Australia on track for record number of asylum seekers arriving by plane, Labor says

Labor warns of exploitation risk for rejected asylum seekers, who make up 84% of the 95,000 who arrived by plane in the past five years

More than 95,000 people have sought asylum in Australia after arriving by plane in the past five years, but more than 84% were found not to have a valid claim.

The shadow minister for home affairs, Kristina Keneally, said the refusal rate was an indicator that people making the claims were at risk of labour exploitation and were “often being trafficked to Australia for the explicit purpose of being exploited”.

Figures released to the Labor opposition through questions on notice reveal that 4,037 people who flew to Australia sought asylum in the first seven weeks of this financial year, a rate which would suggest a record high if the trajectory continued. The government says that on annual comparisons there has been a decline.

In 2014-15 just over 8,500 people applied, increasing annually until it peaked in 2017-18 with 27,884 asylum applications. Last year 24,520 people lodged claims for protection in Australia – a drop of 12%. The number of claims do not necessarily correlate with the number of arrivals in each year as applications can be lodged at different times.

“Of the protection visa applications decided by the department between 1 July 2014 and 19 August 2019, 62,732 persons (84.2%) were refused,” the government said.

Keneally said the situation was acute in rural and regional areas.

“The agriculture and horticultural industry is crying out for the Liberal-National government to address these concerns because they are acutely aware that rogue operators and labour hire firms are exploiting vulnerable people in regional Australia,” she said.

A parliamentary inquiry found in February that organised crime and illegitimate labour hire companies were taking advantage of immigration laws to exploit workers who were in Australia waiting for their claims to be processed – mostly Malaysians on electronic travel authorities.

“These individuals are exploiting Australia’s protection visa and merits review systems by repeatedly applying for merits review of the decision to refuse their protection visa application, allowing them to stay in Australia for a significant amount of time and seek employment,” the report said.

In some cases the appeals process takes up to eight years, and has cost $46m in the last three years.

Labor has repeatedly focused on the high number of protection claims by people flying into the country.

Keneally said the plane arrivals outstripped the number of people who sought asylum by boat under a Labor government. Since the Coalition took power few asylum seeker boats have made it to Australian territory.

Since July 2013 no person who arrives by boat is allowed to lodge a protection visa, and more than 3,000 people have been sent to offshore detention in Nauru and Manus Island.

But the government’s data revealed that 167 applications were lodged by people who arrived “lawfully through a seaport, such as on a cruise ship, container ship or yacht” between 1 July 2014 and 19 August 2019.

The immigration minister, David Coleman, told Guardian Australia less than 0.25% of people who arrived “lawfully” in Australia applied for protection and most were refused.

“The arrival of people on boats under Labor directly disadvantaged people who would otherwise have found support in Australia under our humanitarian program,” he said.

On Tuesday afternoon Coleman labelled Labor’s attack a “spectacular own goal” because Labor had granted 31% more protection visas to air arrivals in its final three years of government than the Coalition in its last three years.

He also criticised the opposition party for seeking an “extraordinary” increase to the refugee intake.

Asked if he was suggesting the granting of protection visas to refugees was a negative, Coleman said the existing humanitarian program was generous and questioned why Labor wanted to increase it.

“People can apply but the question is what happens when they apply, and are they given those visas or not?”

Coleman said about 25,000 people were being processed or were appealing the rejection of their claims, and those who were not were “required to leave”.

However, Coleman repeatedly failed to answer how many people in Australia were supposed to leave but couldn’t be found, and repeatedly failed to answer why there might be more people seeking asylum in Australia after arriving by air.

According to the UN there were 3.5 million asylum seekers in the world in 2018, an increase of 1.7 million on the previous year.

The government’s processing of asylum applications at airports has been questioned after revelations it does not track how many claims are lodged at airports before or during immigration clearance.

Migration experts expressed concern that the lack of data meant there was no way to scrutinise if Australian Border Force was assessing people properly.


Helen Davidson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Asylum seekers face lifetime ban from entering Australia if they arrive by boat
New law to include refugees and will apply to any adult sent to Manus Island or Nauru since July 2013

Gareth Hutchens

30, Oct, 2016 @3:14 AM

Article image
Labor says Peter Dutton must release ‘secret’ audit of Manus Island contracts
Kristina Keneally says Coalition should not renew Paladin contract without making review public

Amy Remeikis

23, Jun, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Labor vows to restore penalty rates and address gender pay gap – as it happened
Tanya Plibersek says ALP will undertake review across public service as the final day of the party’s national conference continues

Amy Remeikis

18, Dec, 2018 @5:48 AM

Article image
Scott Morrison leaves door open to New Zealand refugee offer in medevac repeal
Prime minister refuses to discuss details of agreement made to secure vote of key crossbencher Jacqui Lambie

Sarah Martin

04, Dec, 2019 @5:11 AM

Article image
Shorten says proposed lifetime ban on asylum seekers is to appease right wing
Labor’s official response is expected this week but the Labor leader says the Coalition’s plan seems ‘ludicrous’

Gareth Hutchens

06, Nov, 2016 @12:54 AM

Article image
Senate blocks visa cancellation bill as Labor accuses Coalition of backing out of bipartisan deal
Kristina Keneally says government used legislation as a ‘political wedge’ instead of securing good outcomes for victims of family violence

Paul Karp

20, Oct, 2021 @2:41 AM

Article image
Manus Island: MSF denied access to refugees as thousands rally in Australia
Despite approval from Papua New Guinea immigration, humanitarian organisation blocked from seeing sick and injured men

Helen Davidson

26, Nov, 2017 @3:58 AM

Article image
Morrison rejects Labor offer on Nauru asylum seekers as 'horse-trading'
Labor proposes amendments to New Zealand resettlement bill it earlier opposed

Katharine Murphy and Helen Davidson

23, Oct, 2018 @5:37 AM

Article image
Angus Taylor says Labor's questions about land he part-owns are 'grubby smear' – as it happened
Energy minister faces Labor questions about whether Australia’s greenhouse emissions are going up. All the day’s events, live

Amy Remeikis

23, Jul, 2019 @8:22 AM

Article image
Coalition has lost control of borders, with 80,000 asylum arrivals by plane, Labor says
Kristina Keneally attacks ‘Peter Dutton’s mismanagement and failures’ as the ALP prepares to examine unlawful migration

Paul Karp

22, Aug, 2019 @6:00 PM