Today the Turnbull government has again changed the rules for people seeking asylum, forcing thousands of people to lodge their applications by 1 October 2017.
This arbitrary deadline is the latest in a set of measures designed to coerce people into lodging their applications without legal assistance.
The irony is that while people are being forced to apply in unrealistic timeframes, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection face a backlog of 12 months to process people’s applications.
This is an unprecedented attack that will potentially see people deported to danger. Under international law, it is illegal to remove someone from Australia without allowing them to lodge their application for asylum.
This announcement targets people who arrived by sea in Australia between August 2012 and December 2013, who have been waiting over 3 years to apply for asylum under the government’s so-called “fast track” legal process. This process was introduced in December 2014 through the Legacy Caseload Bill, and has short timeframes and arbitrary deadlines.
Around 7,500 people are yet to apply for protection, most of whom are already involved in legal processes to claim asylum but who have been unable to yet lodge their applications due to underfunded legal services struggling to meet already surging demand. Most of the people yet to apply are families with young children and vulnerable people including stateless Rohingya.
In a shocking new threat, the government has confirmed that people who do not apply for protection by this date will lose the right to apply for asylum and will be targeted for removal from Australia.
Legal providers including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s (ASRC) Human Rights Law Program have already tripled their free legal services, with thousands of lawyers and paralegals volunteering their time on evenings and weekends to meet this unprecedented demand.
“This is yet another attack on people seeking asylum who want nothing more than a fair chance to present their claims for asylum so they can begin to rebuild their lives in peace in our community” said Kon Karapanagiotidis, CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
“The ASRC is already working with around 1000 people who are affected by this decision, while there are thousands more across Australia. Many of these people have been waiting four years to be allowed by the government to lodge their asylum claims. Now they have opportunity to do so but are being forced to navigate this complex life or death process on their own.”
Lawyers who work with people seeking asylum say the Government’s actions undermine the right to a fair process. “This latest policy change by the Government risks forcing people to lodge their applications without getting critical legal assistance,” said Melinda Jackson, Principal Solicitor with the ASRC’s Human Rights Law Program.
“Our community expects that everyone deserves fair and equal treatment under the law. It is concerning that our government is deliberately coercing people to lodge their applications without any legal support or advice.”
“Legal representation is essential to ensure people seeking asylum have a fair chance at lodging their claims for protection. This is particularly the case for people in the ‘fast track’ refugee status determination process which has completely inadequate procedural safeguards. Under this process, people have one chance at being granted asylum.”
“The ASRC and other community legal services are already operating at capacity. We have already scaled up our legal services by over 300 percent, and our team is working around the clock to ensure people have a fair chance at lodging their claim. We see almost 50 people in our clinics each week, including vulnerable families and people who have been tortured, who are unable to lodge their applications without legal assistance. The Government has forced thousands of people to wait over 3 years to apply and, at the first opportunity they are seeking our assistance.”
For comment please call
Melinda Jackson, Principal Solicitor – 0433 295 602
Kon Karapanagiotidis, CEO – 0405 003 473