The Australian Government is rushing to process the applications of some 1000 asylum seekers in Australia by 30 June under a new “Fast Track” process predominantly in NSW and Victoria.
Human rights groups have raised the alarm that the Government plans to interview and assess an unprecedented 1,100 people by the end of the financial year. Some of the applicants have been waiting up to eight years for the government to process their visa applications.
The surge in processing is leaving asylum seekers just two weeks’ notice – all that the law requires – to prepare for potentially the most important interview of their lives.
“The recent sudden surge without warning has left the community and the services who support them, completely overwhelmed,” said Sarah Dale, Centre Director and Principal Solicitor of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS).
“We were told this would be a Fast Track system. We haven’t seen this system move with the haste we are seeing as it draws to an end. It is without any consideration of the significant change in the vulnerability of the community we support, nor the fact people have waited eight years to tell someone their story, only to be left to do so by phone – their one and only opportunity in this process to be heard.”
The Government’s decision to rush through these interviews by June is at the expense of rights and will result in poor and wrong decisions. People owed protection and safety in Australia will slip between the cracks and then face forced return to situations of persecution.
The Government introduced the “Fast Track” process in 2014 to speed up processing of 27,000 people who arrived by boat prior to 2014. It denies applicants the right to appeal via the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, only offering access to an “on-the-papers assessment” through the Immigration Assessment Authority.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) published an open letter on 17 May warning of the lack of due process in such a system. The Council urged members of the legal profession to take a stand by writing to Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews.
“[A]pplicants who are denied visas will not have appeals on the merits to the Administrative Appeals Committee’s Migration Refugee Division, but only to the Immigration Assessment Authority,” the NSWCCL wrote.
“Such reviews are on the papers only—there is no interview, with the asylum seeker able to clarify anything in his/her application, and no additional material can be submitted except in exceptional circumstances. This means that their applications, due so suddenly, are crucial. Their lives depend upon their success. The assistance of lawyers is vital.”
Carolyn Graydon, Principal Solicitor and Manager of the Human Rights Law Program at Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) said: “The Government’s decision to rush through these interviews by June is at the expense of rights and will result in poor and wrong decisions. People owed protection and safety in Australia will slip between the cracks and then face forced return to situations of persecution.
“We call on the Government to slow down this process so that it will not jeopardise fairness to these people who have long been the victims of unfair and policies targeting them just for fleeing persecution by sea.”