Australia: Sprinting away from responsibilities

04 December 2012

Sydney, 4 December 2012 — Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia is alarmed and concerned by the Australian government’s decision to apply the “no advantage” test to asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat and are released into the community.

“The decision to place asylum seekers in the community with no work rights and limited assistance is a retrograde step”, said Fr. Aloysious Mowe, SJ, JRS Australia’s Director. “It is ultimately harmful— not just to the asylum seekers, but also to the countries where they could potentially be resettled once their claims have been recognised”, Mowe said.

No protection for refugees or asylum seekers. The “no advantage test” denies protection visas to refugees and asylum seekers until they have undergone regional processing for resettlement, which can take years.

During this time they will have ‘bridging visas’ which prohibit them from working and only give a subsistence allowance that is not enough to cover food and rent. Those on bridging visas can also be deported to Nauru or Manus for offshore processing at any moment.

The Minister of Immigration announced at the end of November that all asylum seekers arriving after August 13, when the government’s expert panel on asylum seekers report was released, will be subject to the test.

It applies to asylum seekers and refugees in both offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus, and to those who have been released into the community since offshore centres are unable to accommodate the upwards of 2,000 new arrivals since August.

Forbidden from employment. “Denying asylum seekers the right to work for up to five years, even when they have been recognised as refugees with valid claims for Australian protection, will make the lives of already vulnerable people more miserable.

“The policies deprive people of their dignity and force them to be a burden on the Australian taxpayer. They will be robbed of the opportunity to improve their work skills, and this in turn will rebound on the communities where they are eventually resettled or returned.

“Desperate asylum seekers forced into destitution by the government will turn to refugee agencies for help, but agencies such as ours are already overstretched. With our limited resources, we will have to turn away far more asylum seekers than we will be able to assist.”

Fr. Mowe stated that the “no advantage” test is based on the wish for political expedience but does not adequately address the needs of the current situation. “The members of the expert panel should, in the light of all the information available, recant their recommendation that such a test be applied.

A punitive policy. “The government is bent on using the “no advantage” test as a fig-leaf to cover a punitive policy that uses people in need of Australian protection to deter potential asylum seekers from coming to this country. The government seems to think that five years [of waiting for protection and rights] is the acceptable period to satisfy [that there has been no advantage]. Where has this figure come from? There is no standard or average waiting time for asylum seekers and refugees anywhere in our region or in the world.”

Fr. Mowe cited a letter written to the Minister for Immigration by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr António Guterres, where he made it clear that “there is no ‘average’ time for resettlement”, and that resettlement cases are prioritised according to vulnerability and need.

“Australia is not just walking away from its responsibilities under the UN Refugees Convention: it is sprinting away at great speed”, said Mowe. “Asylum seekers should not be punished because they come here by boat. The Convention says that refugees may not be penalised for their mode of entry into a country.

“Neither should they be punished to act as an example or a deterrent to others. Australia is no longer treating these asylum seekers as human beings with inherent rights and dignity, but as passive instruments of a policy of deterrence.

“As one of the few signatories to the Refugees Convention in this region, Australia should be acting as a beacon of protection for asylum seekers and refugees. Instead, it is showing how to deter desperate people from seeking asylum, and to punish those who do.

The “no advantage” test is a blot on Australia’s reputation: it is cruel, inhumane, and immoral”.

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