The Refugee Action Collective (RAC) held a forum on March 6 on the misnamed “Fast Track” process which made it much harder for people to appeal against an unfavourable decision.
The Coalition government adopted it in 2014 to deal with refugee status claims by people who had arrived by boat, but whose claims had not yet been finalised.
Priya Murugappan, a Tamil who lived in Biloela, Queensland, after fleeing from Sri Lanka to escape the Sri Lankan army, was one of the victims. Her application for refugee status was rejected.
She and her family were then detained after a dawn raid on their house and threatened with deportation to Sri Lanka. Biloela residents’ protests, supported by many around Australia, eventually won the family’s freedom and permanent residency.
Priya told the meeting a major reason for the rejection of her application was the poor quality of the interpreters in phone interviews with officials.
Sanmati Verma, managing lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the Fast Track process was “designed to see people fail”. There was no procedural fairness or natural justice.
About 31,000 people went through the process. About 19,000 got Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) or Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEV). About 12,000 were rejected and told to return to the countries from which they had fled.
Verma said that the process for reviewing unfavourable decisions has been cut back. Instead of an independent reviewer talking to the person applying for refugee status, another government official just looked at the paperwork.
As a result, the proportion of successful appeals has declined dramatically — from 60% to 6% in the case of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, and from 76% to 3% for asylum seekers from Pakistan.
Verma said that the decision makers who rejected refugee applications have been relying on “discredited” information about the countries from which people have fled, such as a misleading report on Sri Lanka from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Rehan Ali, a Hazara from Pakistan, spoke by video link from a protest at Parliament House in Canberra. He said Labor had recognised that the Fast Track process was unfair and promised to abolish it, but had not yet done so.
He said the mental health of the Hazara community is being destroyed as a result, and many have died.
RAC member Tom Fiebig said that the Labor and Coalition support the politics of deterrence, which must be challenged. He also said the mass protest movement is important.