Only 75 asylum seekers rejected since 2008

THE Federal Government has been forced to reveal that of the 6310 asylum seekers that arrived in Australia in the past two years only 75 have been rejected and returned to their country of origin.

With mainland detention centres now reaching bursting point, the Department of Immigration has effectively admitted it is struggling to deal with what the Opposition claimed was a growing humanitarian problem on Australian soil. Yesterday, there were 4527 asylum seekers still packed into overcrowded centres across the country, 1000 beyond existing capacity.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed existing detention camps were under pressure but claimed the overcrowding was in part because of the increased number of rejections for asylum and the difficulty of repatriating people.

The Immigration Department is also failing to meet its 90-day target to process applications with numbers of asylum seekers in detention for three months or more rising from 30 per cent in April to more than 55 per cent now. Another 15 per cent had been in detention for more than six months and some detained for longer than 12 months, with a freeze on processing Afghan refugees still in place.

The new figures - released to parliament as answers to questions to a Senate hearing first raised by the Coalition in May - reveal that of the 6310 arrivals since October 2008, 2050 had been granted protection visas and only 75 had been removed from Australia.

The figures also explode the myth more people arrive illegally by air than by boat. Between 2009 and June 11 this year, according to the department 5646 onshore protection visa applications were lodged by people who came by air, with only 541 applicants regarded as illegal entries.

Opposition spokesman on immigration and population Scott Morrison said the Government was now dealing with a potential humanitarian crisis of its own making. "The Coalition never built Christmas Island to cope with Labor's policy failures," said Mr Morrison. "Under their compassionate humanitarian policy there are now 5000 people in detention . . . 2000 of them are in the desert."

It's understood the Government had planned to triple the size of Curtin detention centre in remote Western Australia as early as July, denied in the election campaign.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday also could not guarantee a new East Timor processing facility in three years.

Mr Bowen, who has been in the job only two days said on Tuesday: "I do acknowledge that there are real and significant pressures on our detention centres. "They arise because of not only more elevated arrivals, but also an increased rejection rate." He said it was more time consuming to repatriate rejected persons while acceptances were much quicker.


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