Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Visa Overstayers No Longer Charged A$250,000 Room & Board

The Australian Senate today repealed a law which led to some clandestine migrants charged up to A$250,000 (£130,250) for the cost of their detention. The repealed legislation applied to migrants who had been found to be in Australia without a valid visa, had been detained by the Immigration Department but eventually allowed to stay because their country of origin was deemed unsafe preventing their forced return or they married an Australian national.

The legislation only just scraped through against strong right-wing opposition, despite the fact that the scheme recouped only 3% of the charges levied and that it cost more to administer than it collected. The far-from-Liberal Party opposition has staunchly opposed other recent small-scale immigration reforms* which have included halting the detention and deportation of visa overstayers.

This of course has made little difference to the estimated 5,000 plus UK passport holders who overstay their visas each year (which equals 10% of all overstayers). Even though Brits have traditionally made up the largest legal immigrant group at 18% of permanent settler arrivals, have also been amongst the largest 'illegal' immigrant group and the largest group of 'illegal' workers, they were never the ones that were locked up if caught.

In other Australian news, the controversy over the SIEV 36 (suspected illegal entry vessel) incident earlier this year has hit the news again. The boat with 47 Afghan asylum seekers and 2 Indonesian crew aboard was stopped by an Australian Defence Force (ADF) vessel HMAS Albany on 15 April and taken under tow en-route to Christmas Island. The next day petrol vapours on the migrants' boat ignited, causing an explosion and fire which left 5 Afghan refugees dead and more than a dozen seriously injured.

The Afghans abandoned ship and, when they tries to climb on board ADF rigid-hulled inflatable boats, they were kicked and beaten and pushed back in the ocean. The ADF made contradictory claims about the incident; one that they were merely trying to rescue their own personnel who had been blown into the sea after the explosion or that their actions may have been caused by concerns that their craft was in danger of capsizing. They did however eventually rescue 45 Afghans from the water.

The reason the case is back in the news is because The Australian newspaper has allegedly seen an ADF video of the incident and has called upon the Northern Territory Coroner, who is investigating the incident, to release the footage to the public. The ADF have neither confirmed nor denied their personnel used violent tactics to prevented the migrants from boarding their inflatables.

* Some have also been reversed by the Labour government themselves under no pressure from the Liberal opposition.

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