seek to come the right way, and they should certainly not receive additional assistance, as they did under the previous government.
“Under these changes the government will provide illegal arrivals clear instructions in multiple languages setting out the asylum application and assessment process and will provide interpreters. This is similar to the process employed by the UNHCR around the world.
“Impacted persons seeking Australia's protection and IAAAS providers will be notified of these changes. Services that have already commenced will be completed, however the IAAAS will not continue for any additional part of the process that would incur an additional fee.”
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis said this was another attempt to undermine the right to claim protection as a refugee.
“These can be life and death decisions. When we get it wrong people are returned to significant harm, torture and death,” he said.
Karapanagiotidis said the refugee determination process was a legal process, requiring asylum seekers to provide sufficient evidence of their claims for protection.
He said departmental officers were trained to question and interrogate those claims, however for asylum seekers to navigate this process unassisted was grossly unfair and the removal of legal support left asylum seekers vulnerable to unfair decision making.
“The result will be poor decision making and burden shifting to the Refugee Review Tribunal and the courts for review. It will not save money,” Karapanagiotidis said.
“The legal services offered by IAAAS providers are incredibly good value and ensures a fair and robust refugee determination process.”
The Minister claims that the move will save $100 million over four years however comparatively, the cost of offshore processing in 2013 alone was $1 billion, he said.
“This is further discriminatory treatment of asylum seekers by mode of arrival, something which is explicitly prohibited under the Refugee Convention,” Karapanagiotidis said.
Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) President Phil Glendenning said the changes unfairly punished vulnerable people who would struggle to navigate a complex legal system on their own.
“For more than 20 years, successive Australian governments have funded legal aid for asylum seekers to ensure they are given a fair hearing and to provide greater assurances that they are not sent back to the danger they have fled,” he said.
“Without independent, government-funded legal advice, asylum seekers with no knowledge of Australia’s complex legal system, no knowledge of the refugee determination process and limited or no English will be told to go it alone.
“The result will be a ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario in which some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged asylum seekers – including people with limited education, on low incomes and suffering from serious mental health impacts of torture and trauma – will be most at risk.
“This is yet another policy designed to punish asylum seekers arriving without visas and undermine the integrity of Australia’s legal system.”
Minister Morrison said the withdrawal of taxpayer funded immigration advice and assistance did not prevent those who arrived illegally to have access to legal assistance with “those who wish to provide immigration advice and application assistance pro bono are free to do so”.
“Access to any private and/or pro bono immigration advice by illegal boat or air arrivals will be facilitated by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, with all costs to be met by the providers of these services,” Morrison said.
“The government will provide a small amount of additional support to those who are considered vulnerable, including unaccompanied minors and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is currently considering the most effective and efficient way to provide this support.”
Karapanagiotidis said Australia had a duty to facilitate the refugee determination process for all asylum seekers.
“Assistance should not be denied to anyone requesting our protection from harm,” he said.
“As an independent organisation, the ASRC does not accept federal government funding and is not an IAAAS provider.
“We expect to see an increase in demand for our free legal services as a result of the cuts and other community legal centres to be placed under pressure.”