Humanitarian Program?

Since the Rudd Government took office in November 2007, some key proposed changes in Immigration have been announced by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.  While the changes go some way to making Australia’s refugee and asylum seekers program fairer, there is more work to be done.

Three areas particularly need further Government action:

  • The practice of billing asylum seekers for their time in detention;
  • The overall number of refugees we accept,
  • The policy of indefinite mandatory detention

A young woman arrived in Australia from Somalia with her children aged 4 and 2. Without proper documentation, the family was taken straight to detention from the airport. The woman was even further traumatised by the experience of detention. As the months went by, she was unable to function as mother and withdrew further into severe depression. The children were very much affected by this withdrawal and often looked lost and afraid. Eventually, the children were released into the care of a family member whilst their mother remained in detention. This experience led to a further deterioration in her overall wellbeing. The family member had also fled the conflict in Somalia.

The mother was taken to a psychologist outside the detention centre who strongly recommended the woman be released from detention. After a year or more in detention, the woman suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalised. After that, she was released and reunited with her children. As her refugee status was still being determined, she was released into the community on a bridging visa without work rights, Medicare or Centrelink benefit.

The Minister later intervened in this case under section 417, however the mother spent a further 6 months on a Bridging Visa E awaiting checks. She was informed that as she had been in detention she was not eligible for the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (ASAS), and no move was made to grant her discretionary work rights or Medicare.

Move to cancel detention debts for Asylum Seekers

The Federal Government introduced legislation into the Senate (March 2009) to abolish the charging of asylum seekers for the cost of their detention and it will extinguish all outstanding detention debts. Now we need to ensure that the Liberal – National Coalition and the two independent Senators do not work together to block the Government’s legislation in the May and June sittings of Parliament.

The need for an increase in the Humanitarian Program

In 2009-2010 the Government will accept 13,750 refugees, up 750 places from the year before. While small increases are welcome, more significant increases are necessary to address the worsening global refugee situation. Australia, a wealthy, peaceful and prosperous nation, has a responsibility to offer protection to those suffering most from violence and persecution.

Detention in Australia

The Government mandatorily detains all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia seeking asylum, without a valid visa.  These people are not criminals, and are not charged with any criminal offences. They are often fleeing oppressive regimes or leaving their own countries in search of a life without persecution, torment and or discrimination.

Refugee advocacy groups are urging the Government to amend the Migration Act so that any immigration detention occurs only when necessary, and to legislate for minimum standards for conditions and treatment of people who are in immigration detention.

Every fortnight, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship publishes an updated statistics summary sheet, giving background details of the people who are currently being held in detention in Australia. Check out the latest summary here: