Life on the land in Australia



Refugee groups welcomed Immigration Minister Chris Bowen’s announcement yesterday the Federal Government would wind back the inequitable treatment of asylum-seekers who arrive by boat and air.

The first group of ”long-term” detainees – 27 men who have been detained for more than a year – will be released into the community on bridging visas in coming days.

Before now, only asylum-seekers who arrived in Australia by aeroplane were eligible for bridging visas and release into the community while their claims for refugee status were being considered.

The Government will allow asylum-seekers on bridging visas the right to work and access to health and support services.

Mr Bowen said that in time 100 asylum-seekers would be released from detention each month, with the priority given to those who had spent the longest in detention.

”This will be an ongoing, staged process to ensure an orderly transition to the community and that only suitable people are released,” Mr Bowen said.

From next year, asylum-seekers who arrive by boat will also have the same visa processes and right to appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal as people who arrive by plane.

”It is only prudent to introduce a single, consistent and efficient process that will continue to afford all people using the system access to judicial review,” Mr Bowen said.

Mr Bowen said the Government had been given no alternative to adopting the changes because the Opposition refused to support its so-called Malaysian solution after the High Court ruling that it breached Australia’s international obligations.

Former ombudsman Allan Asher, who has long lobbied the Government to release detainees into community detention, dubbed the changes an accidental win.

”The Government has accidently fallen into what is a workable policy.”

Australian College of Mental Health Nurses chief executive Kim Ryan said Australian health professionals had long held fears for the mental health of people in long-term detention, which had been proven to exacerbate mental illness.

Richard Towle from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the measures were ”sensible and positive”.

”UNHCR has been very concerned, for many years, about the human impact of mandatory detention on asylum-seekers and refugees arriving by boat to Australia,” he said.

”Today’s announcements, that people who pose no security and health threats can be released more swiftly into the community through the use of bridging visas, is very welcome.”

Refugee Council of Australia chief Paul Power welcomed the announcement.

”For 10 years, successive governments have tied themselves in knots, applying different rules to asylum-seekers according to where and how they first set foot on Australian soil,” Mr Power said.

”It is pleasing to see that finally common sense has prevailed and that all asylum claims in Australia will now be processed under a common system.”

The High Court of Australia found in November the Federal Government had denied two Sri Lankan men procedural fairness by denying them access to Australian courts. The ruling was interpreted by refugee lawyers at the time as meaning the two-tier system for asylum-seekers, depending on how they arrive in the country, was  improper & unlawful.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

November 27th, 2011

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