Crackdown On Asylum Seekers Arriving By Plane

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There are now over 100,000 asylum seekers in Australia, the vast majority of whom will wind up living in the shadows of society. It’s a staggering number, but how did this happen?

Last week, it was reported that “a record number of asylum seekers are arriving in Australia by plane, with more than 2000 new arrivals every month”.

Peter Dutton is a former minister for immigration. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has pledged to cut migrant intake.

Peter Dutton is a former minister for immigration. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has pledged to cut migrant intake.

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Opposition immigration spokesperson Dan Tehan said the Albanese government had been asleep at the wheel, while deputy opposition leader Sussan Ley demanded a “crackdown”. But significantly, there was no explanation of what this would entail or why the Coalition government hadn’t “cracked down” on asylum seekers arriving by plane when it had been in power.

Nor was it explained how application numbers had blown out so much on the Coalition’s watch.

Asylum seekers arriving by plane fit into three broad groups. First, there are asylum seekers with a strong case for protection: 1762 asylum seekers arriving by plane were granted a permanent protection visa in 2021-22, up from 1389 in 2020-21. In 2023, asylum seekers granted permanent protection were mainly from Myanmar, Iran, Pakistan and countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The second group are people who have been trafficked to Australia to work mainly on farms, construction sites and sometimes in sex shops. They often have their asylum application lodged on their behalf by organizers/agents. They have little understanding of the complex asylum claims they signed up to.

While such trafficking into Europe and North America has been common for decades, it occurred in Australia at a relatively small scale until 2015–16. Australian immigration authorities had previously been quick to identify and act on these scams, shutting them down rapidly.

The new Department of Home Affairs failed to act on the scam that started in 2015-16. That rort mainly used Malaysian nationals for farm labour. By the next year, the scam had extended to Chinese nationals and was growing rapidly. In 2017-18, there were a record 27,931 asylum applications (that was a real record) of whom around 67 per cent were Malaysian and Chinese nationals.

The scam organizers were emboldened by both the lack of government response and a steady decline in immigration compliance activity under the Coalition.

For the decade before 2015-16, asylum applications from people arriving by plane were well below 10,000 per annum, spread across a large range of nationalities and with a high approval rate.

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Asylum seekers trafficked to Australia are different in that few are found to be owed protection. When refused, they appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal where they are usually again refused. While some will then depart voluntarily, a very large number go on to become undocumented. Without a visa, they have very few rights and must work illegally to survive. They are extraordinarily vulnerable to exploitation.

Closure of international borders slowed asylum applications but the size of the backlog, and very slow processing times, acted as a honeypot when borders re-opened in 2022. Surprisingly, the Coalition government had no plan to manage the inevitable surge.

Not only did labor trafficking scams resume, but we saw a third type of asylum seeker emerge in large numbers – opportunistic applications where people know they have weak claims, but apply for asylum as a means of extending their stay in Australia, usually with work rights.

Increasingly, these opportunistic claims are being lodged by Pacific Island nationals working on farms who run away from exploitative employers in search of better job opportunities.

The “Biloela family” - Nadesalingam Murugappan and his wife Priya Nadesalingam, pictured with daughters Kopika and Tharnica - was eventually granted asylum in Australia.

The “Biloela family” – Nadesalingam Murugappan and his wife Priya Nadesalingam, pictured with daughters Kopika and Tharnica – was eventually granted asylum in Australia.

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In mid-2022, the new Labor government quickly closed down the agriculture visa the Coalition had created. That visa would have turbocharged asylum applications. But beyond that, it took Labor 18 months to announce its $160 million strategy to better manage the asylum system.

Labor’s plan involves faster processing of new applications at both primary stage and the AAT; closer scrutiny of offshore visa applications at key overseas posts; investigating organizers/agents heavily involved in the unmeritorious caseload; and rapid removal of the most recently unsuccessful asylum seekers (not the older caseload).

That strategy will take time to take effect. At the end of November 2023, there were 31,383 asylum applications at the primary stage; another 41,566 at the AAT (up from just over 5,000 in 2016) and a further 34,957 who had been refused by the AAT, but had not departed. That means a total of 107,912 asylum seekers living in the Australian community – an unprecedented level. Only around 15 per month are actually removed from the country.

The $160 million strategy is very limited given the size of the challenge. At best, it will eventually slow the rate of new applications with the faster processing. But Australia will never return to the relatively small number of plane-arrival asylum seekers living in the community before Peter Dutton became home affairs minister.

A possible option for addressing this is some sort of visa regularization program, as previously proposed by Nationals’ leader David Littleproud. However, Dutton would never support that. The Murdoch press would be apoplectic at the idea. Dutton may support a mass location, detention and removal program such as the one announced by Donald Trump for the United States – at least until he realizes the eye-watering costs involved. Dutton would remember the millions of dollars wasted on his failed attempts to remove the Biloela family.

Like Europeans and North Americans, Australians will have to accept that we too will have a large population of asylum seekers living in the shadows of society, constantly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Redrences
https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/crackdown-on-asylum-seekers-arriving-by-plane-should-have-begun-10-years-ago-20240109-p5ew3v.html