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Tuesday, 9 September 2003
Page: 14623


Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (3:08 PM) —Yesterday Senator Bartlett asked me a question about Iraqi temporary protection visa holders. I have here a comprehensive answer to that question. On behalf of the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, I seek leave to incorporate that answer.

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows—

Iraqi TPV holders

Question: Can the Minister confirm that there has been no processing of protection visa applications from Iraqi refugees despite the fact that many refugees' original visas expired as long ago as December last year?

Answer:

Since the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq began in March 2003, Iraqi nationals in the refugee determination process whose claims for protection depend upon country information have had their decisions deferred until reliable country information is available. This is not a blanket arrangement. The arrangements allow for processing to continue and decision-making to occur where a decision can be made without reference to Iraqi country information.

This approach is in recognition of the consequences of making protection visa decisions in an environment where the country situation is volatile and the country information subject to constant change.

It aims to ensure that Australia does not breach its protection obligations.

Australia's current approach is consistent with the UNHCR calls for asylum countries to exercise caution in decision-making, given the current state of affairs in Iraq. For example, the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have also suspended the consideration of Iraqi asylum applications in response to UNHCR. Each of these countries is keeping these arrangements under review, as is Australia.

Question: How long are these refugees expected to be left waiting and suffering in a state of uncertainty about their future, separated from their family and unable to rebuild their lives?

Answer:

All TPV holders who have had their visas cease received a further interim temporary protection visa pending the determination of their further protection visa application. This means they continue to receive the security of protection in Australia and all associated benefits until their application can be finally assessed. These benefits include:

- a wide range of social security payments, including special benefits, child care benefits, family tax benefits, maternity allowance and rent assistance;

- access to Medicare, work rights, education; and

- early health assessment and intervention which includes torture and trauma counselling.

Much is made of the `uncertainty' facing temporary protection visa holders in Australia. However, there are 12 million refugees around the world facing such uncertainty, many of those are in camps awaiting a durable solution.

Question: How many Iraqi refugees who were granted temporary protection visas over three years ago have put in an application for a new visa on the expiry of their temporary visa and whether any of those visas have been processed through to finality. How long are they expected to wait?

Answer:

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs' systems indicate that as at 22 August 2003, some 4006 Iraqi TPV holders had lodged further protection visa applications. Of this group, some 950 were granted their original temporary protection visa over three years ago. It is anticipated that most of this caseload will need reliable and up-to-date country information in order to make a decision.

In addition, departmental systems record that as of 9 September 2003, there have been 79 decisions made in relation to further protection visa applications by Iraqi TPV holders, 78 of these were refusals due to voluntary departure from Australia. The remaining decision was a grant of a permanent protection visa.