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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2294

Dr THEOPHANOUS —My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I refer to the continuing civil strife and military activity in the Lebanon and to the many inquiries that I and other honourable members have had from relatives and friends of people in the Lebanon. I ask: Can the Minister inform the House of any special migration and visitor arrangements the Government proposes to take to assist people from the area?

Mr WEST —The honourable member may remember that on 6 September I announced a range of measures to assist relatives of people in Australia who are currently affected by recent civil strife in the Lebanon. The honourable member may remember that this related to giving priority to processing of family reunion cases in the Lebanon and waiving the two-year residential requirement for sponsors in Australia. Further, I directed that those cases that failed the family reunion points system-that is, failed the socio-economic system they are assessed under-would be further considered if it was proved that they were directly affected by fighting and civil strife; that is, that we would implement a sort of de facto special humanitarian program component and give consideration to those people. I also said that we would give priority as far as we could to processing applications for spouses, fiances and parents and that we would put through applications from the Lebanon, if necessary and if we could, ahead of full processing. I also said on 6 September that those Lebanese visitors who were already in Australia on visas would not be forced, on the expiration of their visas, to return to the Lebanon. Clearly, that would have been very hard to do anyway, the airport being closed. We will not do that. I said that we would review the matter on 31 October. It has been reviewed and the time for the expiry of visas has been extended to 31 December. All Lebanese visitors with relatives in Australia who wish to stay after the expiry of their visas should go to their nearest regional office of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.

I conclude by saying that the Australian Labor Government is very sympathetic to people in the Lebanon and to their relatives in Australia. The House should understand that my Department is having great difficulty in processing applications inside the Lebanon because it can never be quite sure when it will be able to do any work in Beirut. A lot of the work has to be done through Damascus. However, we will continue it and do the very best that we can. I will keep the situation under continuous review.