Misha Coleman, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Senator John Madigan: Briefing to Senators re the dangers of supporting the forthcoming Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill 2014.

The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce is an initiative supported by the National Council of Churches in Australia, and the Steering Committee is comprised of 22 leaders

[1] from nine Christian churches and three ecumenical bodies. The Taskforce has a further 513 Christian entities who are network members. The Taskforce has prepared a submission to the Senate inquiry into the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014[2].

We are writing to ask you to ensure that you are briefed about what we believe are deeply troubling impacts of the Bill if it is passed in its current form, including:

· the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection will be permitted to circumvent the law by superseding rulings of the High Court. He/she will also be permitted to make decisions for asylum seekers even if our international legal obligations have not been considered. This gives one individual an unprecedented and unregulated amount of power;

· any children who have been born in Australia, but whose parents arrived by boat, will be condemned to a life of statelessness. Children who are stateless are often denied the right to go to school, the right to ever work legally, and the right to possess a passport – they have no country to call home and will live their lives in constant limbo;

· we do not want to see any asylum seekers die at sea, however in the two years after Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) were last used, we saw more women and children risk their lives attempting to reach Australia by boat. They did this because they knew that TPVs meant they would never see their families again (the detail of what happened last time is overleaf). The proposed reintroduction of TPVs under this Bill will have the same impact;

· the Bill will give the aforementioned Minister unprecedented and unchecked power to act in a unilateral manner when it comes to determining the fate of asylum seekers. One of these powers will be the ability to issue directions to our naval forces to tow boats to countries that do not have any existing agreements with Australia, which will damage our relationship with countries in the region;

· we know that asylum seekers who have been sent back to their country of origin (refouled) have subsequently been detained, tortured and in some cases murdered. Under this Bill, the Australian Government would be responsible for many more asylum seekers sent back to serious harm or death.

The Taskforce rejects this legislation in its entirety. If it is passed, we recommend that it be amended to contain provisions addressing the following:

1. Access to protection visas for those awarded a TPV or SHEV (Safe Haven Enterprise Visa) after a period of no more than three years;
2. Removal of the fast-track processing system;
3. Inclusion of family reunion and travel rights (including re-entry) for TPV holders;
4. Funding to ensure that the mutual obligations attached to the SHEV are adequately supported. This should include provision for liaisons in regional communities to work with local churches and community groups to ensure the full social and economic participation of relocated refugees.

The Real Impact of Temporary Protection Visas on Boat Arrival Numbers when they were last introduced

· Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) were introduced in October 1999. This resulted in a jump in the overall number of asylum seekers arriving by boat from November 1999 – October 2001.

· The most significant change was in the type of people who engaged people smugglers. The red and green bars above show the dramatic jump in the number of women and children who arrived by boat. This happened because asylum seekers knew they would never see their families again under TPVs and so tried to stay together.

· In September 2001, John Howard introduced many changes to the way we process asylum seekers, including sending asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island (known as The Pacific Solution), and excising thousands of islands around Australia from our migration zone. This meant that boats that came close to the Australian mainland were now classified as being in “international waters” so that Australia did not have to offer assistance under the Refugee Convention.

· John Howard also authorised the interception and tow-back of boats under Operation Relex. Because of these changes, there was a drop in the number of people who arrived in Australia by boat, however at no point did asylum seekers stop trying to come to Australia this way. From 2003, despite The Pacific Solution, the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat increased again. It is also important to remember that the number of people seeking asylum in 2001 and 2002 was lower all over the world – so it would be wrong to say that TPVs were a successful deterrent to boat arrivals.

· Of the asylum seekers who were sent to Nauru and Manus Island, 80% were eventually found to be refugees, meaning Australia did owe them protection and safety. In 2006, Shayan Badraie – an 11-year old Iranian boy – was paid $400,000 in compensation for the psychological damage he endured being detained for two years in our detention system.

[1] See http://www.australianchurchesrefugeetaskforce.com.au/about-us/members/[2] The full text of our submission is available at http://www.acrt.com.au/wp-content/uploads/ACRT-Submission-Resolving-Asylum-Caseload-Bill-301014.pdf