Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
f. Protection of Refugees
The Department of Home Affairs oversees refugee resettlement via the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, which distinguishes between “offshore” and “onshore” individuals. Individuals residing offshore–outside the country–can apply for a refugee visa if they are subject to persecution in their home country; meet the “compelling reasons” criterion; and satisfy health, character, and national security requirements. Individuals who arrived in the country legally (onshore) can apply for a Temporary Protection visa. Persons who seek to enter the country without proper authorization, including preapproval to settle, are considered illegal migrants and subject to detention either in the country or in a third country. Individuals who arrived illegally may apply for a Temporary Protection visa or a Safe Haven Enterprise visa, but it is generally very difficult for them to legalize their status.
Refugee processing centers operated on behalf of Australia in Nauru and Papua New Guinea were closed in March 2019 and October 2017, respectively. As of September 7, approximately 170 refugees or asylum seekers remained in Nauru, housed in community-based facilities funded by the Australian Government. An equivalent number remained in Papua New Guinea.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic and international organizations reported credible allegations of abuse and deteriorating mental health among migrants brought from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical treatment and detained in facilities in Brisbane and Melbourne. Alleged abuses included harsh conditions, inadequate mental health and other medical services, assault, and sexual abuse; these also contributed to suicide and self-harm. These organizations also reported suspicious deaths. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that in several cases, family members were not allowed to accompany a relative sent to the country for medical treatment. Government policy required such persons to return to Nauru, Papua New Guinea, or their home country at the conclusion of treatment. The government reported that it provided necessary services to refugees. Months-long protests in Brisbane have sought policy changes, including a change to community detention.
Since the repeal of medevac legislation in December 2019, approval of transfers of asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea–under the off-shore agreements with each country–to Australia for medical treatment not available in the regional processing country remains subject to the discretion of federal ministers. The home affairs minister has approved the medical transfer of 71 persons from Nauru and Papua New Guinea to Australia since the December 2019 repeal; the most recent person arrived from Nauru in July.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees identifies and refers most applicants considered under the program. The government rejected family reunification as a ground for approval of an asylum request.
The law allows the home affairs minister to enter into agreement with a third country to designate that country as a regional processing country for migrants who attempt to enter the country illegally.
Unauthorized maritime arrivals transferred to a regional processing country have their protection claims assessed by the regional processing country under its domestic laws. Since 2019, persons transferred to these countries were no longer held in camps and resided in community-based accommodation while their claims were processed. Australia has memoranda of understanding on regional processing with Papua New Guinea and Nauru and had such arrangements with Cambodia from 2014-18. The settlement arrangements provide for third-country resettlement of unauthorized maritime arrivals that Nauru or Papua New Guinea assess to need international protection.
Australia has another arrangement with Papua New Guinea for the settlement of persons it assesses need international protection. Under this arrangement, any unauthorized maritime arrival entering Australian waters is liable for transfer to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement there or in any other participating regional states.
Christmas Island was reopened in August to accommodate overflow in Australia’s immigration detention network. The government says it will initially support 250 persons, mostly individuals whose visas were cancelled for character reasons (i.e., persons who served 12 months or more in jail and are pending removal from Australia). The government stated there is no intention to take asylum seekers, including persons from regional processing countries, to Christmas Island.
By law the government must facilitate legal representation when requested (section 256 of the Migration Act). Some government-funded legal assistance remained available for unauthorized maritime arrivals.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and funded refugee resettlement services. The Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided case-specific assistance that included finding accommodation, employment or job training programs, language training, registering for income support and health care, and connecting with community and recreational programs.
Temporary Protection: The law permits two temporary protection options for individuals who arrived in the country and were not taken to regional processing countries. The Temporary Protection Visa is valid for three years, and visa holders can work, study, and reside anywhere in the country with access to support services. Once expired, Temporary Protection Visa holders are eligible to reapply for another. The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that visa holders intend to work or study in nonmetropolitan areas. Safe Haven Enterprise Visa holders are eligible to apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months.