It's three days after the Coalition's election win, and shadow minister for immigration Scott Morrison is "ready to serve".
"Immigration is certainly a challenge and I would be happy to step up to that challenge, he told the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader today. "We will be implementing our policies from day one of the newly sworn-in government."
One such policy is the adoption of a controversial UK fast track processing system that will remove thousands of asylum seekers, and return them to torture and persecution.
Morrison announced before the election that swept his Coalition party to power that he would be using a similar system to the “Detained Fast Track” method used by the UK Border Agency to process and remove asylum seekers quickly and cost-efficiently.
Morrison and Tony Abbott said last month that the Coalition would prioritise the 30,000 asylum seekers currently awaiting assessment. They would also try to cut all avenues of appeal against initial decisions by Immigration Department case managers by wiping out the Refugee Review Tribunal and ending legal assistance to refugees seeking recourse through the courts.
“Based on the Detained Fast Track system in the UK, which I had the opportunity to look at earlier this year, we will put in place a similar system,” Morrison said.
“What that will do is enable us to triage that caseload of 30,000 people and start working through that system to process those where a decision can be made readily and prioritise those who, on an initial screening, look likely to be negative. So we can get on with the job of removing people far more quickly than this government has been able to do.”
Under the Rudd and Gillard governments, more than 90 per cent of asylum seekers were assessed to be genuinely fleeing persecution and granted refugee status. As the Abbott-led opposition increased the public pressure over increasing numbers of boat arrivals, the Labor government introduced an enhanced screening process which saw hundreds of asylum seekers, mostly Tamils, quickly interviewed upon arrival and returned to their homeland.
The DFT method in the UK has been severely criticised by human rights groups and the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency. The UK High Court also intervened to stop the deportation of Tamil asylum seekers earlier this year.
The independent chief inspector, John Vine, pointed to inadequate interviews that failed to produce proper information and left victims of torture and human trafficking vulnerable to deportation.
“The DFT is not working as quickly as intended and has insufficient safeguards to prevent people being incorrectly allocated to it,” Vine wrote in a report published last year. “While the agency does have safeguards in place, I’m concerned about the continued risks faced by victims of torture and trafficking."
Human rights groups have said constantly that the DFT system is designed to achieve, first and foremost, government removal targets rather than to give asylum seekers a fair chance to explain their circumstances.
The UK civil liberties group, Liberty, says many complex claims are incorrectly sent through the fast track process. “Trafficked women, torture victims, sufferers of sexual abuse and domestic violence, have all been through this system. With claims being made, assessed, decided and appeals (if possible) determined in the space of around one week, many complex and sensitive claims are rushed through, and genuine refugees are denied entry, as a detailed Human Right Watch report shows,” it says.
The prospect of deportation for thousands of asylum seekers from Australia comes as the UK-based group, Freedom From Torture, which provides medical aid to torture victims, announced the three major source countries for asylum seekers in Australia — Sri Lanka, Iran and Afghanistan — are also the three main countries of origin of torture victims it treated in 2012.
Sri Lanka went to the top of Freedom From Torture’s victims’ list for the first time, with 228 Sri Lankans treated. Next on the list was Iran with 224, while Afghanistan came in third with 115 victims. These three countries supplied 43 per cent of the 1301 victims treated by Freedom From Torture.
“Large numbers of Sri Lankan torture victims, most of them Tamil, are still coming to Freedom From Torture for rehabilitation and other clinical services, and our doctors attest than many were tortured long after the government declared victory in the civil war (in 2009)” said Keith Best, chief executive of Freedom From Torture.
Australian Department of Immigration statistics from May this year showed that 4886 of the 8521 asylum seekers in detention centres (57 per cent) came from Sri Lanka, Iran and Afghanistan.
“Morrison’s plan means that many asylum seekers are on a fast track to torture chambers,” said Tamil Refugee Council spokesman, Aran Mylvaganam.
Morrison said the objective was to end “Labor’s tick and flick approach” to asylum seeker assessments.
“Over nine out of 10 people who are coming by boats have been recognised (as refugees) under Labor’s scheme, as they have hard-wired appeals back through the Refugee Review Tribunal, back into the courts,” he said. “What this has produced is cases where there is a ‘No’ decision being provided by case officers, under this government’s appeals processes around 80 per cent of those 'Nos' are being turned into 'Yeses'.”
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