Tuesday, 20 September 2011

In Australia, new law protects LGBT asylum seekers

Australian Coat of Arms (adopted 1912)Image via Wikipedia
Source: AAP

Australia's Federal parliament has moved to plug a gap in the protection visa system that will help people fleeing dangerous situations, including the threat of honour killings.

The Senate on Monday 19 September passed legislation that the government says will make the protection visa application process less stressful for some refugees.

The problem is that, at present, some applicants have to go through lengthy processes that are bound to fail before finally gaining ministerial approval for a visa.

Under the existing laws only people fleeing persecution for one of five reasons specified in a United Nations convention - race, religion, nationality, social group and political opinion - can receive a protection visa through the usual process.

However, some people trying to escape from serious harm, such as women fleeing honour killings and homosexuals facing persecution, fall outside those categories.

That means their applications would be rejected initially and at review, even though Australia's obligations under other international treaties ensure they would not be sent back.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said her party strongly supported the Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011 and had backed a similar unsuccessful bill introduced by former Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett in 2006.

Monday's amendment would bring Australia into line with other western countries, she said.

Senator Hanson-Young said Australia had a duty to uphold its international obligations "even when the going gets rough".

But Liberal senator Michaelia Cash said the proposed changes were not necessary because the immigration minister had discretionary powers to overturn rulings.

She described the bill as a "cop-out at the highest level".
"Without ministerial discretionary powers, considerable pressure would be place on the rigorous migration selection criteria," she said.

"All this bill does is open up another avenue for onshore applications that goes well beyond the requirement of the refugee convention."
It would provide a further "policy incentive to people smugglers".

But government frontbencher Mark Arbib said the protection visa process needed to be fixed.
"(At the moment) people must go through several administrative processes knowing that they are going to be rejected in order to access ministerial public-interest powers," he said.

"We make them go through a process of applying, failing, seeking review and then failing again just so that they are them able to apply to the minister."

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