Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Australia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Australia, 11 July 2007, 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 returned failed asylum seekers either to their country of origin or to a country where they had residency rights. The Government, however, maintained that it only did so after rigorous refugee status determinations. While Australia offered complementary protection to those who did not meet the standard of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in its resettlement program, it did not for asylum claims. Asylum seekers could request relief from deportation on humanitarian grounds at the discretion of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, but the latter granted it in only about five percent of cases between 1996 and 2003.

During 2006, Australia returned three asylum seekers from West Papua, Indonesia to Papua New Guinea, because they had spent more than one week in Papua New Guinea before seeking asylum in Australia.

The Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education interviewed 41 failed asylum seekers (37 Afghans, 2 Iraqis, 1 Palestinian, and 1 Congolese from Democratic Republic of Congo) after their deportations and found that authorities had returned all of them to dangerous situations. Two returned Afghan asylum seekers died and there was strong evidence of the deaths of seven others. Unknown assailants in Baghdad reportedly killed an Iraqi Shi'a refugee just a few months after Australia had deported him in 2004. Fellow émigrés speculated that ex-Baathists or al Qaeda agents killed him as they viewed Australian deportees as spies. Australia offered (though did not always give) financial inducements and conditions in Nauru and other Australian detention facilities were harsh, making the voluntary nature of the repatriations questionable. Only one of the asylum seekers interviewed remained in the country to which authorities deported him.

In 2001, Australia excised islands along its northern coast from its "migration zone" and did not permit asylum seekers who arrived at these locations or those it intercepted at sea to apply for visas in Australia. In March, Australia granted temporary protection visas (TPVs) to 40 asylum seekers who had arrived by boat in January from West Papua, Indonesia. The resulting tension with Indonesia prompted the Prime Minister to attempt to change the laws to include arrivals to the mainland by boat in the offshore policy, but the Senate defeated the measure in August. Officials from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMIA, re-named the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in January 2007) assessed asylum claims and more senior officials considered appeals. Australia detained those offshore arrivals it found to be refugees until other countries agreed to accept them, although the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship had discretion to grant them visas to stay in Australia. Australia returned those it found not to be refugees to countries where they had legal residency.

DIMIA tape-recorded and documented in writing all asylum hearings and provided results in writing, in both English and the asylum seekers' preferred languages. Rejected asylum seekers had seven days to appeal.

Refugees who arrived in the migration zone without visas were only eligible for TPVs permitting them to live, work, and receive health and social services in Australia for three years. TPVs did not, however, allow refugees to return after leaving the country or for family reunification. Refugees with TPVs could apply for further protection at any point during their stay and for renewal of the TPVs. In November, a court ruled that Australia did not have to give ongoing protection to refugees on TPVs when they reapplied if there was a change in the situation in their home countries that obviated their need for protection. Since 2004, TPV holders had also been able to apply for other migration visas, including employment, business, regional migration, family, or temporary student visas.

Refugees with TPVs whom DIMIA found no longer in need of protection were eligible for 18-month Return Pending Bridging Visas when their TPVs expired, to allow them to make arrangements to leave the country. The Minister could grant Permanent Protection Visas (PPVs) to anyone who would otherwise be restricted to a TPV. About 1,000 remained on three-year TPVs.

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 onshore could appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal. In June 2005, the Prime Minister established a 90-day limit for interviews and appeals, with DIMIA reporting cases that missed the deadlines to Parliament.

Two Australian teens killed a Sudanese refugee near Sydney in February. One pled guilty to manslaughter in September, and a jury convicted the other of manslaughter at trial and a judge sentenced him to between four and six years in prison. In April, unknown assailants firebombed the home of a Sudanese refugee and her seven children in Toowoomba, Queensland.

The Refugee Program accepted 12,100 refugees, most of whom UNHCR referred. The Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) offered visas to people who fled significant discrimination whom Australian citizens or Australia-based organizations referred. Between July 2005 and June 2006, Australia granted 14,100 protection visas. This included almost 1,300 granted onshore (1,000 PPVs and 280 TPVs), out of 3,300 applications. For 2006-07, Australia allotted 6,000 visas for its refugee program and 7,000 for onshore and SHP cases, and filled 6,600 of them by year's end, 3,400 from special humanitarian program, 3,000 from the refugee program, and 200 through onshore grants of protection.

Detention/Access to Courts

As of December, Australia held roughly 310 asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers in detention facilities. Detainees could not challenge their detention in court. Australia increasingly released long-term detainees, particularly those with health problems, but this remained a discretionary power of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. UNHCR had access to all detention facilities and attempted to visit the main centers every 18 months.

The Migration Amendment Bill 2005 declared that the Government should only detain children as a last resort and allowed the Minister to permit women and families to live outside facilities under DIMIA supervision. As of January 2007, there were 33 children living in alternate detention arrangements. The Bill 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 facility. The Ombudsman could make recommendations, including continued detention, release to community detention facilities, or permanent residency.

In August, the Minister apologized and paid compensation to a female refugee whom other inmates assaulted and attempted to rape in a facility with 50 men during 2002. In November, a clash at Sydney's Villawood detention center injured five male detainees and one guard.

In 2004, courts found that indefinite detention was constitutional if the Government intended to deport foreigners, that international human rights obligations did not restrict executive power to detain them, that detention of foreigners need not be reasonable or proportionate to avoid being punitive, and that no court may order the release of foreign children from detention.

Refugees and asylum seekers in Australia proper had full access to the courts (although not to challenge detention), but not those detained offshore.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Outside of detention, all refugees and asylum seekers enjoyed complete freedom of movement within Australia. The Government issued international travel documents to those with permanent protection and they were free to travel abroad and return as long as they did not travel to their country of origin. Refugees with TPVs, however, did not have the right to return to Australia if they left. Asylum seekers who left the country without showing good cause automatically forfeited their chance to seek protection.

In December, the city council of Tamworth in New South Wales refused to accept five families of resettled Sudanese refugees. The Mayor said the council feared the refugees would not find work, might carry diseases, and would sexually harass local women. In January 2007, the town relented and agreed to accept them.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The Government permitted refugees to work.

Asylum seekers who arrived with valid visas and who spent fewer than 45 days in the previous year in Australia before applying for asylum could work while the Government processed their claim, assuming their original visa allowed them to work. Those whose visas did not allow them to work had to apply for permission to work, and had to demonstrate a need to work. The Government also suspended work rights when it rejected claims, even if the asylum seeker filed a request to the Minister to stay on humanitarian grounds.

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

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 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 with pending applications and visas with work rights received government health insurance. Those without work rights did not get government health insurance, but the Australian Red Cross aided some.

Immigration detention centers offered 24-hour medical, dental, and psychological health services. They also offered educational programs, including English language instruction.

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.

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