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Friday, 13 May 2005

New invitation - only visa is a rotten deal

The Uniting Church today expressed frustration and disappointment with the regulations for the new Bridging (Removal Pending) Visa which gives the Minister for Immigration absolute power and offers no rights of appeal for people who take up this visa.

National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said that while the visa is an acknowledgement by the Government that the indefinite detention of asylum seekers is unacceptable, DIMIA has again failed to demonstrate compassion or decency.

“We are very concerned that people can only apply on invitation from the Minister. On what grounds will people be invited and on what grounds will they be denied?

“There is no right of administrative appeal in relation to this visa and it could well be used by the Minister and DIMIA to keep people locked up indefinitely on the grounds of undisclosed issues of ‘character’,” Rev. Poulos said.

“DIMIA has once again demonstrated their lack of regard for transparency and accountability. The Minister’s discretionary powers are increasing at an alarming rate. When people’s lives are at stake, surely we must develop systems that provide at least some reasonable checks and balances.

“To take up this invitation, people must be willing to trust the Minister’s assessment about when their removal might be ‘reasonably practical’. We know that the Government has wrongly imprisoned and deported people, and the Uniting Church believes that they have also deported people into extremely dangerous situations,” she said.

“Who could blame asylum seekers for now not trusting any advice that the Minister would receive from her Department?

“We are also concerned that people will only have seven days to reply in writing to the Minister’s offer. This is an unreasonable expectation for people whose English is limited, and who are locked away in remote desert and island locations that have been proven to damage people’s health and well-being. Will they have time to take advice before accepting this visa and will they be psychologically well enough to make such a critical life decision?

“When announcing this visa seven weeks ago, the Minister promised that it would come with work rights and access to Medicare. It appears that holders of this visa will be able to work (if they can find someone to employ them) but that they will not have access to Medicare because they have to give up any application for a permanent visa,’ Rev. Poulos said.

“This visa is a rotten deal for people who need care and compassion. We were hoping that it would offer a chance for a decent life for those asylum seekers with nowhere to go. It is unlikely that this hope will ever be fulfilled with this sad and inadequate visa.”

Rev. Poulos is available for interview on request