By JR on Sunday, January 29, 2012
DODGY claims involving fake religious beliefs, sham marriages and lies about sexuality are adding to a logjam of cases in immigration and refugee tribunals, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
Desperate foreign citizens who arrive by plane are launching a barrage of appeals after Immigration officials reject their claims and seek to send them home.
The Refugee Review Tribunal - which handles only plane arrivals - had a 31 per cent jump in appeals last year while the Migration Review Tribunal, which deals with student and partner visas, had a 24 per cent increase. More than 13,000 appeals to the two tribunals in the one year overwhelmed resources.
While much of the national attention has focused on boat arrivals, many thousands more arrive by plane and are fighting to stay. Thousands of extra appeals are being lodged by plane arrivals each year, leading to a cost blow-out for taxpayers and long delays for applicants.
Frustrated tribunal members are finding some claims are blatantly faked, including a Chinese asylum seeker who said he was Catholic but didn't know who the Pope was.
Other men lied about being gay or invented elaborate stories about being pursued by criminal gangs, ex-partners or corrupt officials in an attempt to gain asylum. One Nigerian man sought protection for being part of a militant group involved in armed robbery, kidnapping and other non-political crimes.
Visa overstayers, including students, are also faking it or taking advantage of appeal delays to buy time in Australia at the expense of a clogged system. The Refugee Review Tribunal, which handles only plane arrivals, had 2966 appeals lodged last year - a 31 per cent jump.
The separate Migration Review Tribunal, which handles student, spouse, business and bridging visas, had 10,315 appeals last year - up 24 per cent.
The Federal Government was forced to provide an extra $14 million to the two tribunals for the next four years at the last Budget as appeals skyrocketed.
It can be difficult for asylum seekers to prove persecution, but some claims unravelled under questioning from tribunal members.
Monash University associate researcher Adrienne Millbank said the asylum seeker appeals system was vulnerable to false claims. "You hear about people who are full of hope and integrity and go on these review panels or decision-making (bodies) and get totally cynical," Ms Millbank said. "The whole system is totally farcical. It relies on the credibility of the story ... If you were putting someone in prison on that sort of evidence everyone would be horrified."
Combined appeals to the two tribunals have tripled in the past five years, prompting principal member Denis O'Brien to warn of delays in settling cases this year. A Canberra crackdown on student visas is contributing to the surge.
Immigration lawyers blame incorrect Immigration Department decisions, citing the high rate of successful appeal cases. Last year 41 per cent of appeals to the Migration Review Tribunal and 24 per cent to the Refugee Review Tribunal were successful.
Former attorney-general Michael Lavarch is conducting an independent review of the tribunals as the backlog mounts.
An Immigration Department memo reportedly warned at the time of his appointment last month: "The increasing delays result in uncertainty for applicants and provide an incentive for others to misuse the review process to extend their stay in Australia."
The Refugee Review Tribunal is also set to take on thousands more cases in the coming months when it resumes responsibility for assessing appeals from boat arrivals, who now use a separate system.
Separate appeals can be lodged through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Federal Magistrates Court, Federal Court, High Court and the boat arrivals system.