November 20, 2014 | the guardian
Fast-tracking asylum claims could mean genuine refugees will be returned home, minister’s adviser tells Senate inquiry
Plans to fast-track asylum seeker claims could mean genuine refugees will be returned home, a member of the immigration minister’s advisory council has warned.
Associate professor Mary Anne Kenny, from Murdoch university, said in a submission to the Senate inquiry into the Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment Bill that the plans would make it harder for asylum seekers to have their cases heard.
The bill seeks to make sweeping changes to the way asylum seeker claims are processed. Asylum seekers will be given less time to put their cases to the department, and there will be limited review rights.
The Senate inquiry has received more than 5,000 submissions, many of them critical of the proposals.
Kenny is one of 10 members of the immigration minister’s council on asylum seekers and detention.
Her 11-page submission noted that if the proposed review model was adopted, it would prevent a number of matters being raised in asylum seeker reviews.
“The introduction of accelerated procedures has been problematic in other countries: claims involving credibility determination and/or those that involve complex questions of fact and law can be decided in a manner without due process safeguards such as the opportunity to seek legal advice, access to qualified interpreters, sufficient opportunities to prepare cases and a meaningful opportunity to appeal negative decisions,” Kenny wrote.
“The channeling of certain groups of applications through specific procedures with reduced safeguards creates the risk of refoulement if Australia is not careful to ensure that domestic provisions properly reflect its obligations under international law,” she wrote.
She drew particular attention to the limited review rights offered to asylum seekers after a decision been made on their asylum claim. Under the current migration framework, a decision by an immigration department officer can be appealed to the refugee review tribunal.
The new bill seeks to limit the circumstances of these appeals. The limited timeframes would affect how asylum seekers put their claims, Kenny wrote, and it would “clearly impact upon their ability to articulate claims at a primary level”.
“Applicants may not be aware of what is important to raise in respect of their claims due to a lack of understanding of the criteria for protection.”
The limited review rights might also prevent translation errors being picked up, Kenny wrote. She said the interpreting service in Australia “can have difficulty keeping pace with the need for skilled interpreters” and that “without an interview on review, errors in interpreting may never be discovered”.
Kenny wrote that delays in process were undesirable – about 30,000 asylum claims are still waiting to be dealt with – and she was aware the immigration department had “focused much time and attention on improving the quality of its primary decision making”.
But the fast-track review process “may not have the desired” effect, she wrote. She drew on experiences in the United States, where changes aimed at speeding up processing ultimately led to greater delays as a result of appeals.
Her concerns echo the comments of leading refugee lawyer David Manne, who told a Senate hearing into the bill last Friday that the fast-track process was likely to result in significant backlogs in courts.
A number of other organisations – including the NSW Bar Association, the Migration Institute of Australia, Amnesty International and the Refugee Council of Australia – have expressed concerns about the bill.