Bill locks in concerns

PERTH advocates are concerned refugees could face indefinite detainment via new legislation pushed through Federal parliament last week.

The Migration Amendment Bill 2021 targets refugees who have had protection visas cancelled on character grounds, but there are warnings it creates a legal limbo for those who can’t be sent back to their country of origin because of the risk of persecution.

The new legislation doesn’t contain protection against indefinite detention. 

WA Ethnic Communities Council president Suresh Rajan said the new legislation was “a level of cruelty that is beyond anything we’ve seen to this point”.

“In the past, we would detain people, we would then process them to decide whether we wanted to keep them in detention or send them home,” but the processing used to be timely, Mr Rajan told the Voice.

The average time people have spent in immigration detention in Australia has increased steadily from less than 100 days in mid-2013 to more than 600 days at the end of 2020. Despite Covid’s effect, it still stands at 545. 

Refugee Council of Australia senior policy officer Asher Hirsch said “this is contrary to the right to be free from arbitrary detention under international human rights law”. 

The Migration Act, section 501 outlines how refugee visas can be cancelled or declined on character grounds, which includes having served time in prison for over 12 months. 

The Scrutiny of Bills Committee reported on the bill in April and raised concerns that it may trespass on personal rights and liberties. 

It noted the “highly discretionary and non-compellable” nature of the immigration minister’s powers. 

“The minister has broad discretionary powers to cancel a person’s visa if they believe a person is not of good character, even if they haven’t been found guilty of an offence,” Ms Hirsch said. 

As of February 28, of the 258 detainees in the Yongah Hill detention centre, 125 were there because their visas had been cancelled. 

Mr Rajan said most were men from New Zealand who had served criminal sentences of more than 12 months, and were waiting to be deported. 

He is mainly concerned for the wellbeing of the Tamil family, Priya and Nades Murugappan, and their two Australian-born children Kopika (5) and Tharnicaa (3), who have been detained on Christmas Island since 2019.

Human Rights Law Centre legal director David Burke said: “These new laws allow the Morrison government to warehouse people who have nowhere else to go.”

The Voice contacted Perth Labor MP Patrick Gorman for comment but were told by his media advisors he would only be able to provide comment at a later date. 

by KELLY WARDEN

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