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Refugees - a firm hand is needed

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Philip Ruddock MP Federal Member for Dundas Shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs

Electorate Tel: (02) 858 1011 Fax: (02) 804 6739

Parliament House Tel: (06) 277 4343 Fax: (06) 277 2062


It is clear that the handling of refugee claims is undermining Australia's ability to maintain the integrity of its borders. World-wide experience, but particularly in Europe and Canada, demonstrates that expectations and

perceptions can undermine effective supervision and control.

The Australian Government failed to send the correct signal to the world when it allowed 20,000 Chinese students temporary entry in 1990 and held out the promise of permanency in the future.

The result was, instead of 500 claimants on-shore for protection, we now have 14,000. They are increasing at the rate of 1000 per month. By the years end they will exceed 20,000. Over 8000 of the present 14,000 claimants are PRC nationals who arrived post the Tienanmen Square events of June 1989.

Now the Government is failing the next test.

Over the space of 18 months some 300 people have arrived on our shores claiming to be Vietnamese or Khmer requiring protection. Few, if any, have lodged claims for protection in the proper form. While the Government has advised that it now has arrangements in place for Khmer to be returned if they have no substantial claims or need for protection as refugees or on humanitarian grounds, no individual has been returned.

In fact, no claims for protection have been determined.

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Is it any wonder that expectations are developing abroad that all that is required for re-settlement in Australia is to buy passage by any means available.

The Government needs to enhance and expedite the process of refugee determination particularly of those treated as unprocessed entrants (ie boat people).

Clear time limits need to be imposed on the lodging of applications.

Proper advice needs to be furnished to individuals, on arrival in Australia, of the need to ensure any claims are put promptly and within a specified time limit.

Access to independent advise needs also to be available to ensure natural justice rules are met.

Manipulation of the rules must not be permitted.

The fact of 14000 refugee claimants has already prompted one legal adviser in Sydney to boast that with substantial delay of many years duration, it was appropriate for many illegal entrants to lodge claims for refugee or humanitarian protection no matter how frivolous the claims.

It is Canberra's failure to properly administer the arrangements for refugee determination in a timely fashion that will lead to a breakdown in our ability to provide proper protection to those in genuine need.

Attached are:

- Hansard copy of questions asked in Senate Estimates Committee to Immigration and Ethnic Affairs officials on refugee numbers.

- Answer to a question asked in the Senate on possible arrangements for Khmer claimants to be returned to Cambodia.

May 16 1991

SENATOR/G.TAMBLING. TEL No. 062773704 22,12,00 1 >46 P.01

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Question without Notice

(Q uestion No )

Senator Tambling asked the Minister Representing the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Bthnio Affairs on n March 1991 a question without notice*

about Cambodian boat people in Australia, which, inter alia, made reference to the Government consideration of the claims of these people to remain in Australia and whether this was dependent upon the negotiation of arrangements for return of

the Cambodians. The Minister undertook that if there was any further information that he could usefully provide, he would do so.

Senator Bolkus - The Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following additional information to the answer which I provided to senator Tambling's question*

On 11 March, in a question in the Senate, Senator Tambling asked whether the assessment of the Cambodian boat people against refugee criteria was dependent upon the failure to negotiate arrangements for the return of them.

As at 30 April 1991, the status O f the 224 (now 259) C a m b o d i a n s i s not yet resolved. Twenty-six full and final applications have now been received from members of the Melbourne group, and 16 from members of the Sydney group.

Further finalised applications are still awaited for the remainder of these two groups. The Darwin group are yet to submit any applications.

I have deliberately allowed those involved time to seek all available assistance in the preparation of their applications. This has resulted in a situation where most have yet to lodge applications.

The consideration of their claims is a lengthy and complex process and I do not expect final decisions on any of the group for some time yet.

I do not want to become involved in speculation about the outcome of the decision on these claims until the decision process is complete.

•LNHIClR/b. I AMtiLINU TEL No 062773704 22.12,00 1:47 P.02

jt is far from clear what may emerge from this process. Those whose claims are accepted will be able to remain under the conditions provided for refugee asylum. Others whose claims fall short of refugee status but who have strong humanitarian claims may be allowed to stay. Those who do

not meet the refugee criteria and who do not have other admissible claims will be required to leave.

