With the Australian parliament on its winter break for another two weeks, asylum seekers have been arriving in Australian waters in even greater numbers. The record number of monthly arrivals was broken in June, and then again in July. The total in 2012 surpassed the previous annual record in just seven months and recently topped 7,000 arrivals, not including crew members.
The debate has been raging on for months with politicians, charities, oppositions and the public all calling for their own brand of solution to the issue. With the political deadlock not looking likely to lift any time soon however, whether a suitable deterrent presents itself is another issue.
Former First Assistant Secretary Des Storer has said Australian immigration policy is contradictory and encourages asylum seekers...read more.
The government has moved to play down recent reports that Indonesian and Australian immigration authorities were close to signing a deal which would allow Australia to patrol Indonesian waters in search of asylum seeking boats without permission...read more.
The government has confirmed that alleged people smuggler Ali Al Abassi, also known as 'Captain Emad', has had his Australia visa cancelled...read more.
With asylum seeker numbers currently at unprecedented levels, the level of benefits provided to them combined with increasingly overcrowded facilities is at risk of creating a new lower class of impoverished people...read more.
Former Australian immigration official recommends closing door to asylum seekers
Former First Assistant Secretary
Des Storer says asylum seekers
should be given a choice as to
where they're sent.
Former First Assistant Secretary Des Storer has said Australian immigration policy is contradictory and encourages asylum seekers.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has established an expert panel headed by former Defence Chief Angus Houston to find a solution to the ongoing asylum seeking issue after politicians failed to do so.
Under current legislation, new arrivals' claims for refugee status are assessed and if they are approved they can begin the process of obtaining a visa which would allow them to remain in Australia.
The PM's panel has since stopped hearing arguments but Mr Storer has reportedly said the only effective method to deterring asylum seekers would be to prevent asylum seekers arriving by boat from applying for an Australia visa.
"This can be done by excising Australia for the purposes of migration. This would mean that all unauthorised arrivals are detained," he said.
The former assistant secretary, who is now an adjunct professor at Monash University, said asylum seekers arriving in Australia should be given the option of returning to Indonesia, which is where most boats depart from, returning to their home countries or being set to a refugee camp of their own choice.
"If you really want to stop the boats and protect people's lives, that is the best way."
Mr Storer claims his proposal would save enough money to almost double Australia's refugee intake to 25,000, would not be in violation of the country's refugee obligations and would be satisfactory to all parties.
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Government denies Australian immigration deal with Indonesia
A deal which would allow Australian
patrols in Indonesian waters is still
being negotiated, despite reports
to the contrary.
The government has moved to play down recent reports that Indonesian and Australian immigration authorities were close to signing a deal which would allow Australia to patrol Indonesian waters in search of asylum seeking boats without permission.
With record numbers of asylum seeking boats making the risky journey between the two countries, it was reported that Australia was set to be given permission to begin search and rescue operations without risk of confrontation in an effort to avoid more disasters like the ones which saw 94 people drown in June.
Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said on Wednesday that he expected a deal to be signed as early as September but a spokesperson for Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare has quelled the reports, saying the proposal 'has not been put formally to the government and has not been under consideration to date'.
Any agreement is likely to be reported as just a stop gap while the government continues to find a suitable deterrent to preventing asylum seekers attempting the journey at all. The last deterrent in place, the previous Howard-government's Pacific Solution was abandoned upon the Labor Party taking government; their own deterrent proposals, the East Timor Solution and the Malaysia Solution have failed to support.
The Malaysia Solution was struck down in the High Court last year and boat arrivals have since reached record levels just over halfway through the year while no deterrent is in place.
Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott has criticised the deal and once again reiterated his assertion that his party's policies, which would involve reinstating many parts of the Pacific Solution and include escorting asylum seeking boats out of Australian waters, is the only real deterrent available.
"We've had the East Timor Solution, the Malaysia Solution, now we've got the ostrich solution where Julia Gillard sticks her head in the sand and the boats just keep coming and coming and coming," said Mr Abbott.
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People smuggler’s Australia visa cancelled
Captain Emad fled Australia after
Four Corners confronted him over
alleged people smuggling activities.
The government has confirmed that alleged people smuggler Ali Al Abassi, also known as 'Captain Emad', has had his Australia visa cancelled.
Investigative journalist TV show Four Corners made the allegations in June when they confronted the Iraqi national at his job as a supermarket worker. The man fled the country the day after the program aired but it has taken almost two months for the government to cancel the man's visa.
"The decision has taken effect," said Immigration Minister Chris Bowen who said his department had conducted an extensive investigation. "Mr Al Abassi no longer has a visa to return to Australia."
Four Corners alleged Captain Emad set up a people smuggling ring in Canberra after entering Australia in 2010 as a refugee. When confronted the man refused to comment and promptly left the country, despite being in Australia legally.
"My department has undertaken domestic and international investigations into his case and, on the basis of this further information, I have decided to cancel Mr Al Abassi's visa while he is still offshore under Section 128 of the Migration Act," said Mr Bowen.
Australia is keen to clamp down on people smuggling in the midst of record levels of asylum seeker arrivals by boat but opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison said the decision was an empty gesture, effectively 'shutting the gate after the horse has bolted'.
"Minister Bowen's cancellation of Captain Emad's cold case visa, two months after he left the country, will hardly have people-smugglers shaking in their boots," said Mr Morrison.
"Captain Emad is likely to be sitting in one of his perfume shops overseas, counting the money he has made from his people-smuggling operations and laughing at how much of a fool he has made our government and Minister Bowen in particular."
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Australia immigration situation runs risk of creating asylum seeker underclass
Australia may have to contend with
a new underclass of struggling
With asylum seeker numbers currently at unprecedented levels, the level of benefits provided to them combined with increasingly overcrowded facilities is at risk of creating a new lower class of impoverished people.
Australian immigration policy dictates that all 'irregular maritime arrivals' - asylum seekers arriving by boat - are detained. Their claims for refugee status are assessed and then, if successful, they are eligible to be released into community detention on an Australian visa program known as bridging visas.
In community detention, asylum seekers are entitled to six weeks accommodation provided by the Red Cross, basic health care and the ability to work. However, bridging visa holders are not entitled to any employment associated state benefits, are not provided with English language programs and are expected to have found alternative accommodation on their own after the initial six weeks.
With care for often very vulnerable asylum seekers almost entirely dependent on charitable donations and the consecutive months of record arrivals of asylum seeking boats, detention centres are reaching capacity and forcing the government to release more people out into community detention.
Almost 3,200 asylum seekers have been released into community detention in the past eight months alone and with little or no language skills, limited access to state benefits or assistance and expected to survive on AU$31 (£21) a day, many have been forced to sleep in overcrowded hostels or boarding houses.
Jana Favero of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne says not enough is being done to ensure new arrivals are capable of establishing themselves in the country.
"We have a waiting list for the first time in 11 years of people needing assistance," said Ms Favero.
The Australian government is desperately in need of a solution to the ongoing asylum seeker issue but with a minority government needing opposition assistance and all parties refusing to compromise their position, the issue may continue to spiral when the parliament reconvenes this month.
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- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the Australian Visa Bureau.
©Visa Bureau 2003-2013