Australia's onshore refugees are stuck in legal limbo


About 30,000 people who arrived in Australia by boat before 2013 are suffering financial hardship and deteriorating mental health, a new report has found.

Thousands of asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat before 2013 are "living in the shadows" with limited access to support services and visa uncertainty. 

The Human Rights Commission has examined the experience of about 30,000 people who have been living in Australia on temporary visas since making the journey by sea to seek asylum. 

They were among the 50,000 people who arriving in Australia by boat seeking asylum between 2009 and 2013.  

While some were granted substantive visas soon after their arrival, many have faced prolonged delays in processing their claims and have become known as the "legacy caseload". 

A boat carrying asylum seekers intercepted off Western Australia
More than 50,000 people arrived in Australia by boat between 2009 and 2013.

In its report, released on Wednesday, the Human Rights Commission found these asylum seekers were susceptible to homelessness and many lived in poverty or destitution. 

"While most have been released from closed detention, they have limited access to support services while living in the Australian community," Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow said. 

Under policies designed to deter people from undertaking the perilous journey by sea, even those found to be refugees are not eligible for permanent residency and face the prospect of being unable to reunite with family members.  

"These challenges have led to financial hardship, deteriorating mental health and poorer settlement outcomes," Mr Santow said.  

One asylum seeker interviewed by the report authors said people in the legacy caseload "are living in the shadows". 

The Commission has made 31 recommendations including boosting mental health services and providing a pathway to permanent residency for those in the legacy caseload.

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