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What we have learnt about refugee policy in Senate estimates

This series summarises information relevant to refugee policy published through the Parliament of Australia’s Senate estimates process. This process often results in useful information that is not otherwise available through questions put by Senators either during the hearing or, more commonly, questions put in writing ‘on notice’ (Questions on Notice). Many of the answers to these questions are the source of data used in graphs elsewhere on the statistics pages of this website.

Keeping the Australian government accountable

Parliament of Australia’s Senate estimates page

Combined Summary of Senate Budget Estimates 2024 and Additional Estimates 2024

Temporary Visa Grants for Palestinian and Ukrainian Refugees

  1. Palestinian Arrivals and Visas:
    • Since October 7, 1044 Palestinians have arrived.
    • 2686 visas were issued to Palestinians, with 2428 being visitor visas and 258 being a mixture of migration and other application types.
    • By March 31, 39 visas were cancelled, with reasons including changes in circumstances. Twelve of these cancellations were revoked.
    • A total of 4614 visitor visas were refused due to reasons like security checks, health and character requirements, and national security criteria.
    • Initially, the department prioritised applicants with close family links but is now processing those with limited or no links to Australia.
    • 449 visas were not made available to Palestinians, with the visitor visa being the primary option.
  2. Protection Visa Applications:
    • Between July 1, 2023, and April 30, 2024, there were 348 protection visa applications from Palestinians.
  3. Humanitarian Visas for Ukrainians and Afghans:
    • 4877 Ukrainians were granted 786 temporary humanitarian stay visas between April and July 2022. As of March 31, 3738 Ukrainians remained on this visa.
    • The 786 visa was not available to Afghans; instead, 449 visas were issued, with over 5000 granted during the fall of Kabul.

Resolution of Status Visa Processing

  1. RoS Visa Applications:
    • 72% of RoS visa applications processed by January 31, 2024.
    • Target of 95% of eligible TPV and SHEV holders transitioning to permanent RoS visas by the end of the 2023–24 Program Year.
    • 12,937 TPV or SHEV holders were granted RoS visas between May 2022 and December 2023.
    • Estimated cost increase for government services and benefits due to the pathway to permanent residence: $732.5 million over five years from 2022-23.
  2. Temporary Protection Visas:
    • 375 Australian-born individuals who are fast-track applicants have been refused TPV/SHEV applications as of December 31, 2023.
  3. Screening Assessments:
    • 261 individuals underwent on-water screening assessments between May 21, 2022, and December 31, 2023.
    • 95 screening assessments were completed on Australian territory in the same period.
  4. Character Assessments:
    • Average of 107 character assessments were finalised per month from July 2018 to December 2023.

Onshore Immigration Detention

  1. Serco Contract:
    • As of December 31, 2023, Serco’s main onshore immigration detention contract was valued at $4.64 billion, covering garrison security, transport, welfare, and engagement facilities management. Serco also handles illegal foreign fishing in APODs.
    • Increased costs are attributed to changes in the nature of detention, detainee profiles, and risk management.
  2. Self-Harm Incidents:
    • Self-harm incidents decreased from 0.5 per detainee in 2019-20 to 0.3 per detainee in 2023-24. The ABF Commissioner highlighted efforts to reduce this number further with contractor collaboration and oversight from the AHRC, Red Cross, OPCAT, and Ombudsman.
  3. Concerns About Serco:
    • Several misconduct incidents by Serco staff were reported, including using fire extinguishers on detainees. An internal review mechanism exists for such incidents, involving the UNHCR, Red Cross, and the Ombudsman.
  4. Yongah Hill Detention Centre:
    • The Human Rights Commission reported issues with healthcare access, emergency services, and mental health services. The department is addressing these recommendations and improving services across the detention network.
    • Additional funding for security at Yongah Hill was discussed, with officials taking questions on notice regarding budget and funding details.

NZYQ Cohort

  1. Community Release:
    • As of April 30, 2024, 153 people were on removal-pending bridging visas post-NZYQ decision.
  2. Criminal Convictions and Safety:
    • A breakdown of crimes committed by the NZYQ cohort was provided, along with community safety measures. Visa conditions consider immigration history, behaviour, compliance with community orders, employment, and accommodation.
    • Curfew breaches trigger an escalation process involving the department and Operation AEGIS officers.
  3. Costs:
    • Managing the NZYQ caseload incurred $34.372 million by April 30, 2024, covering departmental expenses ($22.8 million), capital costs ($0.375 million), and administered expenses ($11.1 million). The Community Protection Board incurred $1.1 million in costs.

