Surge in visa success rates 'luring' boatpeople to Australia

SUCCESS rates for refugee claims have leapt from 30 to 70 per cent in just six months, sparking accusations the government is encouraging boatpeople by virtually guaranteeing them visas.

Senior Immigration Department officials conceded at a recent parliamentary committee hearing that the success rate for asylum claims now stood at 70 per cent, not far below its record high of more than 90 per cent.

With the High Court to hand down its ruling on the Malaysia Solution tomorrow, the figures prompted agencies to warn the Department of Immigration's high success rate was acting as an incentive to asylum-seekers to get on a boat.

Senior department official Garry Fleming told a parliamentary committee earlier this month the primary acceptance rate for asylum-seekers who arrive by boat stood at 70 per cent.

Mr Fleming said the speed at which refugee claims were being processed meant that "a good articulation" of people's refugee claims was not being heard at their initial assessment, resulting in a high rate of overturn at review. "That is now seeing primary recognition rates in the order of about 70 per cent," Mr Fleming told the committee.

The figure does not take into account unsuccessful asylum claims that are overturned on review, suggesting the final success rate could be considerably higher.

The rate at which refugee claims for boatpeople are upheld is seen as a key element in the factors driving refugee movements.

Early last year the Rudd government was warned its refugee success rate was "out of whack" with other countries and was acting as a "major pull factor". The warning was contained in confidential advice sent to government prior to the decision to freeze Afghan asylum claims for six months and Sri Lankan claims for three months. At the time the advice was sent the refugee success rate was more than 90 per cent.

According to department statistics the primary success rate was just 27 per cent for the first six months of 2010-11, meaning it has soared more than 40 per cent since the beginning of the year.

Refugee Council chief executive Paul Power said "clearly there have been issues in the quality of the decision-making". "That's the only conclusion one can reasonably draw," Mr Power said yesterday. "The fluctuations of people from the same countries and in similar circumstance being rejected is baffling to anyone outside the department."

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said he found the department's explanation for the wildly fluctuating success rate "unconvincing". "Clearly if your recognition rates are higher than the rest of the world (asylum-seekers) are more likely to say yes to a people-smuggler and get on a boat," Mr Morrison said. "With primary acceptance rates going from the high 90s to the 20s then back up to 70 per cent, it reveals a process that is all over the place."

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said refugee decisions were made on a "case-by-case" basis. "As we have said before, driving forces will vary from time to time and numbers will rise and fall in different parts of the world at different times," the spokesman said.


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