Advocates Want Asylum Seekers Working

Advocates want Asylum seekers working

Michelle Draper
The Age
January 22, 2009

All asylum seekers should be given the right to work, rather than relying on charity, a federal government inquiry has been told.

In a submission to a federal inquiry into immigration detention, the International Detention Coalition (IDC) also called for bridging visas to be granted as a priority to some asylum seekers, instead of holding them in detention centres.

“If there are no health, character or public interest concerns, then bridging visa release options with community support should be made available as the priority option,” the submission from the coalition said.

“Individuals released from detention should be granted the right to work, in order to self-sustain where possible, and which has the connected right to Medicare as a taxpayer.”

Asylum seekers released into the community on Bridging Visa Es are currently denied the right to work or access free medical care.

However, some asylum seekers do have work rights if they apply to the government for asylum within 45 days of arriving in Australia.

The federal government's joint standing committee on migration is holding an inquiry into Australia's immigration detention centres.

The inquiry is examining a range of changes to the current system, including options for more community-based alternatives to immigration detention.

The IDC, which comprises 150 individual and organisations in 40 countries, also suggested a range of alternatives to immigration centres.

The coalition said the committee should consider supervised release, regular reporting requirements or posting bail as alternatives to detaining asylum seekers.

It also suggested converting some existing centres into open facilities such as those in Europe.

IDC director Grant Mitchell said individuals at open centres in Sweden were free to come and go.

“There's a case worker that's responsible for the support and oversight of that individual,” he told the inquiry in Melbourne on Thursday.

Case workers were also responsible for ensuring individuals were not a risk to the community or of absconding, he said.

Committee chair Michael Danby, the Labor member for Melbourne Ports, said although the inquiry was focusing on immigration centres it would consider the bridging visa issue.

“We'll be looking at that issue and making recommendations to the government.

“We don't want to be responsible as we have been in the past for keeping people in detention … where it leads to a breakdown in their physical and mental health,” he said.

About 134 people remain in the Australian government's $400 million maximum security detention centre on Christmas Island, while their asylum claims are processed.

The Australian Human Rights Commission in a report earlier this month called for the closure of the Christmas Island facility.