No Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) have been issued to refugees since the passage of the Coalition’s controversial migration amendments in late 2014, the Department of Immigration has confirmed.
The reintroduction of the visas was part of sweeping legislation passed by the senate in December, which also instituted fast track processing of claims and limited the appeal options of asylum seekers who arrive in Australia without a visa.
Refugee support organisations have been bracing for the return of the TPVs, which force refugees to have their claims re-evaluated every three years and prevent them accessing the same benefits as those who enter the country with a visa.
The Refugee Council of Australia, an umbrella organisation for support groups across the country, says the wide-ranging legislation which re-introduced the visas will take years to be fully understood, but that the immediate impacts have not been clearly explained to support groups or their clients.
Rebecca Eckard, a research coordinator at the Refugee Council, told New Matilda that the legislation introduced TPVs retrospectively, meaning a large number of people who arrived in Australia as long as five years ago had become ineligible for permanent protection visas.
Included among this group are asylum seekers who have already been accepted as refugees but have not gone through the final visa processes
“There are still hundreds of people who arrived years ago, who have been found to be refugees who are awaiting a visa, and even though they applied for permanent protection visas, because of delays, they are only going to be eligible for TPVs,” Eckard said.
Refugees placed on TPVs will have the right to seek work and access medicare, but will not be granted access to the Humanitarian Settlement Services, a service that helps refugees accepted through Australia’s UNHCR intake settle in to the community. Among other things, this means the number of English classes they are provided with will be capped.
They also won’t be given access to the HECS-HELP scheme, meaning once refugee children finish high school they will either have to pay for university upfront or forgo higher education. Even if they establish lives for themselves in Australia, they can be deported if their visas are not renewed at the end of the three year period
Aside from concerns around TVPs, Eckard was also critical of changes in the legislation designed to fast track asylum claims.
In a statement issued to New Matilda, a spokesperson for the Department of Immigration said it held no concerns about the integrity of the new process.
“The new Fast Track Assessment process will allow protection claims to be assessed more efficiently and ensure a more robust approach to protection assessments,” the statement said.
“All Fast Track applicants will receive a comprehensive, fair and objective assessment of their claims for protection by highly trained and experienced immigration case officers.”
But Eckard said the new process would be “efficient and quick rather than just and fair”.
The legislation, passed in the final month of Scott Morrison’s tenure as Minister, means those who undergo fast track assessments will only be able to appeal to the newly established Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA), where previously they would have appealed to the Refugee Review Tribunal.
The difference sounds technical, but according to Eckard it’s significant.
The IAA’s website notes that “information that was not before the primary decision maker will only be able to be considered in limited circumstances”.
Eckard told New Matilda many asylum seekers do not present all relevant evidence for their claims at initial hearings, and that it can take a long time before they feel comfortable telling their full stories.
“When people have been through traumatic events or torture – particularly sexual violence or claims based on sexuality or gender preference – they are not likely to present that,” she said.
“Our concern is that people who have legitimate claims for protection will be excluded because of these new laws.”
Labor and the Greens opposed Morrison’s legislation when it was before the senate last year, warning it would provide drastic new powers to the Minister, prevent asylum seekers from having the opportunity to present their claims fairly, and leave those found to be refugees in a precarious position post release.
It passed with the support of Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party Senator Ricky Muir, who was pressured by the Coalition to vote up the legislation in return for a guarantee to release children from Christmas Island.
Earlier this week Fairfax reported that 252 children remain in detention, 116 of whom are held offshore on Nauru.
The most recent immigration detention statistics reveal no children are currently being held on Christmas Island, though advocates have argued they have simply been moved to different centres.
“The reality is those children have been thrown into detention again in Darwin instead of Christmas Island,” Eckard said.
“Their situation has not materially changed.”
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