The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. UNHCR identifies and refers the majority of applicants considered under the program. For the fiscal year that began on July 1, the intake remained at 13,750. In 2015-16 at least 1,000 places were reserved for women at risk and at least 1,500 for Syrians. On September 10, the government announced it would accept an additional 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq for permanent resettlement, in addition to the annual refugee intake of 13,750.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees.
The number of asylum seekers arriving by sea significantly increased between 2008 and 2013, putting pressure on detention center capacity, processing times, and the capacity of the humanitarian refugee program. In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the government recorded 25,750 such arrivals. According to the government, 28,890 persons resided in the community while authorities assessed their visa applications, as of July 31. The country retained third-party processing of asylum seekers in Nauru or in Papua New Guinea for asylum seekers that arrived after July 19, 2013. Authorities continued their policy of not settling those arrivals in the country and forced intercepted boats carrying smuggled persons back into the territorial waters of their country of embarkation when safe to do so. Since OSB’s inception, there were 2,125 transfers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island as of June 30. In August the immigration minister reported that authorities had turned back 20 boats transporting asylum seekers since OSB commenced operation.
The law authorizes the immigration minister to designate a country as a regional offshore processing center, if the minister determines it is in the national interest to do so, and requires the minister to notify parliament, which may then disapprove the proposed designation within five working days of notification. The law states that such a designation “need not be limited by reference to the international obligations or domestic law of that country.” Under the government’s policy on asylum processing for unauthorized maritime arrivals, asylum seekers transferred to third countries for regional processing have their asylum claims assessed by the country in which the claim is processed.
In 2013 the previous Labor government entered into a Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea to send all unauthorized maritime arrivals to Papua New Guinea for assessment and to resettle those found to be refugees in Papua New Guinea. In 2013 Nauru became part of the arrangement. The government then began transferring all unauthorized maritime asylum seeker arrivals to Papua New Guinea and Nauru for processing. As of August Papua New Guinea had not approved any permanent resettlement arrangements but had granted refugee status to at least 50 individuals for release into the local community to receive support services at an open facility, including language training, cultural orientation, and case support. In September 2014 the government reached agreement with Cambodia to resettle refugees on a voluntary basis from the processing center in Nauru. In June, four refugees from the Nauru processing center arrived in Cambodia. In early October the Nauruan government announced that processing for the 600 outstanding refugee claims would be expedited and claimants would be able to move freely around the island, while maintaining access to assistance from the regional processing center.
In July 2014 a Customs Department vessel detained for four weeks a group of 157 Tamil asylum seekers from a boat smuggling persons that originated in India at sea while the government discussed their status with Indian government officials. Authorities eventually transferred the asylum seekers to an onshore processing facility in Western Australia. After the asylum seekers refused to meet with Indian consular officials to determine their nationality and claims, authorities sent them to the offshore processing facility in Nauru. In January the High Court ruled this was legal under the Commonwealth Maritime Powers Act. On March 20, authorities intercepted a vessel carrying 46 Vietnamese and transferred its occupants to an Australian ship. After assessment, authorities returned them to Vietnam on April 18.
In December 2014 parliament passed the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, which the government stated “fundamentally changes Australia’s approach to managing asylum seekers” and was partly aimed at addressing the “backlog” of approximately 30,000 applications for asylum. The legislation provided additional clarity and consistency in the powers to detain and move vessels and persons, including in relation to the Maritime Powers Act; introduced three-year temporary protection visas (TPV) for those who arrived between August 13, 2012 and December 31, 2013; and introduced a “fast-track” assessment process for those who arrived between August 13, 2012 and December 31, 2013. It also established a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) that enabled TPV holders to apply for a five-year visa to work in non-metropolitan areas. After holding a SHEV for three and a half years, an applicant would be eligible to apply for other onshore visas, such as a permanent skilled visa.
There is a statutory obligation for the government to facilitate access to legal representation for persons in immigration detention. In March 2014 the federal government tightened access to government-funded legal assistance to only those that arrived through authorized channels.
In August 2014 there were 194 people who had been in immigration detention for two or more years compared with 399 in 2013.
The number of children (younger than 18 years) in immigration detention in country fell from 1,392 in 2013 to 118 in July. There were 87 children on Nauru and none on Manus Island. In August 2014 the government announced arrangements to enable more minors to reside in the community while authorities processed their applications.
In March the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment criticized the government’s asylum seeker policies based on allegations made in 2014 of indefinite detention of asylum seekers, poor detention conditions, alleged detention of children, and escalating violence and tension at the Manus Island detention center. The immigration minister rejected the claim of the rapporteur that the treatment of asylum seekers in detention breached international conventions. He said, “Australia is meeting all its international obligations and with other regional nations provides a range of services to people who have attempted to enter Australia illegally.” The prime minister said, “The most humanitarian, the most decent, the most compassionate thing you can do is stop these boats because hundreds, we think about 1,200 in fact, drowned at sea during the flourishing of the people smuggling trade under the former government.”
In September the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants postponed a visit, at the invitation of the Australian government, to immigration detention centers in the country and on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. He said, “The 2015 Border Force Act, which sanctions detention center service providers who disclose ‘protected information’ with a two-year court sentence, would have an impact on my visit as it serves to discourage people from fully disclosing information relevant to my mandate.” In response the government stated that access to offshore processing centers was the responsibility of host countries and the government had “accommodated to the fullest extent possible the requests of the office of the special rapporteur as it has with past visits.”
Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and funded refugee resettlement services. The Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided case-specific assistance that included finding accommodation, employment programs, language training, registering for income support and health care, and connecting with community and recreational programs.