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Govt chooses detention over hope for world’s refugees in budget

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Statement by Paul Power CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia

The Australian Government is allocating hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding to immigration detention – but offering no new hope for the world’s refugees in its 2021-22 Budget.

The Morrison Government will spend $464.7 million over two years to increase the capacity of its immigration detention centres and to extend the life of the Christmas Island detention centre.

The 2021-22 allocation for onshore detention and compliance has been increased to $1.27 billion.

The offshore processing regime will cost another $811.8 million in 2021-22, taking the cumulative allocation to more than $8.3 billion since the Coalition Government’s first budget in 2014.

This is despite the number of people held under this policy dropping from 3127 in 2013-14 to fewer than 1440 now.

The 2021-22 Budget reinforces the cut to the Refugee and Humanitarian Program announced by the Morrison Government last October, extending this annual reduction to 2024-25. Previously at 18,750 places a year, the refugee program now has a ceiling of 13,750 places,

Australia’s cut to refugee resettlement comes at a time when the situation of the world’s 26 million refugees is becoming even more desperate as economic conditions decline in many host countries because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Refugee and humanitarian visas are still being issued, but at a rate well below the ceiling of Australia’s reduced program.

Unfortunately, few of more than 6000 refugees who have been issued permanent visas to enter Australia have been able to arrive over the past year. This is despite quarantine arrangements which have enabled the arrival of more than 500,000 citizens, permanent residents and temporary visitors since April last year.

We are disappointed that recommended reforms to Australia’s refugee sponsorship program were not announced in this year’s budget. Last year the Department of Home Affairs conducted a very welcome review of the Community Support Program, which enabled the Refugee Council and many others to highlight the many failings of the current program.

Given the Immigration Minister’s comments on Monday that he is a “strong supporter” of community sponsorship, we had hoped that such reforms would be introduced in the budget. We look forward to the possibility of a positive announcement soon.

One welcome announcement was the Government’s decision to spend $54.8 million over four years to address the backlog of cases within the Migration and Refugee Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

This measure is much needed, with 89,536 cases currently awaiting decision – 31,689 in the Refugee Division and 57,847 in the Migration Division.

See the full budget summary here: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/federal-budget-what-it-means-for-refugees-and-people-seeking-humanitarian-protection/