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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 654

Asylum Seekers

Dear Mr Vasta

Thank you for your correspondence of 1 December 2016 enclosing Petition PN0031, concerning the Australian Government's refugee and humanitarian programme, and regional processing and settlement arrangements.

As a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its

1967 Protocol (the Refugees Convention), Australia takes its international obligations seriously. Australia is committed to providing protection to refugees consistent with the obligations set out in the Refugees Convention and other relevant international treaties to which Australia is a party.

The Australian Government views immigration detention as an essential component of strong border control. Immigration detention supports Australia's well-managed migration system and is used to identify individuals and to manage potential risks to the Australian community, including national security, health and character risks.

People transferred to and accommodated in immigration detention facilities are treated in accordance with human rights standards. The Government has contracted appropriately trained and experienced service providers to ensure that detainees' needs are adequately met, including provision of health and welfare services. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection considers a detainee's health status when making detention placement decisions.

The Department ensures that all people in immigration detention have access to health care. Detainees in immigration detention who are of self-harm concern receive a higher level of support as required under the Department's Psychological Support Programme. Care of such detainees is guided by an inter-disciplinary team led by a mental health clinician. Detainees requiring more intensive care are admitted to hospital.

Significant headway has been made over the past year to reduce the number of children in held detention. From a peak of 1,992 children at 30 July 2013, the number of children in held detention was reduced to zero at 1 April 2016.

There will be occasions where children transit through immigration detention; this can be due to airport turnarounds, people who are in the final stages of removal from Australia or due to criminal or security issues. The Department will continue to work to resolve matters involving any children and their families in held detention as quickly as possible and, where possible, will progress their release into the community as a priority.

Scrutiny from a number of external bodies helps to ensure detainees held in immigration detention are treated humanely and fairly. These parties include parliamentary committees, the Minister's Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Australian Government's Fast Track Assessment process was established to efficiently and effectively process claims for asylum. These measures are specifically aimed at providing an assessment process for those asylum seekers who arrived in Australia illegally by boat and are eligible for onshore processing. The Fast Track Assessment process supports the progress of cases towards a timely immigration outcome. The process contains the necessary procedural safeguards, with all Fast Track applicants receiving a comprehensive assessment of claims for protection. Applicants found not to engage Australia's protection obligation will be assessed to determine eligibility for review by the Immigration Assessment Authority.

Australia works closely with the international community and is an active partner in internationally coordinated resettlement efforts to respond to refugee situations. Fewer than 30 countries worldwide offer resettlement places each year. Of this number, only 10 countries have established annual resettlement programmes that resettle 500 or more refugees referred by the UNHCR. Australia consistently ranks among the top three of these countries, along with the United States (US) and Canada.

Australia currently provides funding to the UNHCR to undertake refugee status assessments in key transit countries throughout our region, including Indonesia and Malaysia. This arrangement offers an opportunity for people to have protection claims assessed in these countries, rather than resorting to dangerous boat travel.

It remains the policy of the Government to intercept any vessel seeking to enter Australia illegally and to assess individuals to determine whether they engage Australia's non-refoulement obligations. Australia does not return people to their country of origin where this would be inconsistent with our obligations under international human rights instruments to which Australia is a signatory.

On 17 August 2016, the Governments of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Australia announced that the Manus Regional Processing Centre (RPC) will close.

There is no detention on Nauru. The Nauru RPC operates as an open centre and transferees are free to come and go at any time without restriction. Transport is provided to assist transferees to move around Nauru.

The Governments of Nauru and PNG continue to progress refugee status determinations for people transferred to those countries under the regional processing arrangements. People found to be refugees in Nauru can settle there temporarily or resettle permanently in Cambodia. People found to be refugees in PNG can settle there permanently.

Australia assists Nauru, PNG and Cambodia to provide refugees with settlement support services to assist with integration. Services are delivered through a needs-based case management model and may include: cultural and language orientation; employment, education and health linking; income support; and accommodation assistance. Services focus on building independence and self-sufficiency.

In addition to these existing arrangements, the US has agreed to consider resettlement of those refugees in Nauru and PNG endorsed by the UNHCR for referral to the US Refugee Admissions Program. Resettlement in the US will not be available to any future illegal maritime arrivals in Australia. Further information about this arrangement is available at: Pages/Refugee-resettlement-from-Regional-Process-Centres.aspx.

The orderly resettlement of refugees will take time and will not be rushed.

Transferees found not to be refugees are expected to return home. For people choosing to return home voluntarily, assistance is available to help them to re-establish their lives in their home countries.

Thank you for bringing this petition to my attention.

Yours sincerely

from the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Mr Dutton