Disorder Not Enough For Asylum

Disorder not enough for asylum

By Paige Taylor
The Australian, April 24, 2010

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has indicated the Rudd government is poised to issue further rejections for Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum-seekers who arrived before the government's April 9 suspension of claims from the two countries.

'I think the important point to make is that because a country is subject to civil disorder and great difficulty doesn't mean that everyone from that country is a refugee,' he said yesterday during a visit to Christmas Island.

'I think people comment on the situation in Afghanistan and say it is still fairly unsafe in certain regions, but that is not a convention-related reason for someone to be found a refugee.'

The Rudd government earlier this month froze asylum applications from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, citing improved conditions in the two countries.

While the freeze is in force, the government will review changes in the two nations to determine which applicants should be sent home.

Senator Evans was speaking as yet another asylum-seeker boat arrived in Australian waters yesterday – the 45th this year – with nine passengers and three crew aboard.

The boat intercepted by the navy was also the ninth since the government announced the suspension of claims on April 9.

Sixty-three Afghans who are subject to the new freeze have so far reached Christmas Island, a department spokeswoman said.

So far this year, 21 asylum-seekers have been sent home, including 19 Sri Lankans. Last year and in 2008, a total of 63 Sri Lankans were sent home.

No Afghan asylum-seeker has been returned in that period, although the government is believed to have issued rejections to a number of Afghans, who now have the option of an independent review.

'There are indications that both cohorts are seeing increased rejections,' Senator Evans said.

'We're waiting on the UNHCR review of country information as one source of information to use but already using the country information that we are getting, we are seeing a greater number of rejections based on other bits of information, saying things are safer for them.'

Senator Evans yesterday inspected detention facilities on Christmas Island, which are operating under capacity for the first time in weeks following the transfer of almost 500 asylum-seekers to the mainland since last month.

Senator Evans did not expect the suspension of claims to have an immediate impact on arrivals, but it may do so in the long term.

He said asylum-seekers with small children were coming by boats in increasing numbers. Families cannot be held in the immigration detention centre for single men, and the government was struggling to find suitable places to house them on Christmas Island. Currently, they are in a former construction workers' camp but it is cramped and, according to the minister, not ideal