U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Australia

During 1996, Australia received 7,358 asylum applications from persons of diverse nationalities, including from the Philippines (1,464), Indonesia (1,105), Sri Lanka (958), the People's Republic of China (586), India (245), Turkey (239), Tonga (140), and other countries as far afield as Somalia and Colombia. In accordance with the Migration Act, persons arriving in Australia without authority, including asylum seekers (whom the Australian government refers to as "on-shore applicants for protection visas"), were detained while any claim to stay, including an asylum application, was assessed. During 1996, Australia adjudicated 7,540 primary asylum applications (compared to 13,919 in 1995), including applications filed in previous years. Of the claims it adjudicated, the Australian government approved 1,374 (18 percent) and rejected 6,166 (82 percent). Some 8,772 asylum applications were pending at the end of 1996. Also during the year, 4,280 persons appealed rejections of their asylum applications. The Refugee Review Tribunal approved 1,841 appeals upon review and rejected 4,051 (an approval rate of 31 percent). At the end of the year, 5,346 appeals were pending. Resettlement During 1996, Australia resettled 11,270 persons under its Humanitarian Program. According to the Australian government, that figure included 3,957 refugees, 2,254 persons resettled under a "Special Humanitarian Program," and 5,059 persons resettled under a "Special Assistance Category." The majority of persons resettled under all three categories were from the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia. Australia also granted temporary entry visas, a form of temporary protected status, to nationals of Sri Lanka and the countries of the former Yugoslavia. At the end of 1996, some 1,800 Sri Lankans and 2,300 nationals of the former Yugoslavia held such visas. Developments in 1996 In January, Australia's Refugee Review Tribunal ruled that Australia need not grant refugee status to East Timorese. Its reasoning was that because Portugal considers East Timorese to be Portuguese citizens, East Timorese cannot argue that they needed protection as refugees. Many East Timorese, who are mostly Christian, have sought asylum in Australia. They say they left East Timor, a former Portuguese colony annexed by Indonesia, because the Indonesian authorities discriminated against them and Indonesian Muslim migrants from more populous islands squeezed them out of their jobs. Portugal has traditionally permitted East Timorese seeking to flee Indonesia to assume their rights as citizens and allowed them to settle in Portugal. Critics of Australia's policy said that it was hypocritical for Australia to recognize Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor, which the UN still considers a UN trusteeship under Portuguese administration, yet not recognize East Timorese as Indonesians when they apply for asylum. In June, Australia's new Conservative government announced plans to reduce the number of refugees to be resettled in Australia from 15,000 to 12,000 in 1997. The new government also announced plans to reduce the level of immigration to Australia. Refugee advocates noted an increasingly strong anti-immigrant and anti-Asian sentiment in Australia. On May 11, Australia deported 59 ethnic Chinese Vietnamese asylum seekers to southern China after they lost the final appeals of their negative asylum determinations. The Vietnamese had left camps for ethnic Chinese Vietnamese refugees in China in 1994 and made their way to Australia by boat. Australia deported 357 rejected asylum seekers to China in May, but other groups of boat people continued to arrive, including 66 who arrived on May 12, the day after the first deportation. Beginning in October, rejected asylum seekers who appealed their negative determinations were no longer eligible to receive asylum seekers' assistance (ASA). Previously, they could receive ASA until a final decision was reached on their appeal. The Australian government said that it provides ASA to asylum seekers who are not in detention and who are "unable to meet their basic needs for food, accommodation, and health care."

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