Offshore Processing

  1. PNG:
    • Five men from Rwanda were returned to PNG under a 2003 MOU agreement with PNG. The Department claims to have conducted a screening assessment to ensure non-refoulement obligations were met.
    • The regional resettlement agreement with PNG ended in 2021, but Australia continues to support the remaining 16 individuals in Port Moresby.
    • The Australian Government does not monitor or support individuals remaining in PNG from the former Regional Resettlement Arrangement caseload.
  2. Nauru:
    • As of May 24, 64 people remained in Nauru’s Regional Processing Centre (RPC), with none being women or children.
    • Expenditure for Nauru by March 31, 2024, was $240 million, with a budget allocation of $477.7 million for 2023-24. Living conditions include medical care and programs, with a doctor on-site.
    • Unauthorized maritime arrivals (UMAs) were transferred to Nauru on multiple occasions in 2023 and 2024, with nine returning home voluntarily under an assisted voluntary return program.
    • Current contracts for managing Nauru RPC include:
      • MTC Australia contract: AUD $421.83 million (September 2022 – September 2025).
      • IHMS contract: AUD $49.91 million (August 2022 – August 2025).
      • Craddock Murray Neumann contract: AUD $27.39 million (March 2013 – June 2024).

Border Protection

  1. Funding:
    • Border protection funding is set at $6.84 billion from 2022-23 and $6.76 billion from 2023-24, the highest in ten years.
    • The ABF forecast expenditure for 2023-24 is $1.1 billion, a 37.5% increase from 2015-16.
  2. Operation Sovereign Borders:
    • Since OSB’s commencement on September 18, 2013, 1,121 people returned to their country of departure/origin by February 29, 2024.
    • 12 irregular maritime people smuggling ventures intercepted since May 2022.
    • From May 2022 to March 2024, 925 potential irregular immigrants were disrupted in source or transit countries, preventing their departure.
  3. Resource Allocation:
    • Additional resources deployed to North West Australia in February 2024, including an ABF Commander to Broome to coordinate efforts.
    • Six foreign fishing vessels apprehended in the Kimberley Marine Park between December 1, 2023, and February 28, 2024.
    • 30 illegal foreign fishers detained, with 28 removed to Indonesia and two prosecuted and imprisoned.

Asylum Seeker Support Funding

  1. SRSS Program:
    • SRSS funding decreased from $300 million in 2015-16 to $17 million in 2024-25 due to declining recipient numbers. In 2016-17, there were 18,671 recipients compared to 1579 in 2023-24.

Settlement Engagement and Transition Support (SETS) Program

  1. Funding:
    • The SETS program received $226 million for the three-year period starting July 2024, a 27% increase from the previous period. Funding is distributed across states to support rural and regional settlement needs.

Ministerial Direction 99

  1. Guidance:
    • Issued in January 2023 and effective March, guiding decision-making. The AAT made 367 finalisations under this direction, with 142 affirmed and 184 set aside.

Resolution of Status Visas

  1. Current Numbers:
    • As of April 30, 2024, 2877 individuals had on-hand resolution status visas. Significant numbers are at various review stages.
    • For the 2023-24 financial year up to March 31, the minister intervened for 110 people under section 195A.

Administrative Review Tribunal (ART)

  1. Reform and Funding:
    • Legislation to reform the AAT and establish the ART, with an additional $206.5 million over four years allocated in the 2024-25 budget.
    • The fast-track system rejected 7500 asylum claims, with provisions for ministerial intervention available for reapplication.

Detention and Health Services

  1. Average Time in Detention:
    • Average time in APOD as of December 31, 2023: 29 days.
    • Average cumulative detention period for humanitarian entrants: 1057 days.
  2. Mental Health Services:
    • 8,367 detainees received professional mental health counselling between January 2018 and December 2023.
    • 831 detainees received counselling from external torture and trauma service providers.
  3. Health Issues:
    • 17 detainees managed with hepatitis C as of January 31, 2024.
    • 53 detainees cleared of hepatitis C require ongoing care.

Other Key Points

  1. Ministerial Intervention:
    • 21 refugee and humanitarian entrants awaiting the outcome of Ministerial Intervention submissions under sections 195A and/or 197AB of the Migration Act 1958 as of April 3, 2024.
    • Less than ten individuals awaiting Ministerial Intervention outcomes for less than 12 months as of December 31, 2023.
  2. Statelessness:
    • No stateless persons on a removal pathway in detention as of December 31, 2023.
    • 377 visa holders under 18 in Australia claimed to be stateless as of February 29, 2024.
  3. Afghanistan:
    • 16,470 Class XB Humanitarian visas granted to Afghan nationals between July 1, 2021, and December 31, 2023.

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