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Saturday, 6 December 2014

Asylum seeker children from Christmas Island to lose visa appeal rights

Asylum seeker children from Christmas Island to lose visa appeal rights

Asylum seeker children from Christmas Island to lose visa appeal rights

New ‘fast-track’ assessments that have been criticised by the UN will
apply to children due for mainland transfer under Senate deal

Christmas Island detention centre

Under the Senate deal, 468 children will be transferred to the mainland
from the Christmas Island detention centre. Photograph: Oliver

Detained asylum seeker children released from Christmas Island
by the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, will be processed under
new “fast-track” assessments, which remove appeal rights. The United
Nations has warned the new assessments could lead to people being sent
back to be tortured.

The migration and maritime powers
legislation amendment (resolving the asylum legacy caseload) bill 2014,
passed by the Senate early on Friday morning, establishes a
“fast-track” assessment process for boat arrivals who came to Australia
after 13 August 2012.

In exchange for Senate crossbenchers’ votes in favour the bill,
Morrison has agreed to transfer 468 Christmas Island detainee children
to the mainland.

children’s detention on the island is unrelated to the bill, but the
promise of their liberty was used as leverage by the government to
secure upper house votes, most notably the assent of the final senator
to agree, Ricky Muir.

There are still 167 children on Nauru, unaffected by the bill. But 24
babies born to asylum seekers in Australia will now be sent to the
Pacific Island under provisions in the new legislation.

“Fast track” applicants will face an abbreviated refugee assessment
process – enhanced screening is already as short as four questions – and
they will be forbidden from appealing their refugee determination to
the Refugee Review Tribunal.

Instead, they will be entitled to a paper-only review by a new body,
the Immigration Assessment Authority, or by the minister’s department.

Last week, the United Nations Committee Against Torture warned the bill could mean asylum seekers, including children, would be forced back to the countries they’d fled to face torture.

“The state party [Australia] should refrain from adopting any
legislative or other measures that may lower the existing safeguards and
standards of protection which could constitute a violation of its
obligations under the convention [against torture].”

Morrison said yesterday Australia would be safer with the passage of
the bill, and it would strengthen the government’s ability to deter
boats from coming to Australia, and to tow them back to sea.

passing this bill it has resulted in stronger borders. By passing this
bill … the government has sent another strong message to the
people-smugglers about our resolve to end their business forever.”

The minister said he had already started making arrangements to bring
the 468 children on Christmas Island, some of whom have been in
detention there for 15 months, to the mainland.

“As early as this morning, at about 20 to 1AM, we were in contact
with the department to get that process moving, the minute [the bill]
passed the Senate.”

But refugee advocates and international lawyers have condemned the
new legislation, in particular the reintroduction of temporary
protection visas.

Elaine Pearson from Human Rights Watch said the law “made a mockery”
of Australia’s obligations under international law to protect persecuted

“It is bad not only for those asylum seekers who arrive by boat who
now may be forced home risking death or torture, but this sets a
terrible precedent to the region, if not the world that the rights of
some are worth more than the rights of others.”

Daniel Webb from the Human Rights Law Centre said the children
removed from Christmas Island would be channelled into a system that
would not properly assess their refugee claim, or allow them to appeal.

“While these children are being released from detention, something
positive is happening to them now, that comes at an increased risk they
could, ultimately, be returned to torture.”

Senior researcher with the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee
Law at UNSW Joyce Chia said while people were focused on the children
being released from detention, “it will now be much more difficult for
them to qualify as a refugees”.

“It will be especially difficult for children, who are often unable
to articulate their claims, particularly at the very beginning.”

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said the government
could expect its new “fast tracking” assessment to be challenged before
the courts.

“When the first person is screened out under this new system, I believe there will be a legal challenge.”

The government has already spent much of this year in the high court
defending its existing asylum regime. It is back before the court

The chief executive of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Kon
Karapanagiotidis, said the concession by the government to offer a
“pathway to permanence” – for boat arrivals to one day be eligible for a
permanent visa in the country – was a false offer.

“In remote circumstances, some refugees with in-demand skills,
excellent English, a supportive boss and the winds blowing in their
favour may jump the hurdles necessary to gain a permanent visa, but this
could take up to a decade. During that time, people will be left in
anxious limbo, unable to settle properly.”

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