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No plan to address asylum seeker exploitation

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As Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton was responsible for a backlog of asylum seekers vulnerable to exploitation (Image by Dan Jensen)

The results of Peter Dutton's labour trafficking scam are still lingering as asylum seeker applications continue to surge, writes Dr Abul Rizvi.

THE NOVAK DJOKOVIC SAGA triggered media focus in recent weeks on the Government’s appalling treatment of refugees who arrived by boat around ten years ago and are still in detention or on Temporary Protection Visas.

But that ignored the rising number of asylum seekers in Australia which set new records in terms of:

  • cases at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) — almost 35,000 at end December 2021; and
  • asylum seekers who are now unlawful in the community without work rights and living in the shadows — almost 30,000 at end December.

The total caseload at the primary level has now fallen to 30,062 (see Chart 1).

(Source: DHA Onshore Protection Reports and AAT website)

The surge in asylum seeker applications is a legacy of our worst ever Immigration MinisterPeter Dutton – who was looking the other way, possibly out to sea, when the biggest labour trafficking scam in Australia’s history started in 2015-16.

But with closed international borders since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, asylum applications have declined from around 2,500 per month during the height of the scam to a low of 746 in December 2021 (see Chart 2). There was a period when asylum seekers were contributing over 10% of total net migration to Australia.

The decline may continue until international borders are more fully open, possibly in July 2022 when visa systems can be changed to accommodate vaccination requirements. That will help the primary level caseload to also decline as the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) appears to be putting more effort into processing these cases.

Since August 2021, DHA has been making between 1,350 and 1,500 asylum decisions per month with 1,407 decisions made in December 2021.

(Source: DHA Onshore Protection Visa Processing Report)

An interesting feature of primary level decision-making in December 2021 was a major focus on processing asylum seekers from Vietnam. In December 2021, 355 applications from Vietnamese asylum seekers were decided — all were refused. It is possible this effort is linked to current discussions with the Vietnamese Government on an agreement under the new Agriculture Visa.

The Vietnamese Government would of course react badly to its citizens being granted asylum in Australia due to a well-founded fear of persecution.

(Source: DHA Onshore Protection Reports)

Vietnam is only the fifth-largest source of asylum seekers. In December 2021, only 287 Malaysian asylum seekers were processed (approval rate of 1.37%), 228 from China (approval rate of 4.6%), 50 from India (approval rate of 9.09%) and 30 from Indonesia (approval rate of 3.23%).

The caseload at the AAT continues to rise strongly and was 34,957 at end December 2021. It is again dominated by Malaysia and China which is where the scam originated (see Chart 4).

(Source: AAT website)

Cases refused at both the primary level and at the AAT were 29,890 at end December 2021. Removals of unsuccessful asylum seekers remain modest and are mainly those departing voluntarily (see Chart 5).

(Source: DHA Onshore Protection Reports)

As has been the experience with asylum seekers in many nations around the world, the Australian Government has no publicly available plans to address the situation.

Perhaps the Government is happy to have these people working on farms in a highly vulnerable situation where they can be readily exploited and abused?

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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