Bridging visas to be issued for boat arrivals
Friday, 25 November 2011
The first group of irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) will be placed in the community on bridging visas in coming days, as part of the new approach to asylum seeker management, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP, announced today.
The government announced last month that following initial health, security and identity checks, eligible boat arrivals who do not pose risks will be progressively considered for community placement on bridging visas while their asylum claims are assessed.
'The Malaysia Arrangement presented a genuinely innovative regional and humanitarian response to the people smuggling problem, but the High Court's decision and Tony Abbott putting his political interests ahead of the national interest, prevent the government from pursuing this option,' Mr Bowen said.
'In recent weeks, my department has been working on a framework and implementation arrangements for community placement of IMAs currently in detention. Following this work, I have now approved the first bridging visas for 27 asylum seekers who arrived by boat.'
Mr Bowen said the first group consisted of long-term detainees, all single men, previously accommodated at a range of detention facilities across Australia and at various stages of their asylum claims. They are mostly Afghans and Sri Lankans.
'These men have gone through an assessment process prior to their selection, including identity, security and behaviour checks. They will live in the community on bridging visas while their asylum claims are completed and their status is resolved,' he said.
'People released into the community on bridging visas will have reporting conditions and anyone found breaching these conditions risk having their visas cancelled and being returned to immigration detention.'
Asylum seekers on bridging visas will have the right to work and support themselves, and will also have access to necessary health services.
Some will also be eligible for support services through existing Department of Immigration and Citizenship-funded programs such as the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme and the Community Assistance Support program, to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Mr Bowen said the department was continuing to assess the detention population for suitability for community placement, with initial priority going to those who have spent the greatest time in detention.
'This will be an ongoing, staged process to ensure an orderly transition to the community and that only suitable people are released. We would expect to see at least 100 IMAs eventually being released every month,' Mr Bowen said.
'The program is not targeted at people currently in detention who aren't refugees and refuse to cooperate with the department on removal options.
'Those people who are assessed to pose an unacceptable risk to the community will remain in an immigration detention facility.
'Our existing community detention program, and the greater level of support it offers, will continue to be used for more vulnerable people or those not suited to bridging visas.
'The government remains committed to maintaining a mandatory detention system, including using mandatory detention on Christmas Island for reception and initial checks.'
Mr Bowen said as part of the changes to asylum seeker management and processing, the government would also be moving to a single protection visa process for both boat and air arrivals, using the current onshore arrangements for application and independent review through the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) system, as needed.
'With the legislative impasse and the resulting move toward greater community placement, there is no longer any benefit to parallel processing arrangements for offshore entry persons,' he said.
'It is only prudent to introduce a single, consistent and efficient process that will continue to afford all people using the system access to judicial review.
'However, we will maintain the excision architecture, so should Tony Abbott and the Coalition come to their senses and agree to vote for the government's legislation then a parallel, non-statutory review process for IMAs will resume.'
Until these policy changes are implemented in 2012, existing and future boat arrivals will continue to be processed under the current system.
The government has today also released the review by Professor John McMillan into the efficiency of judicial review of IMA cases, which was commissioned following the High Court of Australia's judgment in November last year.
Mr Bowen said the government had broadly accepted the review's recommendations and thanked Professor McMillan for his thoughtful analysis of the legal and policy issues involved.
'These recommendations complement measures the government has already taken to enhance the efficiency of processing of claims made by boat arrivals,' he said.
The McMillan Review can be found on the DIAC website.
The government's response to the report's recommendations can be viewed on the DIAC website.
Last update: Friday, 25 November 2011 at 12:52 AEST