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Immigration Minister announces first special assistance category migrants

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M edia Release Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs The Hon. Gerry Hand, MP

Parliament House, Canberra, AC T2600 Telephone: (06) 277 7860

MPS 8/92


The Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs, Mr Gerry Hand, today announced the first places to be allocated under Australia's new "Special Assistance" migration category.

A tentative total of up to 4,000 places has been decided, he said, to be distributed among ethnic minorities of the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavs, Croatians, Slovenians, East

Timorese and Lebanese applicants.

Mr Hand said the total was tentative at this stage because of the need to remain flexible in the light of changing world situations.

However, for the moment the overall total of 12,000 places in the Refugee, Humanitarian and Special Assistance stream of the migration program would be allocated as follows:

. Refugee and Special Humanitarian Program 5,380

. Special Assistance Category (including Lebanese Concession) up to 4,000

. On-shore applicants approximately 2,620

Mr Hand said the new Special Assistance Category, which he had announced in April last year, was introduced to give Australia flexibility in helping people who had a special need to resettle here, but who did not fit the United Nations definition of a refugee.

"The category may, for example, be used to assist individuals or groups who are suffering severe distress and/or displacement within their own countries," he said. "Many such people come from countries with strong community connections with Australia or have family here.

"Community support for our humanitarian approach to migration continues to be strong, and we have taken this action to ensure that our ability to respond to special circumstances is not constrained by problems of definition.

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"The Special Assistance Category is designed to allow us to reach people who are in situations of real need but who do not fit neatly into our traditional programs".

The Minister said the Government was mindful of current concerns about Australia's capacity to absorb new arrivals. Thus the numbers to be assisted in this way were not to be additional to the current humanitarian entry program, but

part of it.

"As I have previously announced, the Refugee and Special Humanitarian Program categories will take precedence in allocations; where demands are greater in those categories, Special Assistance numbers will be reduced accordingly," Mr Hand said.

"I have applied myself to a task which is of the utmost importance to the integrity of the immigration program - that of establishing priorities for resettlement, and refusing to allow a strict numerical regime to impede our

ability to respond to changing situations around the world.

"The current conflict in Yugoslavia, Croatia and Slovenia, for example, is one situation which I felt it necessary to consider in this context, in addition to the break-up of the Soviet Union and other developments in Eastern Europe and Asia.

"As far as the region of Europe formerly known as Yugoslavia is concerned, I have decided that the suffering of people caught up in the conflict there requires a humanitarian response from Australia, a land where so many immigrants from that country have settled and prospered".

Mr Hand said selection of people under the Special Assistance Category would focus on two main elements:

. the degree of distress suffered by an individual as a result of severe civil disorder or violence, or the fact that he or she is a member of a disadvantaged or repressed minority; and

. the extent of the person's link with Australia.

He said other sub-program criteria would apply to each group to ensure that selection is centred on those in greatest need of assistance.

CANBERRA 31 January, 1992

MEDIA ENQUIRIES: Lynne Adams Ursula Doyle Minister's Office DILGEA (06) 277.7860 (06) 264.2296