Australia

Refugee program smallest in 45 years while migration program quota filled

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The Australian Government filled its Migration Program quota in 2020-21 but issued fewer than half of the available refugee and humanitarian visas, the Department of Home Affairs’ latest annual report reveals.

The 2020-21 Refugee and Humanitarian Program was the smallest in 45 years, with only 5947 visas issued out of a reduced annual program of 13,750 places – 4558 visas to refugees offshore and 1389 through the onshore protection process.

Refugee Council of Australia chief executive officer Paul Power said the Australian Government cut its Refugee and Humanitarian Program by 5000 places in the 2020-21 Budget and then fell short of the reduced quota by another 7803 visas.

“Over the past four years, we have seen the number of refugee and humanitarian visas issued fall from of its 35-year high of 21,698 in 2016-17 to little more than a quarter of that in 2020-21,” Mr Power said.

“The Government’s failure to fill a reduced refugee program stands in stark contrast with its ability to meet the full Migration Program quota of 160,000 places. This is a very clear illustration of the Government’s priorities at a time when the global need for refugee resettlement is greater than it has ever been.

“Everyone understands that the COVID pandemic limited travel to Australia but it did not prevent the Australian Government from issuing visas under its migration and humanitarian programs.”

“Refugees who had been granted visas to enter Australia were also greatly disadvantaged in the issuing of travel of exemptions to enter Australia, with only around 700 of the many exemptions given during 2020-21 going to refugee and humanitarian visa holders. By the end of the 2020-21 financial year, more than 8000 refugee and humanitarian visa holders remained outside of Australia, with more than 3000 of them having applied for travel exemptions and had their applications rejected.”

Mr Power said the number of onshore protection visas issued during 2020-21 was also surprisingly low – only 1389 of the notional target of 2000 onshore visas.

“The Department of Home Affairs began the 2020-21 year with a backlog 37,497 onshore protection visa applications and, in a year when new applications were lower than previous years, managed to reduce the backlog by only 4508 to 32,989,” Mr Power said.

“It is regrettable that the Government missed the perfect opportunity to reduce the unacceptable delays in the resolution of asylum applications. As a result, more than 30,000 people seeking asylum remain in indefinite uncertainty, living on short-term bridging visas often in circumstances where they are struggling to survive financially.”

For further comment or to arrange an interview please contact our media team on 0488 035 535 or at media@refugeecouncil.org.au.