Jesuit Refugee Service Australia says that it views with alarm and concern the Australian government’s decision to apply the “no advantage” test to asylum seekers who arrive by boat and are released into the community.
The Minister of Immigration announced that all arrivals after 13th August, when the government’s expert panel on asylum seekers released its report, will be subject to the “no advantage” test created by the expert panel, whether they are sent to offshore processing centres such as Nauru and Manus Island, or if they are released into the community because the offshore centres do not have the capacity to accommodate all the arrivals.
“The decision to place asylum seekers in the community with no work rights and limited assistance is a retrograde step, and ultimately harmful not just to the asylum seekers but also to the countries where they could potentially be resettled once their claims have been recognised,” said JRS Director, Fr Aloysious Mowe, SJ.
“Denying asylum seekers the right to work for up to 5 years, even when they have been recognised to be refugees with claims on Australia’s protection obligations, will make the lives of already vulnerable people more miserable, deprive them of their dignity, and force them to be a burden on the Australian taxpayer. They will be robbed of the opportunity to improve their work skills, and this in turn will rebound on the communities where they are eventually resettled or returned.
“Desperate asylum seekers forced into destitution by the government will turn to refugee agencies for help, but agencies such as ours are already overstretched and having to turn away far more asylum seekers than we are able to assist with our limited resources.”
Fr Mowe said that the “no advantage” test was an absurd policy, based not on fact but on political expedience and wishful thinking, and that the members of the expert panel should, in the light of all the information available, recant their recommendation that such a test be applied.
“The government is bent on using the “no advantage” test as a fig-leaf to cover what is in reality a punitive policy that uses people seeking Australia’s protection to deter potential asylum seekers from coming to this country. The government seems to have decided that five years is the acceptable period to satisfy its “no advantage” test. Where has this figure come from? There is no standard or average waiting time for asylum seekers and refugees anywhere in our region or in the world.”
Fr Mowe cited a letter written to the Minister for Immigration by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr António Guterres, in which he made it clear that “there is no ‘average’ time for resettlement”, and that resettlement cases are prioritised according to vulnerability and need.
“Australia is not walking away from its responsibilities under the UN Refugees Convention: it is sprinting away at great speed.” said Fr Mowe. “Asylum seekers should not be punished because they come here by boat. The Convention says that refugees may not be penalised for their mode of entry into a country.
“Neither should they be punished to act as an example or a deterrent to others. Australia is no longer treating these asylum seekers as human beings with inherent rights and dignity, but as passive instruments of a policy of deterrence.
“As one of the few signatories to the Refugees Convention in this region, Australia should be acting as a beacon of protection for asylum seekers and refugees. Instead, it is providing an example to other countries as to how to deter desperate people from seeking asylum, and how to punish those who do. The ‘no-advantage’ test is a blot on Australia’s reputation: it is cruel, inhumane, and immoral.”