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New legislation puts refugees failed by fast track process at risk

People who fear persecution if forcibly returned to their country of origin are at greatest risk from new legislation introduced to Federal Parliament today, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) says.

The Migration Amendment (Removal and Other Measures) Bill seeks to criminalise the refusal to cooperate with the forced return process, imposing a mandatory jail sentence of one to five years and a possible fine of $93,900.

“In Opposition, the Labor Party was highly critical of the fast track process for temporary protection applications introduced in 2014 by then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison,” RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said.

“In Government, Labor is introducing legislation which enables them to forcibly return people failed by that fast track process.

“The Bill allows the Government to forcibly return people even in situations where it recognises that Australia has obligations to protect them under international law, through its non-refoulement obligations.

“This is an extraordinary abuse of the criminal process that seeks to coerce people, including those who fear persecution, to return back to their country. Those who refuse will be charged with criminal offences and face jail time, simply because they refuse to cooperate to return to their country of origin.”

The Bill will also introduce powers for the Minister to slow down or freeze visa processing from certain countries, in order to pressure those countries to accept forced returns.

“Under this legislation, the Minister will be able to refuse visas to people who otherwise meet all criteria to visit Australia, just because they are nationals of a state that refuses to accept forced returns from Australia. In many cases, this will impose a penalty on ordinary citizens of autocratic states who have no influence on the decisions of their government.

“We are concerned that these new powers will be used to send those with strong claims for protection back to the hands of their persecutors. While the legislation provides that these powers won’t apply to those who have been found to be refugees by Australia, we are concerned that those who do have strong claims, but have not had a fair hearing or review, will be sent back to real harm.”  

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