ASYLUM-SEEKERS are discarding their passports at soaring rates, sparking renewed calls for boatpeople to be penalised for destroying their identity documents in a bid to help their refugee claims.
Of the 3237 asylum-seekers who admitted to flying to Indonesia on a passport, 3200 did not have any travel documents when they arrived in Australia.
People-smugglers routinely advise their clients to discard their identity documents before arriving in Australia.
The refugee status assessment process operates primarily on a risk model, meaning there can be significant advantages to inventing false identities and claims of persecution.
The absence of documentation also makes it extremely hard to deport failed asylum-seekers, because receiving countries are reluctant to accept those whose nationality is not clear. But it complicates the refugee status assessment process, contributing to the length of time asylum-seekers are held in detention.
The figures showing some 3200 asylum-seekers arrived from Indonesia without documentation – revealed in Senate estimates – cover the period from July 1, 2010, to October 17 last year.
The information is based on admissions made by asylum-seekers during their initial entry interviews with officials.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the admissions raised serious questions about the validity of many asylum claims.
“It frustrates our assessment process and is done on the assumption that they will receive the benefit of the doubt,” Mr Morrison said of the practice of dumping documentation.
“A person’s document, if you are a refugee, should be the most important document you hold, because it proves your case. The destruction of those documents raises totally reasonable suspicions about those claims.”
Under Coalition policy there would be a presumption against granting refugee status in cases where it could be reasonably assumed the applicant had deliberately destroyed their identity documents.
The policy would not apply to boatpeople who lost their passports under legitimate circumstances: for instance, if they were taken by overseas authorities.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen suggested the Coalition’s policy was unworkable and defended Australia’s refugee status process as “rigorous”.
“People will only be granted protection visas after their claims have been thoroughly tested and they are found to have a genuine fear of persecution,” said a spokeswoman for Mr Bowen.
“Mr Morrison should clarify if he would send someone found to be a refugee back to their home country in breach of the Refugee Convention because they didn’t have a passport.”
The Senate estimates figures also show people-smugglers have been operating well outside Indonesia in the past three years.
Although Indonesia is still far and away favoured as the final staging point for boatpeople since late 2008, 10 vessels have sailed directly from Sri Lanka and four from Malaysia. Another two have sailed directly from the east coast of India, with one launching from Chennai and the second from Pondicherry.
Three boats have sailed from Vietnam, with one leaving directly from Saigon.