In this context officials from my department discussed possible arrangements for return with the authorities in Phnom Penh in June 1990. These discussions resulted in a simple arrangement for return being prepared and agreed.

This was reflected in an exchange of notes at an operational level by the officials involved.

The arrangements proposed closely follow normal deportation procedures that apply to all people who are required to depart Australia. The slightly novel aspect of the arrangements as discussed arose from the fact that I

believed that the Government needed to ensure that normal and acceptable arrangements for return existed and would be met. This appears to be the case.

The situation in Cambodia is very complex. Opportunities for people in Cambodia to emigrate are limited. There are many seeking family reunification with families in other countries including Australia. As a consequence I have

instructed my department to explore the possibility of establishing arrangements for the emigration of the family of Cambodian Australians from the territory of the State of Cambodia. To this end a delegation of senior officers from my department visited Phnom Penh recently to discuss possible arrangements. These initial discussions (held over

the period 2 - 5 April) were most useful and I am confident that effective arrangements will be established in the near future.

Estimates Committee Hansard 18 April 1991

Page: 92


Senator TEAGUE-Has there been a doubling of applications? Fourteen thousand

outstanding ones seems a great deal more than I had been used to a few years ago. Mr Gibbons-There has been a dramatic increase in applications for refugee status. If you go back two years, the average number of

claimants per year were 300 to 500. The events of Tiananmen Square in June 1989 saw a dramatic rise in applications from PRC nationals, but there has also been a significant

rise from persons of other nationalities. Senator TEAGUE- F inally can I ask a question on notice. Could this Committee receive a two or three page summary of the new procedure, the new staff structure and the new appeals aspect? Secondly, could you provide a set of statistics from recent years giving the number of applications-especially with regard to the 14,000 outstanding in the current year-and a list giving numbers of the citizens of countries that have made

applications? Mr Gibbons·We can provide that. Senator KEMP-How long would it take the Department to clear the backlog of 14 ,000 students that you mentioned?

Mr Gibbons-The decision taken by the Government in October last year, after a review of the whole process, provided resources to clear the backlog by mid- 1993. The objective is to have a processing time at primary level of three months, and to clear all processing in nine months.

Senator KEMP-Is that figure of 14,000 still growing rapidly, or has that plateaued? Mr Gibbons-It is growing at the rate of 1,000 a month.

Senator KEMP-The processing is being carried out at the rate of how many a month? Have you reached over 1,000?

Mr Gibbons-The previous DORS

arrangements involve staffing for 500 cases a year. The new operation is geared for this higher level. That has involved a recruitment process, which is coming to an end, training of

staff, commitments by other agencies to the Committee and nomination of members by the Refugee Council. All of that will not be finalised until late this fiscal year. So we are

not expecting a major increase in output until early in the new fiscal year. At the moment our resources are devoted to dealing with claimants who are people in custody, border arrivals-the high priority categories.

Senator K EMP-Would it be fair to assume that that figure of 14,000 may in fact grow to 20.000 by December this year? Mr Gibbons-Yes The assumptions include an application rate of about 13,500 cases a year for two years, as the PRC nationals in

Australia lodge applications. We see it declining and stabilising at the rate of about 6.000 a year. Senator KEMP-On the current experience, what proportion of people who apply for permanent residence under this particular program have their applications refused?

Mr Gibbons-1 think our experience has seen a successful application rate of below 20 per cent. That was under the old regime where applicants for refugee status were granted permanent residence. Under the new

arrangements they get a temporary entry permit valid for four years. Senator KEMP-Does the 20 per cent refer to

those people who were refused permanent entry? Mr Gibbons-No, it refers to those who were successful.

Senator KEMP-Are you saying that those who fail that test may get the four- year extension? Mr Gibbons-No. We are talking about determination of refugee status if they are not granted that. Under the old arrangements if

they had lodged an application for grant of resident status on compassionate or

humanitarian grounds it was considered under the policy applicable there. A number would have been granted permanent residence on that basis. The new arrangement totally separates the grant of resident status

application process from the determination of refugee status arrangements. There is a safety net provided under the refugee process to cover people who do not qualify under the UN Convention's protocols but where there is nevertheless a claim for protection on humanitarian grounds. The process involves