Arrival Of First Visa Recipients In ALP’s Asylum Regime Imminent

Arrival of first visa recipients in ALP's asylum regime imminent

Debbie Guest
Article from: The Australian
January 17, 2009

THE first group of asylum-seekers to be processed at Christmas Island under the Rudd Government's new migration policies has been granted permanent protection visas and is expected to arrive in South Australia this evening.

The 28 Afghan and Iranian asylum-seekers were granted the visas after showing they had a well-founded fear of persecution or death if forced to return home.

Ten children are among the group of 26 males and two females, which arrived in three boats, including one intercepted on September 29, the first boatload of asylum-seekers detected in Australian waters since the Rudd Government was elected.

The other two boats were intercepted by border protection officers on October 6 and November 24.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said yesterday their claims had been thoroughly assessed and it had been determined the group was entitled to Australia's protection under the Refugees Convention.

“Their cases have been finalised promptly under the Rudd Government's new processing regime for offshore entry people, which also included health, security and identity checks,” Senator Evans said.

Members of the group, who all arrived since the Rudd Government was elected, are the first to be granted asylum under Labor's new policy of detaining asylum-seekers on Christmas Island, after abandoning the Howard government's Pacific Solution.

“Under the Howard government, asylum-seekers were left to languish in detention for years on end before eventually being resettled in Australia as refugees,” Senator Evans said.

One of the Afghans to be granted a visa, Sadiq Bahram, said he was thrilled to be recognised as a refugee after a long ordeal to find protection.

Mr Bahram first sought asylum in Australia in 1999. He was granted a protection visa after spending a year in detention at Woomera, but returned to Afghanistan after the deaths of his brother and sister.

But believing he would be killed, he fled again and paid Pakistani people-smugglers $12,000 to bring him and his daughter, Arzoo, to Australia.

“I'm very happy about this,” he said. “My daughter will come to Adelaide too.”

Mr Bahram worked as a camera operator in Afghanistan and said he wanted to enrol in a TAFE course in Adelaide so he could work in a similar job in Australia.

Senator Evans said the refugees would receive settlement support to help them integrate into the community.

“We ensure humanitarian entrants are provided with appropriate clothing, a package of basic household goods, English language tuition and short-term torture and trauma counselling, if required,” he said.

Senator Evans said the captains of the three boats had been charged with people smuggling and were in custody awaiting trial. “The Government is committed to meeting its refugee protection obligations and ensuring viability of the international protection system, while at the same time doing all that is possible to combat the dangerous practice of people smuggling,” he said.

Pamela Curr from the Asylum-seeker Resource Centre said it was “about time” the visas were granted.

“We welcome the fact that this government is not letting people languish for years in detention as has happened in the past,” she said.

But she added that asylum-seekers should be processed in Australia, not Christmas Island.

The Immigration Department is processing the asylum claims of the 134 remaining people on Christmas Island. These include eight Afghan adults who also arrived on November 24. A spokesman for Senator Evans said the only people on the November 24 boat granted asylum were two unaccompanied minors.