13 January 2012

Australian immigration asylum plan makes shaky start

The Australian immigration authority's programme to relieve some of the pressure in overcrowded detention centres has gotten off to a slow start with just 107 bridging visas granted in the first three months.

Australia visa

Several of Australia's detention centres have seen protests as tensions rise due to overcrowding.

Chronic disorder has been reported in many of Australia's detention centres recently, mainly due to overcrowding, the intense heat and the lack of resolution in many asylum seekers' applications for asylum. Yet despite this, the 107 Australia visa requests which have succeeded have fallen way below the initial target of 100 a month.

This low rate appears even worse when compared to the rise in asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores; in the same period since the programme was announced, over 2,000 new arrivals were intercepted and apprehended in detention centres.

Despite this, Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen defended the scheme and cited the Christmas break along with an adjustment period for the programme's slow start, a defence which has been reiterated by charity groups such as the Red Cross.

The programme was announced following the Australian Gillard government's intention to implement offshore processing as a solution to alleviate the Australian immigration issues; a plan which was quickly extinguished by the Australian High Court. This failure combined with the increasing number of detainees, currently over 4,000, has led some to claim that the Gillard government had no choice but to loosen their restrictions on bridging visas.

Under the new programme, asylum seekers are released into the community while their claims are process and allowed to work and qualify for income support. Head of Australian Services Noel Clement said so far most of the asylum seekers released into the community appeared to be faring well and settling comfortably.

"I'm not hearing any significant concerns about additional urgent assistance for people who've been released" said Mr Clement.

"That doesn't mean there aren't some individuals out there who may be struggling, but as a general sort of feel...I would say it's progressing very well."

Although the Australian government has been quick to defend the scheme, Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition criticised the programme, saying it was being used as a method to control detainees, threatening those that misbehaved would become ineligible for a bridging visa.

"There are still no guidelines for the visas, so no one knows who might and who might not get one" said Mr Rintoul.

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

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