Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Australia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 14 June 2006
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Australia , 14 June 2006, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Australia had an active policy of returning failed asylum seekers either to their country of origin or to a country where they had residency rights. The Government, however, denied practicing refoulement, indicating that it only removed persons after a rigorous status determination process.

On December 30, 2004, Australia deported Afghans Ali and Roqia Bakhtiari and their six children to Pakistan, despite evidence that they were actually refugees. Ali had arrived in 1999, and Australia granted him a temporary protection visa in August 2000. When Roqia and the children arrived in 2001, Australian officials denied her asylum claim because they disputed her nationality and put her in detention. In December 2002, they revoked Ali's visa and detained him as well, accusing him of having lied about his citizenship. Despite letters from the Afghan Government and authorities from their home village and testimony from aid workers in Afghanistan that the Bakhtiaris were Afghani and had fled the Taliban, Australia insisted that because Pakistan acknowledged their right of residence there, it had to deport the Bakhtiaris to Pakistan.

Under a series of laws passed in 2001, Australia excised its offshore possessions along its northern coast from its "migration zone" and did not permit asylum seekers who arrived at these locations or those authorities intercepted at sea to apply in Australia for visas. Officials from the Department of Immigration and Indigenous and Multicultural Affairs (DIMIA) assessed their asylum claims and appeals. Australia detained those they found to be refugees until other countries agreed to accept them, although the Minister of Immigration and Indigenous and Multicultural Affairs had discretion to grant them visas to stay in Australia. Australia returned those it found not to be refugees to countries where they have legal residency.

Refugees who arrived in the migration zone without visas were only eligible for Temporary Protection Visas (TPV). TPVs permitted refugees to live and work in Australia for three years, and granted access to health and social services. They did not, however, allow refugees to return after leaving the country for family reunification. Refugees who granted TPVs could apply for further protection at any point during their stay and for renewal of the TPVs. Refugees with TPVs whom DIMIA found no longer in need of protection were eligible for 18-month Return Pending Visas when their TPVs expired. The minister of immigration could grant Permanent Protection Visas (PPVs) to anyone who would otherwise be restricted to a TPV.

Australia permitted asylum seekers who arrived with valid visas to apply for PPVs, providing they had not spent more than seven days in a country that could have protected them. Asylum seekers whose claims authorities rejected during onshore processing could appeal to Australia's Refugee Review Tribunal. A law passed in late 2005 established a 90-day time limit for interviews and appeals, with DIMIA reporting cases that miss the deadlines to Parliament.

During fiscal year 2004-05, Australia granted 13,200 permanent humanitarian visas through two programs. The Refugee Program accepted those who were subject to persecution in their home countries and in need of resettlement. UNHCR referred most of them. The Special Humanitarian Program offered visas to people outside their home countries who fled significant discrimination and whom Australians or Australia-based organizations referred.

In April 2006, Australia announced that asylum seekers who arrived without visas by boat could no longer receive asylum in Australia but would be detained offshore, likely in Nauru, and be unable to access the Australian court system for appeals. Those in need of protection would remain in detention until resettlement countries accepted them.

Detention/Access to Courts

In April, Australia granted 20 detained asylum seekers refugee status and released them, some after more than 4 years of detention. As of May, at least 150 people had been in immigration detention for 3 years or more. Australia detained one Kashmiri asylum seeker for six years and ten months before releasing him in July. DIMIA had rejected his claim but he was unable to get a visa to return to India. Australia had detained a Bangladeshi detainee since September 1999.

Starting in May, the immigration ministry could issue new Removal Pending Bridging Visas (RPBVs), which allowed those in immigration detention who lacked travel documents or necessary transit visas to stay. Australia permitted holders of RPBVs to work and provided them free health services and public education. The Government invited at least 67 people to apply for the RPBV in 2005. As of November, some 900 people were in some form of immigration detention, 700-800 in onshore detention facilities (including 6 unaccompanied boys) and nearly 200 in alternative detention, hospitals, correctional facilities, or other locations. The Government estimated 20 percent were asylum seekers. Authorities held three in Australia's Christmas Island offshore facility.

The Migration Amendment Bill 2005 declared that the Government should only detain children as a last resort and allowed the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to specify alternate arrangements, allowing women and families to live outside facilities in "community detention arrangements." The Bill also required the minister to report to the Commonwealth Ombudsman on any non-citizen in immigration detention for more than two years. The Ombudsman had the power to investigate any issues arising from the reports, and could question DIMIA officials under oath and enter any detention facilities. The Ombudsman's recommendations were publicly available, but nonbinding.

Australia shut down its detention center on the small Pacific island country of Nauru in October. It had used Nauru, along with Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, as detention sites for migrants intercepted at sea or in excised territories. Australia reserved the possibility of reopening it.

Australian court decisions in 2004 declared that indefinite detention was constitutional if the Government intended to deport, that international human rights obligations did not restrict executive power to detain aliens, that the detention of aliens need not be reasonable or proportionate to avoid being punitive, and that no court may order the release of alien children from detention.

Under rules Australia announced in April 2006, all asylum seekers arriving without visas would be detained in offshore facilities until their claims were decided. If Australia found they needed protection, they would remain in detention until a third country accepted them.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Once clear of immigration detention, all refugees and asylum seekers enjoyed complete freedom of movement within Australia. Those authorities granted permanent protection received travel documents and were free to travel abroad and return as long as they did not travel to their country of origin. Refugees with TPVs did not have the right to return to Australia if they traveled internationally. Asylum seekers who left the country without showing good cause automatically forfeited their chance to seek protection.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Australia permitted refugees granted temporary or permanent protection visas to work. The Government assisted them in finding jobs through its Job Network program.

Asylum seekers who were not detained (because they arrived with a valid visa) and who spent fewer than 45 days in the previous 12 months in Australia before applying for a protection visa could work while their claim was being processed. Asylum seekers who already held visas were required to abide by the rights or restrictions that already applied. The Government did not permit applicants with more than 45 days in Australia in the 12 months before filing their applications to work while it processed their claims.

Refugees had full rights to practice professions, own permanent and movable property, open bank accounts, and run businesses. They had full protection under Australia's labor laws

Public Relief and Education

Both refugees and asylum seekers had the same access to primary and secondary education as nationals. Refugees with TPVs and asylum seekers had limited access to post-secondary education.

The Government provided newly arrived refugees and humanitarian entrants in their first six months with orientation, information, and referrals; assistance in finding housing; clothing, footwear, and household goods; as well as short-term torture and trauma counseling and emergency medical assistance. Refugees and Special Humanitarian Program entrants were exempt from the two-year waiting period to receive social security payments, including unemployment and sickness benefits, student allowances, and other payments. Those with dependent children could receive family tax benefits and childcare benefits.

PPV and TPV holders were only eligible for short-term torture and trauma counseling. Asylum seekers who had a pending application for a permanent visa, for migration or asylum, and who held a valid visa with work rights could enroll in the Government's health insurance program. Asylum seekers who were waiting for authorities to process their applications and eligible for permanent visas could receive money for essentials and assistance with health service fees.

Immigration detention centers offered 24-hour medical services, dental services, physical and psychological health services, and educational programs for adults and children, including English language instruction. In most facilities, the majority of school-age children attended schools in the community during the school term.

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