In a landmark decision on December 16, the Federal Court found the minister for immigration Peter Dutton unreasonably delayed making decisions on applications for citizenship by refugees.
The court also ruled that Dutton erred in rejecting the applications for citizenship of two Afghan refugees several weeks after they commenced legal proceedings. The pair had been permanent residents of Australia for more than four years.
Justice Bromberg of the Federal Court ruled that the decisions to reject their applications were invalid and "at law no decisions at all" and dismissed Dutton's submission that he deny the two men relief.
The case, brought by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), provides hope for 10,231 former refugees who have had their citizenship applications “put in the bottom drawer” by the immigration department, most of whom came to Australia by boat before the decision of the Rudd government that no one processed offshore would ever be settled in Australia.
Lawyers for the refugees told the court the delays have been unreasonable and appear discriminatory. They said the delays have caused significant anxiety for the many thousands affected, as they have been unable to reunite with their families while their citizenship remains in limbo.
It is extremely difficult for recognised refugees to bring family members to safety in Australia without citizenship. Delays in processing citizenship applications have left many in prolonged situations of danger and persecution, despite having a parent, sibling or other close relative who has been recognised as a refugee in Australia.
Tim O’Connor, acting CEO of RCOA said: “Today’s decision is a landmark ruling, providing hope for over 10,000 people around Australia who have been denied justice by the immigration department.
“Our government has denied them basic rights to stability and, importantly, family reunion, through slow and targeted decision making. Today’s ruling recognises this injustice and represents a first step towards a resolution for thousands and a chance for them to start to rebuild their lives.”
However the decision has raised concerns that the government could introduce legislation to make it harder for refugees to obtain citizenship.