Australia to crack down on refugees after riots

Australia moved to toughen its refugee stance on Tuesday, launching a stricter character test so those convicted of crimes, including rioting, while in immigration detention could be shipped home.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the new law, if passed by Parliament, would mean any asylum-seeker found guilty of an offence while in detention would automatically fail character requirements for a visa.

It follows wild rioting in immigration facilities on Christmas Island last month and in Sydney, where fire gutted nine buildings last week as 100 inmates demonstrated against their detention at Villawood.

Dozens of people have been questioned by police over the riots but no charges have yet been laid.

Bowen said the character-test amendments would be retrospective, meaning those convicted of crimes as a result of the riots could face deportation or receive only temporary visas with limited rights.


“Certainly the approach that I would be taking is to apply that test vigorously,” he told reporters.

The minister stressed that the overhaul would not breach Australia’s international obligations and “we will not be returning people who are genuine refugees to a country in which they are in danger”.

But under the changes, offending asylum-seekers considered to be in danger if repatriated would only receive a temporary visa, which could be revoked once the situation in their home country was considered to have improved.

Currently the government can only refuse applications on character grounds when a detainee has a substantial criminal record or has been convicted of an offence and sentenced to a year or more in prison.

Condemnation
Refugee advocates and the left-wing Greens party condemned the move as a return to harsh policies of the past under which detainees, including children, were held for lengthy periods behind razor wire on remote Pacific islands.

“What I have a problem with is the suggestion that because they have misbehaved in detention we will therefore deny them the protection they are entitled to as refugees,” said prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside.

“I don’t have a problem with them facing the criminal justice system, but you cannot strip them of their refugee status because for many of them that would involve a death sentence,” he told ABC radio.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the approach would exacerbate, not ease unrest and anxiety in Australia’s detention centres, which have been stretched to capacity by the arrival of a record 7 000 people in 2010.

Most arrived by leaky fishing vessels along the popular people smuggling corridor from Indonesia, and were from countries such as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq.

UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, said there was a 33% increase in asylum claims in Australia last year but stressed that many other countries had seen a similar surge and overall numbers were a third lower than the peak levels seen in 2001.

Australia accounted for just 2% of total global claims, and they came from some of the world’s most troubled and conflict-ridden regions, the UNHCR said.

Bowen said he understood the frustration of refugees held under Canberra’s mandatory detention policy and that “if people have taken the effort to get to Australia by boat … then they are looking for a visa”.

“But there is nothing which justifies the sorts of actions we’ve seen at Christmas Island and Villawood over recent weeks,” the minister said. — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Amy Coopes
Amy Coopes works from amy.coopes at croakey.org. Hack turned quack. Medical student (VI). Journalist. Writer. Ex @AFP. Editor @croakeynews. Advisory group @mindframemedia. Wiradjuri land, never ceded. ✊ Amy Coopes has over 9427 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

Top cricket writer found dead in Newlands hotel

Renowned cricket writer Peter Roebuck was found dead at his hotel in Cape Town, where he was covering Australia's Test series with the Proteas.

Bleak future for Christchurch as population flees

After a deadly earthquake left homes creaking and wiped out buildings and jobs, thousands of residents have turned their back on Christchurch.

‘Dark days’ in NZ as earthquake toll climbs

New Zealand warned relatives to brace for the worst on Friday as toiling rescuers failed to find any more survivors after a devastating earthquake.

Thorpe to return for London Olympics

Five-time Olympic freestyle champion Ian Thorpe announced his return to swimming for the 2012 London games on Wednesday.

Samoa tsunami death toll nears 150

Rescuers on Wednesday reached scenes of stunning devastation after a killer tsunami obliterated Samoan island villages, killing at least 148 people.

Homes razed as Australia suffers record heatwave

Southeastern Australia faced chaos on Friday, as a heatwave fanned fires that destroyed homes, claimed lives and strained services.
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

Traditional healers need new spaces

Proper facilities supported by well-researched cultural principles will go a long way to improving the image and perception of the practice of traditional medicine

Did Botswana execute ‘poachers’ ?

The Botswana Defence Force’s anti-poaching unit has long been accused of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. Over 20 years the unit has killed 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans

Limpopo big-game farmer accused of constant harassment

A family’s struggle against alleged intimidation and failure to act by the authorities mirrors the daily challenges farm dwellers face
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…