Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Australian Government toughens rules on asylum-seeker character test

ASYLUM-seekers who commit offences while in detention will be barred from gaining permanent protection in Australia but will still be allowed to live in the country under temporary visas.

Amid growing violence and unrest in detention centres across the country, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has announced a toughening of the character test to encourage better behaviour among asylum-seekers.

Under the proposed legislation, asylum-seekers convicted of an offence in detention will be prevented from permanently settling in Australia and bringing family members to join them.

Penalties for those possessing or making weapons would also be increased to five years in prison.

The changes would be backdated to today, meaning those involved in recent uprisings at detention centres, but who are yet to be charged, would face the new character test.

“These changes send a clear message to anyone considering engaging in unacceptable behaviour in immigration detention that this will only increase their chances of not being granted a visa,” Mr Bowen said. “This will apply to all people in immigration detention: onshore and offshore arrivals, asylum-seekers, or otherwise.”

However, Mr Bowen admitted those found guilty of offences could not simply be deported. He said a temporary protection visa, akin to those used under the Howard government, would still be available to those found guilty of offences.

“The one thing I'm indicating is that of course we will not (remove) people to where they will be in danger, but there are a range of options available to me including temporary visas, which are less attractive,” he told ABC radio.

The government will rely on support from the opposition to have the legislation passed.

The Gillard government has been struggling to maintain control of immigration centres amid ballooning detainee numbers and a massive processing backlog.

Protests at Villawood detention centre last week left buildings destroyed by fire, while rioting Christmas Island detainees razed facilities last month.

The announcement came as three detainee protesters maintained their vigil on the rooftop of Sydney's Villawood detention centre into a sixth straight day, and after reports a man on Christmas Island had stitched his lips together.

A hunger strike at Western Australia's Curtin detention centre has also continued into a third day while protest groups have rallied against mandatory detention and the treatment of detainees outside Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre in Victoria and at Villawood in Sydney.


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