Australia to release 100 asylum seekers a month; The Australian government is to relax its controversial policy of keeping refugees who arrive by boat locked up while their asylum claims are processed, it has been announced
Publisher: The Telegraph, UK
Author: By Leah Hyslop
Story date: 29/11/2011
Language: English

Until now, asylum seekers who attempted to enter Australia by boat have been kept in high-security detention facilities until their claims for refugee status are processed.

Now, at least 100 immigrants every month will be permitted to live and work in the community until their status is resolved, with priority given to those who have been in detention the longest.

In a statement, immigration minister Chris Bowen said that 27 single men, from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, have already been issued "bridging visas", and that precautions had been taken to ensure that they were suitable for release.

"These men have gone through an assessment process prior to their selection, including identity, security and behaviour checks. They will live in the community on bridging visas while their asylum claims are completed and their status is resolved," he said.

"People released into the community on bridging visas will have reporting conditions and anyone found breaching these conditions risk having their visas cancelled and being returned to immigration detention."

Amnesty International's refugee spokesman, Dr. Graham Thom, welcomed the development.

"This welcome move to community processing, where bridging visas will be used as claims are assessed, will finally put Australia in step with all other Western countries.The system of indefinite mandatory detention is discriminatory and brings further suffering to people who had fled unimaginable circumstances," he said.

He added, however, that legislation should be introduced to "back... up" the change. "We need an assurance from the Australian government that people who have fled persecution and violence, if detained, will only be held in detention for the absolute minimum necessary time to undertake basic checks," he said.

Scott Morrison, the shadow minister for Immigration and Citizenship, was among those who criticised the step, saying that the government had "set back the clock on border protection" and was simply "opening up a sea lane for people smugglers".

The mandatory detention of those who enter the country without a valid visa has long been one of Australia's more controversial policies.

The new move follows the failure of a plan to "swap" asylum seekers arriving in Australia for registered refugees awaiting resettlement from camps in Malaysia. Julia Gillard's government struck the deal in the hope of relieving pressure on the detention system, which currently holds nearly 4,000 individuals in centres across the country, but it was rejected as unlawful by Australia's High Court at the end of August.

The step also marks the start of a unification of visa processes for boat and air arrivals, the latter of whom are often already given bridging visas.

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