Refugee Council of Australia
Boy in blue shirt looking ahead

Intake submission on Australia’s 2014-15 refugee and humanitarian program

Our recommendations

International refugee needs

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government develop, publish and implement a framework for Australia’s refugee resettlement program based on:

  • priority resettlement to the most vulnerable refugees, including women at risk, the most culturally isolated groups of refugees (e.g. small groups of African refugees in South and South-East Asia) and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) refugees;
  • the promotion of family unity;
  • the strategic use of resettlement; and
  • the consideration of global resettlement needs in the development of regional allocations.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government:

  • abandon the proposed reduction of Australia’s overseas aid program, in light of its crucial role in assisting forcibly displaced people;
  • work collaboratively with countries of asylum in the Asia-Pacific region to develop sustainable programs of support for the protection of refugees and people seeking asylum within their borders and allocate additional resources for this purpose; and
  • provide additional funding to UNHCR, given the increasing numbers of displaced people worldwide and UNHCR’s critical role in coordinating humanitarian responses to displacement.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in its capacity as a member of the UN Security Council, provide positive leadership in international action to:

  • address the drivers of forced displacement and respond to protection needs in countries of asylum, with a particular focus on refugees living in protracted situations and/or facing serious risks to their lives and freedom; and
  • develop a comprehensive response to the growing Syrian refugee crisis.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government work with other governments to apply positive diplomatic pressure to the Burmese Government to address the conflicts which are resulting in continuing displacement in different parts of the country, particularly in Rakhine and Kachin states. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with UNHCR and non-government organisations working with refugees, develop a strategy for how its diplomatic and aid efforts can be targeted to support incremental improvements in the protection and support of refugees and people seeking asylum in South-East Asia and South Asia, as part of a long-term vision for an Asia-Pacific regional agreement on refugee protection.

Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government return the Refugee and Humanitarian Program to its 2012-13 level of 20,000 places annually, but delinked from onshore Protection Visa grants, as an appropriate contribution to increasing numbers of refugees worldwide and identified priority resettlement needs.

In view of the pressing need for resettlement from Africa, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government ensure that the 2014-15 regional target for resettlement from Africa be set at no lower than 25% of the offshore program.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government conduct a review Australia’s migration program to identify opportunities for enabling refugees to enter Australia through the skilled migration and family migration programs.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government conduct a review of processes for collecting, recording and amending personal information on travel and identity documentation granted to humanitarian entrants prior to their resettlement in Australia, with a view to identifying strategies to enhance accuracy and simplify processes for requesting corrections. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government revise the Community Proposal Pilot and any ongoing program which follows it through:

  • Reducing the proposed visa application charge to a level more affordable for community organisations and exploring ways of providing incentives for sponsors who work together to assist newly arrived refugees towards financial self-sufficiency.
  • Providing access to a no-interest loans scheme for community organisations seeking to sponsor people for resettlement under the Pilot.
  • Delinking the Pilot and any future program from the existing Refugee and Humanitarian Program.
  • Developing clear criteria and guidelines to govern the selection and prioritisation of cases and standards of settlement support for those resettled under the Pilot.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government overhaul the family reunion options for refugee and humanitarian entrants to Australia by developing a “Humanitarian Family Reunion Program” that is separate from the Refugee and Humanitarian Program and the General Migration Program.

RCOA recommends that this Humanitarian Family Reunion Program be developed in consultation with former refugee community members and organisations, peak bodies and relevant service providers.

In the absence of a separate Humanitarian Family Reunion Program, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government enhance humanitarian entrants’ access to family reunion through the Migration Program by:

  • waiving application fees or at least introducing application fee concessions for humanitarian entrant proposers;
  • providing access to free or low-cost migration advice;
  • introducing flexibility in documentation requirements for people from refugee backgrounds;
  • reviewing eligibility requirements that effectively exclude applicants from refugee backgrounds; and
  • resourcing the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s offshore and Australian processing offices to identify and consider applications from humanitarian entrant proposers separately from applications from non-humanitarian proposers.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review its definition of “family” to bring it into line with the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook’s definition (which includes a broader understanding of dependency, including unmarried adult children facing persecution).

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government increase staffing levels, training and other resources in critical overseas posts in order to support both SHP and General Migration Program applications.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review how family reunion options are communicated to refugees before they arrive in Australia, examining what information could be provided in first language at the time of application and how this information is reinforced through the Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) program.

RCOA recommends that, as a matter of urgency, the Australian Government give all Protection Visa holders access to all family reunion options to enable families separated by persecution and conflict to be reunited, with priority given to family reunion for young people who arrived as unaccompanied minors.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government enter into dialogue with UNHCR about establishing a process for identifying refugee families that are seeking reunification, facilitating assessment and registration in countries of asylum (particularly Pakistan and Thailand) and prioritising them for referral for resettlement under Australia’s offshore program.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government increase short-term funding to registered Migration Agents funded through the SGP to support the reassessment of SHP split family applications in the most efficient, fair and timely fashion.

RCOA also recommends that consideration be given to increasing the overall amount of funding allocated for migration advice within the SGP in the upcoming funding round.

