12 January 2012

Australian immigration department at a loss with Iranian asylum seekers

The increase in Iranian asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores has caused concern that thousands could be denied asylum yet unable to return to Iran.

Australia visa

Australian immigration authorities need to find a solution to the rising number of Iranian asylum seekers.

Figures from the Australian Immigration Department have shown that the majority of Iranian asylum seekers were found not to be refugees on first assessment with 754 of 1,366 applications for asylum being rejected in the three months leading to September 2011.

Iranian asylum seekers now account for almost 50% of the total number of boat arrivals; many are English speaking middle class professionals and as the number of Iranians attempting to reach Australia has grown in the past three years, culminating in 1,549 arriving in 2010-2011, so has the intensity of which the issue is debated in Australian politics.

A spokesman for the Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government realised the issue was a "considerable challenge" and a "range of case resolution options" were being considered for failed refugees.

Failed refugees would normally be returned to their native country, involuntarily so if required. However, "the involuntary return of failed asylum-seekers can only occur with the agreement of the host country. And this can only commence after an exhaustive process of assessment and appeal, which can take years," said Mr Bowen's spokesman.

"Despite numerous attempts by Australia, the Iranian government has made it clear that it will not accept the involuntary return of failed asylum-seekers."

Immigration is a much debated topic at the moment in Australia and this announcement has attracted plenty of criticism with Australian Liberal Party MP and former immigration minister Philip Ruddock taking the chance to accuse the current Australian government of failing to negotiate with Iran and reaching an adequate return arrangement for failed refugees.

While in office himself, Mr Ruddock negotiated a deal with Iran which forcibly returned failed asylum seekers to Iran in exchange for granting young Iranians the access to an Australian working holiday visa; a move which attracted its own share of controversy and criticism.

Refugee Council of Australia President John Gibson said the current situation was an "important policy challenge" which the Australian government should continue to try and negotiate a resettlement deal with Iran, highlighting the fact that many of the Iranian asylum seekers had remained in detention centres for over two years.

"People have to be returned in certain circumstances to their country of origin. If they can't be, the options are indefinite detention, which I don't think the Australian people support," Mr Gibson said.

According to Mr Gibson, if a viable long term solution could not be reached, the Australian government may be forced into granting unsuccessful Iranian refugees permanent status.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian High Commission.

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