Lawyers rebuke government's protection visa freeze


There's been sharp criticism of the federal Government's decision to freeze permanent protection visas until mid-next year.  

There's been sharp criticism of the federal Government's decision to freeze permanent protection visas until mid-next year.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Labor and the Greens this week killed moves in the Senate to reintroduce Temporary Protection Visas, but the Immigration Minister got around it by capping the number of permanent visas granted to boat arrivals.

The changes come amid speculation that Australia is considering changing its relationship to the United Nations Refugee Convention.

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The Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, challenged Labor and the Greens by capping the number of permanent protection visas offered to asylum-seekers arriving by boat at 1,650: exactly the number already approved this financial year.

It means no new visas will be offered to asylum-seekers already in Australia until after July 2014.

Among those affected will be about 33,000 people who came to Australia by boat before Labor announced the offshore resettlement deal with Papua New Guinea.

The Greens say they're seeking legal advice.

A network of Australian human rights lawyers says the government's decision is disappointing and petulant.

The Vice President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Nathan Kennedy says it's a poor move, even though the govenment is acting within its rights.

"It seems to be certainly within Australian domestic law an ability to do this but once you owe someone protection under the Refugee Convention, it seems ridiculous to just leave them hanging and doing nothing and in fact the Refugee Convention says that you should provide them with work rights and access to social security et cetera."

Sydney University's Professor Ben Saul agrees.

"Certainly there is an expectation of wealthy developed countries like Australia, when faced with a fairly modest influx of refugees, that Australia will provide durable solutions for refuges and of course capping the number of refugees which Australia gives permanent protection to leaves a very large number of refugees in limbo you know 30,000 or so who are just waiting around in the community on bridging visas with limited rights and unable to plan their futures and get on with their lives and that's certainly not within the spirit of the Refugee Convention."

One family caught up in developments is that of Baby Ferouz.

He was born in Brisbane hospital last month after his family was transferred from a Nauru detention centre.

Their lawyer, Murray Watt, says they don't want to return to Nauru because Ferouz was premature and his mother, who suffers from diabetes, is still weak.

"Ferouz's family come from a persecuted minority group in Myanmar which is not recognised as citizens by the government there and for that reason, Baby Ferouz is stateless and having been born in Australia, we believe that he's entitled to apply for a protection visa."

The Refugee Council of Australia has slammed the government's decision which will also remove a specific class of protection visa created for people who don't meet full refugee criteria, but would be at risk of serious harm if they returned to their homeland.

It includes women fleeing honour killings and genital mutilation.

The Council's President, Phil Glendenning.

"This is completely out of whack. This is about domestic political considerations. It's not about the international protection of refugees, it's not sustainable the government have done this to send a message to their political opponents in Australia. This is about the ALP and Greens having a fight with the government, and not about the people. And yet the people are going to be the ones who pay the price."

This may not be the last of the government's tough measures, with indications that the Prime Minister may be considering changes to Australia's role in relation to the United Nations Refugee Convention.

"We respect the Refugee Convention, we do respect the Refugee Convention but we think it's important that it be dealt with properly and we'll have more to say on this in the days and weeks ahead."

Sydney University's Professor Ben Saul says changing Australia's stance on the Refugee Convention would run contrary to what's happening in the rest of the world.

"I think it would be a pretty dramatic and frankly offensive step to withdraw from the Refugee Convention because that would send a signal to the world from Australia that Australians don't care if people are sent back to persecution."

The Immigration Minister gets another chance to introduce a new suite of measures from July next year, when the Greens and Labor will share the balance of power in the Senate with minor parties such as the Palmer United Party.

Source: World News Australia