JRS deeply concerned over latest government announcement on asylum seeker protection claims

People seeking asylum wait for legal support from RACS at the JRS outreach clinic

People seeking asylum wait for legal support from RACS at the JRS outreach clinic. Credit: NK Photography

“I can not go back to detention.  Please don’t let them send me back to detention,” one man seeking asylum said.

JRS is greatly concerned by the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s statement that people seeking asylum who arrived by boat need to lodge their protection claims by 1st October 2017 and that this deadline is non-negotiable.

Unfortunately the issue is being framed around the unwillingness of people seeking asylum to engage with the process and infers these people who are simply seeking safety are only here to take advantage of tax-payers’ money.

In reality, people seeking asylum have been waiting for the opportunity to put in their applications for many years. This is because people who arrived by boat were initially legally barred from applying for protection and now need to be invited by the Minister to apply. Most of the 7,500 people from the legacy caseload, would not have been able to lodge an application until very recently and have spent years in limbo.

While there are certainly people who still need to lodge their applications for protection, there are significant barriers to doing so, including a lack of access to legal advice. People are expected to fill in a very lengthy and complex application in English and organisations providing legal advice are already overstretched and trying to do their best with limited resources in a short period of time.

As a frontline organisation, JRS is working with many women, men and children seeking asylum, and we see the effects that these measures are having on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

For instance, Kasim* from Iraq, has been waiting for nearly 4 years to be able to lodge his application for protection. He arrived by boat in 2013, spent time in detention on Christmas Island, time in detention centres onshore in Australia, time in community detention without work rights, and finally, time waiting for an invitation from the Minister for Immigration to allow him to apply for protection.

Kasim hasn’t been avoiding the Department. He has a job and does not receive welfare payments. Nevertheless he’s been left living in limbo for years, facing uncertainty, adverse psychological effects and fear.  Kasim is working as a labourer, when he can get work, and does not want financial support from the Government or from JRS.

In 2016, he received a letter from DIBP saying he was now allowed to apply for protection, and he did what so many other people seeking asylum have done: he went to see Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) for pro-bono legal support.  RACS said they would help him, but that their waiting list was very long and that he needed to wait. So, he waited.

He was still patiently waiting nearly one year later, when he received another letter from the Department, this time stating that he only had 60 days to lodge his protection visa application.

This is when the panic and fear increased for Kasim and for so many of the people JRS supports.  The threat of losing income support, work rights, Medicare and even the right to seek asylum, is sending already vulnerable people, into further despair and hopelessness.

“I can not go back to detention.  Please don’t let them send me back to detention,” said Kasim.

Kasim is certain he will be found to be a refugee, but is terrified at the thought of losing his bridging visa and being re-detained. Almost 70% of the legacy cases already assessed have been found to be refugees.

“The Department of Immigration’s new deadline is pushing vulnerable asylum seekers that are trying to access justice, to the margins. The strict deadline goes against Australia’s international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not uphold basic human rights and the non-negotiable principle of due process,” says Carolina Gottardo, the Director of JRS.

“Australia is at risk of promoting a miscarriage of justice for many women, men and children seeking asylum, who only want their cases to be heard in fair conditions with access to legal advice.”

“This new measure will force people seeking asylum to present applications without legal advice or to not present them at all, and face destitution and deportation,” says Ms Gottardo.

We ask Minister Dutton to reconsider this decision and to ensure that people seeking asylum can access due process while ensuring that Australia’s protection obligations are upheld.

For media enquiries please contact JRS on 0414880625.

*names have been changed

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