The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, has announced a new policy of ‘bridging visas’ for asylum seekers who will be released into the community.
Bowen said: “Consistent with ‘no advantage’, people from this cohort going onto bridging visas will have no work rights and will receive only basic accommodation assistance, and limited financial support.”
The change of approach is a tacit acknowledgement that the government’s refugee policies are now in tatters. Bowen said, “given the number of people who had arrived by boat since 13 August, it would not be possible to transfer them all to Nauru or Manus Island in the immediate future”.
Condemnation of the government came swiftly from the Opposition and the Greens, but for different reasons.
- Listen to Chris Bowen’s press conference (26m)
- Listen to Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison (11m)
- Listen to Greens Senators Christine Milne and Sarah Hanson-Young (21m)
- Listen to Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop speak to the media today (15m)
- Watch Lateline (4m)
Media releases from Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.
No advantage onshore for boat arrivals
People who arrived by boat post-13 August and all future arrivals will have the ‘no advantage’ principle applied to their cases onshore, even if they are not transferred offshore for regional processing, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP, announced today.
Mr Bowen said given the number of people who had arrived by boat since 13 August, it would not be possible to transfer them all to Nauru or Manus Island in the immediate future.
‘Accordingly, some of these people will be processed in the Australian community. They will not however be issued with a permanent Protection visa if found to be a refugee, until such time that they would have been resettled in Australia after being processed in our region,’ Mr Bowen said.
‘People arriving by boat are subject to this ‘no advantage’ principle, whether that means being transferred offshore to have their claims processed, remaining in detention, or being placed in the community.
‘Transfers to Nauru and Manus Island will continue, however in the coming weeks and months my department will begin releasing some people who arrived by boat on or after August 13 into the community on bridging visas.
‘Consistent with ‘no advantage’, people from this cohort going onto bridging visas will have no work rights and will receive only basic accommodation assistance, and limited financial support.’
People’s claims will be processed while in the community under this same principle. However, consideration can be given to transfer these people offshore at a future date. Their status as offshore entry people is unchanged.
Mr Bowen said that while construction of permanent facilities offshore were under way, the government would also make temporary changes to immigration detention facilities onshore to cater for short-term accommodation requirements.
‘This includes reopening the Pontville site in Tasmania, which had been maintained as a contingency facility since March this year. Capacity at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation will also be increased by about 300 places,’ he said.
Mr Bowen also reiterated the government’s commitment to putting in place the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, and implementing a safer and more orderly migration program.
‘No-one should doubt this government’s resolve to breaking the people smugglers’ business model and save lives at sea,’ he said.
‘We will continue to regularly transfer people to Nauru and Manus Island.
‘We will also continue to return people where they do not engage Australia’s international obligations – indeed, there have been number of removals since 13 August and well over 250 people returned involuntarily to Sri Lanka.’
Arrangements for irregular maritime arrivals who are already in the community on bridging visas, and for those who arrived before 13 August, remain unchanged.
Large group of Sri Lankans sent home
A group of 100 Sri Lankan men has been sent home to Sri Lanka today – the ninth involuntary removal this month and the largest return to Colombo to date.
The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP, said the Sri Lankan men were all recent arrivals from a number of different boats.
‘This latest removal was achieved with the cooperation of the Royal Australian Air Force who made a KC-30 aircraft available to enable a larger number of people to be removed at one time than was previously possible,’ Mr Bowen said.
‘This group of 100 people takes to 426 the number of Sri Lankans returned involuntarily since 13 August, as we continue to return people where they do not engage Australia’s international obligations.
‘The message here is very clear: people who pay smugglers are risking their lives and throwing their money away. They are being told lies. There is no visa on arrival, there is no speedy outcome, and there is no special treatment.’
The Sri Lankan men were advised of their status and that they were subject to removal from Australia. They raised no issues that engaged Australia’s international obligations.
Without a valid visa they had no legal right to remain in Australia and were removed at the earliest opportunity.
‘The government is absolute in its resolve to implement the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to break the people smuggling trade, stop the flow of boats and prevent people from taking these dangerous boats to Australia,’ Mr Bowen said.
‘We will continue to return people to Sri Lanka, we will continue to transfer people to Nauru, and now to Manus Island as well.’
Since 13 August, 525 Sri Lankans have returned home – both voluntarily and involuntarily – as people realise that these smugglers only sell lies and false promises about what awaits people in Australia.
Yesterday, the government also completed the first involuntary return of an Afghan man found not to be a refugee under Australia’s return agreement with Afghanistan.
People returned involuntarily do not have access to reintegration assistance.
First transfer to Papua New Guinea
The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP, today announced the first transfer of irregular maritime arrivals – made up entirely of family groups – to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
A group of seven families, including 15 adults and four children of Sri Lankan and Iranian nationalities, departed Christmas Island late yesterday on a charter aircraft and arrived at Manus Island early this morning.
They were accompanied by Australian Federal Police, Immigration staff, interpreters, children’s services and medical staff.
‘The first transfer to Manus Island has now taken place – and will be the first of many – sending the clear message that people arriving by boat risk being sent to a regional processing centre in either Nauru or Papua New Guinea,’ Mr Bowen said.
‘To those contemplating the dangerous journey to Australia by boat: people smugglers are lying to you, don’t waste your money and don’t risk your life – it’s just not worth it.
‘There is no visa on arrival, there will be no special treatment, no speedy outcome and certainly no advantage given to those who come by boat.’
On arrival in PNG, the group has undergone local immigration clearance processes before being moved into the regional processing centre at Manus Island, which is currently a combination of temporary and refurbished structures.
Operations at the centre will be overseen by both the Australian and PNG governments, with welfare services provided by the Salvation Army, health services by IHMS and operational support services by G4S. Local Manus Island residents have also been employed at the processing centre.
The minister also announced that specialised children’s services on Manus Island would be provided by Save the Children, including child protection and education activities.
‘The government is committed implementing the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, to break the people smuggling trade and prevent people from taking these dangerous boats to Australia,’ Mr Bowen said.
‘We will continue to regularly transfer people to Nauru and now to Manus Island.’
The minister has made arrangements for an Interim Joint Advisory Committee to play an initial oversight role for the Nauru centre, as well as provide advice to both governments on the make-up of an independent permanent oversight committee.
Chaired by DIAC Deputy Secretary Dr Wendy Southern and Nauru MP Mathew Batsiua, the interim Joint Advisory Committee includes Nauruan Justice Secretary Lisa Lo Piccolo, Expert Panel member Paris Aristotle, and Minister’s Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention (MCASD) members Professor Nicholas Procter, Associate Professor Mary Anne Kenny and Dr Maryanne Loughry.
Meanwhile, Mr Bowen said preliminary interviews for the processing of people at the Nauru centre will begin shortly.
‘Interviews to capture comprehensive biographical information will commence in the coming weeks,’ he said.
‘The government continues to work closely with Nauru regarding commencement of processing in that country. It is expected that assessment of claims will fully commence in early 2013.’
A contract has also been signed for work on the permanent facilities at Nauru.
‘Earlier this month, following a tender process, Canstruct was contracted by my department to undertake construction services at the Nauru regional processing centre. Preliminary surveying has already begun with site works to begin shortly,’ Mr Bowen said.
Canstruct is in the process of procuring buildings, materials, plant and equipment and organising air and sea freight. A large number of the construction staff is expected to be locally engaged Nauruans.