New justice initiative launched to help 11,000 asylum seekers with protection claims

New justice initiative launched to help 11,000 asylum seekers with protection claims

Sunday, 17 April 2016

A new initiative launched in Melbourne today will help up to 11,000 asylum seekers living in Victoria get the legal assistance they need to have their claims for protection assessed fairly.

Launched by the Attorney-General Martin Pakula, the two-year initiative funded by Victoria Legal Aid enables Refugee Legal and Justice Connect to coordinate services that help ‘legacy caseload’ asylum seekers prepare visa applications and express their claims in writing. They will also provide education about legal processes and requirements.

Early assistance will help the government to more quickly identify and settle valid claims, allowing more asylum seekers who are owed protection to stay in Australia.

Some cases involving court proceedings will be referred to Victoria Legal Aid migration lawyers who will also assist with judicial review proceedings to ensure decisions are made lawfully.

Changes to Commonwealth law in December 2014 mean that asylum seekers who arrived by boat between 13 August 2012 and 1 January 2014 are diverted through a fast-track review process at the discretion of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This does not ordinarily include any interview, and they do not have any right to a review hearing if their claim is rejected.

At the same time most of this group lost access to adequate legal assistance, subjecting them to unfair decision-making processes and the significant risk of being returned to countries where they are not safe.

This initiative is part of a broader coordinated response by the Victorian legal assistance sector, and makes efficient use of existing volunteer clinics. It draws from funds provided under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance (NPA).

Refugee Legal, Victoria Legal Aid and Justice Connect are working with others who are investing significant resources working with this group of asylum seekers. They include the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and private lawyers coordinated by the Law Institute of Victoria.

The NPA identifies migration law as a Commonwealth civil law priority, and also requires legal assistance providers to work together to respond to emerging legal needs.

There are around 30,000 legacy caseload arrivals in Australia. The Department processes their individual protection claims by date of arrival, periodically inviting asylum seekers to submit a lengthy application to their claim for asylum within 28 days.      

'Decisions about asylum seekers' claims for protection have a huge impact on their lives, and it's vital that these decisions are made fairly and lawfully.' 

'Early support is so important because most of these asylum seekers do not have any right to a review hearing if the government rejects their claim for protection.’

‘We commend the Victorian legal profession whose commitment to helping these highly vulnerable asylum seekers has made this partnership and increasing their access to justice possible.’

Victoria Legal Aid Managing Director Bevan Warner

'Evidence shows that legal representation is essential for asylum seekers with legitimate protection claims to demonstrate that they are genuine refugees.'

'Helping displaced people in such need of safety is the right thing for a secure community like ours to do. With language barriers and mental health issues stemming from a history of torture and trauma, the hurdles they often face in trying to get their refugee claims recognised are significant.'

'This is about ensuring people in our community who fear returning to life-threatening harm are given a fair go before the law.'

Refugee Legal Executive Director David Manne

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry please contact:

  • Victoria Legal Aid – Communications co-ordinator Arion Potts 0488 311 626 or (03) 9269 0156
  • Refugee Legal – Assistant to Executive Director Shin Yee Mok 0409 478 109

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