Govt ‘Fake Refugee’ Policy Faces Backlash
23 May 2017 at 8:29 am
The federal government’s “fake refugee” policy, which is calling on asylum seekers to “lodge or leave”, has been met with outrage from the social sector.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced on Sunday that 7,500 asylum seekers living in Australia had until 1 October to apply for a temporary protection visa or face deportation.
He claimed there were thousands of “fake refugees” refusing to provide details about their claim for protection which were costing Australian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
“We aren’t going to be taken for a ride by the thousands of people who are refusing to provide details about their protection claims,” Dutton said.
But the social sector has condemned the “latest ultimatum to asylum seekers” and is calling for the “arbitrary” deadline to be revoked.
St Vincent de Paul Society CEO Dr John Falzon said the deadline to apply for protection, which involves submitting a 60-page document in English and can take up to 10 hours to complete with legal assistance, would in most cases, deny asylum seekers access to a fair and proper process.
“This latest announcement is cruel, morally reprehensible and a fundamental repudiation of the government’s moral and legal obligations to those seeking asylum in Australia,” Falzon said.
The announcement applies to asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat between August 2012 and December 2013, who have been living in the community on bridging visas such as Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) or Safe Haven Enterprise Visas.
To apply for protection asylum seekers need to be invited by the Department of Immigration.
“Many of these asylum seekers were not invited to apply for a protection visa until relatively recently,” Falzon said.
He said the move came as funding cuts to legal assistance and interpreting services, were forcing people to navigate complex legal processes on their own.
He expressed concern that the announcement would result in a rush of people submitting incomplete forms, “leaving them vulnerable to being sent back to danger”.
“We urge the government to instead provide asylum seekers with the legal support they need to enable their claims to be assessed in a fair manner,” Falzon said.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) Refugee Rights Subcommittee co-chair Khanh Hoang said it was an “unnecessary and unprecedented attack” on asylum seekers in Australia.
“These asylum seekers are subject to a ‘fast-track’ processing system that provides for minimal procedural fairness and merits review. It is therefore crucial that they are given adequate time and assistance to prepare their claims,” Hoang said.
“The government knows that lodging a protection visa is a complicated exercise and that many asylum seekers will need to rely on pro-bono legal assistance. It is also well aware that the centres offering such assistance are already stretched beyond capacity.”
He said setting “an arbitrary date” disregarded the fact that some of these asylum seekers were only invited to apply for protection as recently as last December.
“They waited years to be able to apply, yet are now faced with an unreasonably tight deadline to do so,” he said.
“Given the deadline, asylum seekers face an impossible choice. They must either submit an application — without legal assistance — before the deadline or risk destitution and/or deportation.
“Without legal assistance, applications lodged are likely to be inaccurate and incomplete, meaning that people may incorrectly be refused a visa and sent back to a place where they would face persecution.”
The president of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan echoed his sentiments accusing Dutton of “playing politics with people’s lives”.
“It is incredibly cruel and unfair to expect these vulnerable people to undergo this process in a limited time frame with limited access to legal assistance,” McMillan said.
“This arbitrary deadline will push already overwhelmed legal services to the limit, forcing many to apply without any legal representation or the support of an interpreter.
“Claims could be wrongly assessed if asylum seekers are forced through the process quickly.”
McMillan also said Dutton needed to be “more careful” of his language.
“Demeaning and demonising asylum seekers is not appropriate from a government minister, particularly the one who has direct responsibility for the welfare of all immigrants,” McMillan said.
Edmund Rice Centre Coordinator of Campaigns, Dominic Ofner said it was “an unfair and extreme attack” on refugees and people seeking asylum.
“Peter Dutton and the Turnbull government are deliberately making the process of applying for protection as difficult as possible,” Ofner said.
“Last week, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was spruiking Australia’s commitment to human rights as part of the government’s campaign to win a seat on the Human Rights Council. However, actions speak louder than words and today’s announcement is yet another example of a government that has no regard for our international legal and humanitarian obligations.”
Ofner said at a time when there are more than 21 million refugees worldwide it was “simply beyond embarrassing” that the government was “doing everything it possibly can to deny basic rights to 7,500 people seeking asylum in Australia”.
“It’s time the government stopped using refugees and people seeking asylum as political footballs,” he said.