Asylum policy

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government streamline and consolidate existing support programs for people seeking asylum into a holistic, consistent and client-driven service delivery framework, based on the following core principles:

  • a central focus on the needs of the asylum seeker;
  • equal access to services and support regardless of status or mode of arrival;
  • maximising social engagement through providing support with orientation, English language tuition, education and employment;
  • a focus on early intervention to ensure the best outcomes for people seeking asylum;
  • safeguards to prevent destitution and ensure resolution of all cases;
  • basing support services on existing service delivery platforms (such as Medicare and Centrelink) where possible, to avoid unnecessary administration and duplication; and
  • regular communication and sharing of information among all departments, agencies, organisations and communities working with people seeking asylum.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review and streamline transition processes for refugees and people seeking asylum moving through various stages of status assessment, with a particular focus on supporting vulnerable groups such as long-term detainees and unaccompanied minors.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government take steps to enhance communication between government departments, service providers and individual refugees and people seeking asylum on current and planned policies and their implications.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, as a matter of urgency, renew the Bridging Visas of people seeking asylum living in the community. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government grant work rights to people seeking asylum and enable them to have access to employment support services, to maximise the opportunities for people seeking asylum to be self-supporting while their status is resolved.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with relevant service providers, develop a strategy to support capacity-building among groups providing support to people seeking asylum in the community.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abandon its unnecessary and duplicative new Code of Behaviour for Bridging Visa E holders and refrain from imposing sanctions (such as a reduction in income support or re-detention) on people seeking asylum without due process. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government:

  • provide further information about the proposed mutual obligation scheme for Bridging Visa and Temporary Protection Visa holders in receipt of income support; and
  • adopt a reasonable and flexible approach to implementation of the proposed mutual obligation scheme which avoids imposing conditions that are unrealistic, unnecessarily onerous or which may interfere with successful settlement in Australia.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government reverse its decision to reduce Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme payments for young people aged 18 to 21 and ensure that they have full access to the Community Assistance Support Program. RCOA recommends that:

  • meaningful educational opportunities be made available for people seeking asylum in closed and community detention and people seeking asylum living in the community on Bridging Visas; and
  • English language classes for people seeking asylum be expanded to 510 hours, commensurate with the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) to ensure that people seeking asylum can communicate effectively while living in the Australian community.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abandon offshore processing of people seeking asylum arriving by boat. Should the above recommendation not be implemented, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government:

  • work with the Governments of Nauru and PNG to:
    • end the arbitrary and indefinite detention of people seeking asylum in offshore processing facilities;
    • expedite the processing of asylum claims and address identified deficiencies in the Refugee Status Determination process, including those related to information for applicants, legal advice and representation;
  • address shortcomings in the physical conditions in offshore processing facilities, particularly in relation to appropriate accommodation and access to healthcare;
  • establish independent advisory bodies in both countries to monitor status determination and resettlement processes and conditions in offshore facilities; and
  • develop clear guidelines to govern the treatment and care of people seeking asylum subject to offshore processing, in line with international human rights standards, and establish mechanisms through which people seeking asylum can seek resolution of, or redress for, any breaches of these guidelines.
  • cease the transfer of all children and young people to offshore processing centres; and
  • revise the current pre-transfer assessment process to enable to identification and exemption from transfer of individuals who are potentially vulnerable, whose needs cannot be met offshore and/or whose well-being would be compromised by transfer to an offshore processing facility.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abandon the Regional Resettlement Arrangement with PNG, in light of the inability of PNG to provide sustainable protection and support to refugees on a permanent basis. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government restore a single statutory system of onshore processing for all people seeking asylum, regardless of their mode of arrival. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, as a matter of urgency, recommence the processing of asylum claims in Australia.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government ensure that all people seeking asylum are eligible to apply for assistance under the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme, regardless of their mode of arrival. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abandon the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas and convert Temporary Protection Visas granted to date into permanent Protection Visas.

Should the above recommendation not be implemented, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government grant Temporary Protection Visa holders access to:

  • the full suite of settlement services available to permanent humanitarian visa holders, including English language tuition;
  • health, education and social support services at a level commensurate with permanent residents of Australia;
  • opportunities to sponsor family members for resettlement in Australia and to travel overseas with right of return, in line with opportunities accorded to permanent humanitarian visa holders; and
  • the opportunity to apply for permanent residency upon expiry of their Temporary Protection Visa.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government amend the Immigration Guardianship of Children Act 1946 to remove the Minister for Immigration’s status as legal guardian of unaccompanied asylum seeker children and legislate an alternative guardian held at a Federal ministerial level. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with State and Territory Governments:

  • develop a national strategy for the care and support of unaccompanied minors; and
  • explore options for delaying the discharge from care of asylum seeker young people aged between 18 and 21 who have ongoing care requirements.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in recognition of the proven benefits of community-based alternatives over closed immigration detention:

  • use immigration detention only as a matter of last resort and give priority to finding community-based alternatives for all people seeking asylum currently in closed immigration detention;
  • refrain from re-detaining people seeking asylum awaiting a resolution of their status unless absolutely necessary on the grounds of health or security risks; and
  • ensure that appropriate services, living conditions, healthcare and activities are provided to all people who remain in closed detention.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government release all children from closed detention as a matter of urgency, including unaccompanied minors held on Christmas Island. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abide by its legislative requirement to ensure all children within its jurisdiction are enrolled in school, including children held in Western Australian and Christmas Island immigration detention facilities. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government amend its contracts with service providers in immigration detention facilities to ensure all critical information is recorded and reported to Parliament on a regular basis. RCOA recommends that the Australian Government respond to the findings of the UN Human Rights Committee and work towards resolving the situation of refugees subject to adverse security assessments by:

  • Establishing a statutory review mechanism for security assessments made in relation to Protection Visa applicants; and
  • Exploring alternative community-based arrangements to prolonged indefinite detention.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government ensure that its asylum and immigration detention policies and processes enable families to remain together and separated family members to reunite. To this end, RCOA recommends amending the current practices of:

  • Separating pregnant women from spouses and other children when transferring from Christmas Island or Nauru to the mainland for perinatal care;
  • Separating family members to different offshore processing centres depending on date of arrival; and
  • Maintaining the separation of family members across offshore processing centres and on mainland Australia, both in closed detention and in the community.