Australia To End Detention Charges For Asylum Seekers

Australia to end detention charges for asylum seekers

Thursday, Mar 19, 2009, Page 5

Australia yesterday moved to end a controversial policy charging asylum seekers thousands of dollars to be locked up in detention centers.

Under punishing laws introduced by the conservative administration of former Australian prime minister John Howard, refugees were automatically locked up on arrival and handed a bill at the conclusion of their stay.

At a daily cost of A$125 (US$83), detention for a year typically exceeded A$45,000, and detention debts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars are not uncommon, Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans said.

Introducing legislation to abolish the policy, Evans said A$54 million in debts were incurred between 2006 and last year, of which just A$2 million was recovered.

Making immigration detainees liable for the costs associated with their detention has not contributed to minimizing costs for the Australian community, Evans said.

The size of some debts cause stress, anxiety and financial hardship to many individuals, who are now living lawfully in the Australian community, as well as for those that have left Australia, he said.

The new law would also waive existing debts for current and former detainees, but would not refund debts already repaid, he said.

Last year, Australia announced a more humane policy toward refugees, scrapping a widely criticized system that often resulted in asylum seekers, including children, being locked up for years.

It had already ended the Pacific Solution, under which boat people were sent to special detention centers in the island nation of Nauru or the Papua New Guinea island of Manus.

Asylum seekers arriving by boat are still held at Christmas Island, but their claims must be expedited, with six-monthly case reviews by an ombudsman now government policy.