October 26, 2012
Nauru has decided to impose a $1,000-per-month charge on visas for asylum seekers sent there by the Australian Government, 30 times higher than the fee it imposes on other refugees.
The ABC can reveal that the visa regulations were introduced by the Nauruan government last month, although it is understood they remain the subject of ongoing negotiations with Australian officials.
Nauru has established a new visa category, called an Australian regional processing visa, which costs $3,000 for a three-month period.
That contrasts with the $100 fee attached to a special purpose visa that is granted to a person “whom the principal immigration officer considers should be regarded as a refugee”.
According to the regulations published on the Nauruan government’s website, the regional processing visa can be extended so long as a new fee is paid “by or on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia”.
So far, 381 asylum seekers have been sent to the detention centre on Nauru as part of the Australian Government’s new border protection policy.
Once the centre is fully operational, it is expected to hold 1,500 people.
Over a five-year period, the visa fees collected by the Nauruan government for 1,500 people would amount to $90 million.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says no money has been paid at this stage, but the Opposition is demanding the Government explain what the long-term costs will be.
“Nothing would surprise me about this government,” Opposition spokesman Scott Morrison told ABC News Online.
“I mean, their negotiating skills on asylum issues have already been proven to be deficient.
“They’re not being upfront about what’s happening on Nauru, they’re not being transparent with the costs to the Australian people even as recently as the MYEFO (Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook) statement.”
The Immigration Department says the visa fees will not be passed on to the asylum seekers, but it has not been able to say whether the costs have been factored into the deal struck with Nauru.
A departmental spokesman told ABC News Online that it was “reasonable” for people transferred to Nauru to hold valid visas.
“While it is acknowledged that visa pricing is a matter for the Nauruan government, it is worth noting that we are currently in discussions with Nauru on a range of issues,” the spokesman said.
A spokesman for the Nauruan government was unable to provide details of how the visa fees would work, because it is a public holiday there today.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young believes the fees are an indication that Nauru does not want asylum seekers “dumped” there indefinitely, and says taxpayers will ultimately foot the bill.
“Really, is it in Australia’s taxpayers’ interest to be simply throwing money into a black hole just to keep the issue of refugees off the Government’s political agenda?” she told BC NewsRadio.
“And, to that end, that’s still not even working.
“We’ll be obviously asking the Minister and the (Immigration) Department for clarification about how these fees will work.”
According to the regulations, an asylum seeker on an Australian regional processing visa will be required to live in a dwelling identified by a “service provider” and remain there at all times.
Once the person has been formally declared to be a refugee and has passed a security check, they will be given more freedom to move around during the day, but will be subject to a curfew between the hours of 7pm and 7am.
The visa holder will not be allowed to work in Nauru except in a voluntary capacity.
Mr Bowen has been unavailable for interview because he is returning from Lebanon where he has been visiting refugee camps.
As part of the Government’s commitment to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 20,000 this financial year, Mr Bowen has announced the details of how many people will be accepted from different priority areas.
The program will target:
- Up to 2,000 African refugees, including people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Eritrea
- Up to 3,800 Iraqi refugees from Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon
- Up to 2,000 Afghan refugees out of countries in the region
- 1,350 Burmese, Afghans, Iranians and other refugees living in Malaysia
- Up to 1,200 Bhutanese refugees out of Nepal
- Up to 800 Burmese refugees from Thailand
- Around 600 Afghan, Iraqi and Iranian refugees living in Indonesia
- Around 200 Burmese refugees in India
- Around 200 UNHCR referred caseloads outside these target groups
People claiming refugee status from within Australia and those who have arrived by boat will make up the bulk of the remaining 20,000 quota.