People transferred to Australia
How many are in Australia?
On 19 July 2013, the Australian Government changed the offshore processing policy to prevent people from being resettled in Australia. By that time around 1,000 people had been sent to Nauru and PNG.
When the policy changed, the then Rudd Government announced that all people sent offshore between 13 August 2012 (when offshore processing began) and 19 July 2013 would be returned to Australia to create capacity for those who would arrive after 19 July 2013. Those returns occurred progressively and were completed in October 2015. This group are not called ‘transitory persons’ by the Australian Government. The Government only calls those ‘transitory persons’ who arrived after 19 July 2013 and can never resettle in Australia under the current policy.
We know that in total 4,183 people have been sent to Nauru and PNG since the start of the offshore processing on 13 August 2012. Of this number, as of 1 March 2020, about half (2,063) were in Australia.
During Senate Estimates in March 2021, the Department of Home Affairs reported that 1,223 ‘transitory persons’ were in Australia. This group are mostly here for medical treatment. The Australian Government considers their stay in Australia temporary.
The below graph provides an overall picture (as of 31 August 2020) of the visa status of this group and the number of babies born.
Most have been recognised as refugees.
Where are they?
The graph below breaks down where people were as of 31 August 2020, by state and territory and by visa status.
People transferred from offshore processing do not have a valid visa, so are subject to Australia’s detention policies. This requires them to be detained, unless the Minister exercises a power to release them from detention.
Some people transferred from offshore processing have been released into ‘community detention’, through the Minister’s use of a ‘residence determination’. This means that they have to live in specific housing in the community, subject to some restrictions on movement.
Others have been granted ‘bridging visas’. These also can only be granted if the Minister allows it. Usually these bridging visas (called Final Departure Bridging Visa) are for 6 months and grant the holder work rights and access to Medicare. People on those visas are usually not eligible for other types of support, like income or casework support. While the above graph shows the number of people who were in community detention or on bridging visas at a point in time, the two following graphs show how the Minister exercised his power to allow people to live in the community over a period of time:
This graph shows the number of bridging visas granted since 1 July 2018.
Developments in August and September 2020
In August and September 2020, the Minister granted bridging visas E to a significant number of people who had previously been in community detention, including families with children. As mentioned, the support provided on these visas is significantly limited and for people without the right to work for many years, the prospect of securing employment during the COVID-19 pandemic was very low. This left many without housing and income and overwhelmed the already stretched charities and NGOs.
The following graphs provide more information about this group: how many were given bridging visas, the states they lived in and their age and gender. At a Senate estimates hearing on 14 March 2021, the Department indicated that 276 people had been moved from community detention to bridging visas E.
The Medevac law
In 2019, a major change occurred when Parliament passed a law known as the Medevac legislation, which required the Minister to consider the views of independent doctors in determining whether a person should be transferred for medical treatment in Australia. The law was repealed in December 2019.
After the repeal of the Medevac and until 1 March 2020, a further 45 people were transferred to Australia. And according to the data from the Australian Border Force, another 46 people have been transferred for medical treatment since March 2020 (1 in July 2020, 25 in September 2020, ‘less than five’ in December 2020, and 18 in January 2021).
There were also a number of people who had been approved under Medevac, but had not left Nauru or PNG when the law was repealed. We know that as of October 2020, 14 of them remain in PNG and 7 on Nauru. Of the seven on Nauru, 3 were later approved by Nauru to leave for Australia and 4 were approved to leave for a third country for the purpose of medical treatment. None proceeded with those options.
Where are the Medevac refugees?
Unlike people who were transferred for medical treatment by the Government, those who were brought to Australia under the Medevac legislation remained in closed detention for prolonged periods of time. The places of detention included the so-called ‘Alternative Places of Detention’ (APODs), for example hotels in Melbourne and Brisbane.
In December 2020, five refugees were released from closed detention in Brisbane and Melbourne, this was followed by the release of 68 men from closed detention in Victoria (Park hotel APOD and Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation) in January/February 2021. Around 70 were released from detention in Brisbane, Sydney and Darwin in early March 2021 (the refugees in Darwin had not been transferred under the Medevac legislation but remained in detention for a long period of time). At a Senate estimates hearing on 14 March 2021, the Department indicated that 140 people had been moved from Alternative Places of Detention to bridging visas.
Despite these welcome developments, a snapshot of the detention situation of this group towards the end of last year (2020) might still be useful.