Experts warn against deportation rush on 50,000 plane arrivals whose asylum bids were rejected

The number of people who have had their claims rejected after arriving by air increased to nearly 50,000. Source: AAP

Migration law experts have warned against rushing to deport asylum seekers who arrived by plane after new figures revealed nearly 50,000 people who had their claims rejected remain in Australia.

Migration law experts have cautioned against fast-tracking the deportation of people who arrive in Australia by plane and have their asylum claims rejected, warning it will become an "unmitigated disaster".

The number of people who had their claims rejected after arriving by air increased to nearly 50,000 at the end of January, according to government figures.

Another 37,913 plane arrivals were also waiting for their refugee status to be determined.

But Macquarie University's Dr Daniel Ghezelbash told SBS News fast-tracking this process to clear the backlog could undermine the integrity of the system.

"There is still a sizeable portion of these people that are facing persecution … and you can't throw the baby out with the bath water," he said.

"If we frame it as an urgent response, we will get a knee-jerk reaction that will end up making things worse from an efficiency and fairness perspective."

Macquarie University's Dr Daniel Ghezelbash.
Macquarie University's Dr Daniel Ghezelbash.
Macquarie University

The asylum claims typically came from countries with freer access to visas in Australia with the majority of individuals claiming asylum from India, China and Malaysia.

There are now 46,391 people still awaiting deportation, up from 46,142 in November 2019, with fewer than two dozen deportations last month.

The number of people waiting for their refugee status to be considered has increased by 2,468 people since November last year and 1,136 people since December.

Labor has criticised the efficiency of the governments border control measures in the wake of the latest figures. 

The opposition argues the statistics show people smugglers are using the system to exploit workers and are a direct result of the coalition's poor management. 

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has dismissed the accusations and insists the government is curbing the number of wrongful claims from key countries, including Malaysia.

"Australia has one of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world and we settle thousands of people in desperate need every year," he said.

"Some people, unfortunately, seek to exploit our international obligations by lodging protection claims onshore which have no foundation – this issue is not new and is not unique to Australia.

"These individuals use our legal system to deliberately prolong their stay in Australian, even when they have no prospects of success."

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge.

Migrants in the backlog can be caught up in legal and appeal processes in court and at the administrative appeals tribunal for years.

The Morrison government claimed most of those awaiting deportation are appealing negative review decisions, prolonging their stay in Australia.

"When people come via plane they've got a visa, we know who they are; versus when people arrive unlawfully by boat we've got no idea who they are, we don't know their security background, we don't know their health background, and they have all the associated risks which go with that," Mr Tudge said.

Those who make it through the airport before making a claim will generally have access to a bridging visa and working rights while this is processed.

But others stopped before this are typically placed in immigration detention before gaining access to temporary protection visas and the resulting working rights.

Labor's Home Affairs spokesperson Kristina Keneally said the rising number of people arriving by plane represents a work scam run by people smugglers.

"There's nothing wrong with claiming asylum – it's an important right," she said.

"But 90 per cent of these applications are eventually found without merit.

"Not only are the number of airplane arrivals increasing, the backlog of claims is blowing out even more."

Opposition Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally.
Opposition Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally.

The Federal Government has rejected claims the system is overblown and said there is no evidence of large numbers of air arrivals claiming protection or being exploited.

It argued the number of people who arrived via air and went on to apply for protection actually reduced by 12 per cent in 2018-19.

Er-Kai Wang of the Australian National University told SBS News the figure of nearly 50,000 awaiting deportation means all their legal avenues had been exhausted.

"Ultimately you can only improve the system so much – the sheer number of cases is the main issue," she said.

"The law actually allows them to travel to Australia and then work and then seek asylum.

"We can improve efficiencies but that fundamental right under the constitution cannot be taken away."

The number of protection visas lodged onshore by Malaysian nationals fell by 19 per cent and Chinese by 16 per cent in the first six months of 2019-20.   

Dr Ghezelbash believes the Federal Government have decided the benefits of "free and easy" visa movements from these countries outweighs the need for a heavy-handed crackdown.

He does however admit the asylum process "takes time" and for an important reason as it ensures people aren't sent back to places where they face harm or persecution.

"We can do better – yes we can find ways to speed things up, but that should all be based on the underlying premise the system is fair," he said.

"When the decision-making isn't at a very high quality – particularly at review – it compounds the delays."

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