People seeking asylum in Australia have a right to the things we all want - safety, security and protection for ourselves and our families.
We can do better in welcoming asylum seekers into our community.
An asylum seeker is someone who has fled their own country and applies to another country, like Australia, for protection as a refugee.
In 2012 (to November), around 405 309 people sought asylum in developed countries around the world. This was a significant increase from 350 800 in 2011. Just 3.5% of asylum seekers in 2012 sought asylum in Australia.
Only a small number of asylum seekers come to Australia by boat seeking protection. Most 'boat people' are found to be refugees. What happens between 'seeking protection' and being 'found to be a refugee' is a distressing story.
How restrictive are the options?
- No imminent prospect of release
"A thousand days have passed. There has been no change in our circumstances and we don’t know what will be the future."
There is no Australian law that protects people from being held in closed immigration detention forever, even though this is against international law.
Sometimes people are not provided with a visa to live in Australia but they cannot return to their country of origin or live in another country. One example of when this happens is when a person is found to be a refugee but they are considered to pose a risk to Australia’s national security. For now, people in these situations are held in indefinite detention.
At the moment about 55 refugees are being held in closed detention because the Australian Security Intelligence Office (ASIO) considers them a threat to Australia’s national security, so they will not be granted protection visas. These refugees have not been told why they are considered a risk to national security,; they have not been given a chance to respond to the case against them and it appears that no consideration has been given to less restrictive options than indefinite closed detention (for example, community detention).
Another example of when people can end up being held in indefinite detention with no imminent prospect of release is when they have been found not to be refugees but are stateless, meaning they cannot be returned to their country of origin. Some stateless people are moved into less restrictive forms of detention such as community detention, but some are held indefinitely in closed detention.
As at 15 May 2012, there were 555 people in closed detention in Australia who identified as being stateless, 114 of whom had been detained for over 540 days.
- Closed detention
"I do not want to complain about DIAC or Serco. But if I go mad in here, I’m no use to anyone. Not to Australian society if I’m allowed to start, and not to my family either way."
Closed detention is immigration detention that means people cannot come and go freely. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship refers to this as ‘held’ detention. Examples of closed detention include immigration detention centres on Christmas Island or and at Villawood, and lower security forms of detention where people still do not have freedom of movement, such as the Darwin Airport Lodge and Sydney Immigration Residential Housing. People are held in closed detention until they are given a visa, leave Australia or move to another form of detention such as community detention.
Around 5,000 people are currently held in closed detention (as at February 2013).
- Community detention
"I felt happy at first – I thought this is freedom. But it is not freedom. I cannot work. I cannot study the things I need to progress in life. I want to make a contribution."
Community detention was introduced in 2005 when the Migration Act was amended to allow the Minister for Immigration to make residence determinations. A residence determination is when the Minister for Immigration specifically permits an immigration detainee to live at a particular residence in the community.
People in community detention are generally not under physical supervision but are still legally in detention. There are conditions attached to a residence determination which can include requirements such as reporting to DIAC regularly and sleeping at the same residence every night.
People in community detention do not have a visa and they cannot work.
In October 2010, the Australian Government announced it would begin to move a significant number of unaccompanied minors and families with children into community detention. As at 31 December 2012, 1,822 people were in community detention.
- Bridging visa
It was unbelievable for me. I really breathed the air into my body for the first time in so many months. And I thought I can live again now."
Bridging visas allow asylum seekers or refugees to live in the community while their claims for permanent protection visas are being finalised.
In November 2011 the Minister for Immigration announced that selected asylum seekers who had arrived toin Australia by boat would be granted bridging visas after they had completed initial health, security and identity checks.
Having a bridging visa allows people to move freely in the community. The conditions attached to bridging visas vary. Some bridging visas allow people to , work, enrol in formal study and access Medicare. This was the case for many asylum seekers who arrived in Australia before 13 August 2012.
In November 2012, the Minister for Immigration announced changes to visa conditions for asylum seekers who arrived at offshore entry places on or after 13 August 2012. Asylum seekers who arrived on or after 13 August 2012 and are granted bridging visas will have no work rights.
In February 2013 there were around 8000 asylum seekers in the community on bridging visas with varying conditions attached.
Australian migration law says asylum seekers that come to Australia without a visa must be held in immigration detention until they are granted a visa or removed from Australia.
This law sets up Australia’s system of mandatory and indefinite detention. It is not just asylum seekers who are held in immigration detention. Other people may also be detained, for example people who have breached or overstayed their visa or had their visa cancelled.
Some immigration detainees are permitted to live in the community in what is known as ‘community detention’. Community detention means that the Minister for Immigration can specifically permit an immigration detainee to live at a specified residence in the community.
Over 90% of asylum seekers who arrived by boat were found to be genuine refugees in 2011-12