Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

Changes to Australia's immigration processing system

Joint media release

  • Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans
  • Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith MP
  • Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor MP

9 April 2010

Effective immediately, the Australian Government has today introduced a suspension of the processing of new asylum applications from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

This suspension has been made as a result of the evolving circumstances in these two countries.

The combined effect of this suspension and the changing circumstances in these two countries will mean that it is likely that, in the future, more asylum claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will be refused.

The situations in both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are evolving.

Sri Lanka is a country in transition after two decades of conflict, with hopes for further improvement and stabilisation in conditions.

The situation in Afghanistan is also evolving, including with respect to Afghan Hazaras. The Taliban's fall, durable security in parts of the country, and constitutional and legal reform to protect minorities' rights have improved the circumstances of Afghanistan's minorities, including Afghan Hazaras.

The UNHCR is reviewing country conditions in both these countries and related guidelines for refugee status determination.

Given these developments, the Australian Government has suspended the processing of new asylum claims by Sri Lankan nationals for a period of three months and the processing of new asylum claims by Afghan nationals for a period of six months.

These suspensions will be reviewed at the end of their respective periods.

Asylum seekers currently on Christmas Island will continue to have their claims processed and will not be subject to the suspension.

The Australian Government will take into consideration the outcomes of the UNHCR's review of country situations in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan in the finalisation of information provided to decision-makers responsible for refugee status determinations.

The Australian Government believes that asylum seekers should only be granted the right to live in Australia if they are genuinely in need of protection.

These measures will ensure that Australia's refugee processing system continues to recognise those genuinely in need of our protection.

Irregular maritime arrivals claiming asylum will continue to be subject to mandatory detention, including those subject to the suspension.

The Government is also strengthening a range of law enforcement measures targeting people smugglers.

The Australian Government will crack down on people smuggling by introducing measures to stop the flow of funds and support to people smuggling ventures.

Tough new powers will result in the deregistration of remittance dealers that facilitate access to funds for people smuggling ventures and other unlawful activities including money laundering.

A stronger regulatory regime for remittance dealers will ensure law enforcement agencies receive better financial intelligence, to enable disruption and deterrence of people smuggling.

A Criminal Intelligence Fusion Centre will be established within the Australian Crime Commission to detect and prevent organised crime, including operations set up to finance people smuggling into Australia.

The Government will invest $14.5 million over four years in the Centre which will integrate financial data and criminal intelligence across relevant agencies.

The Government will also seek to expedite the passage of legislation that will significantly strengthen Australia's laws against people smuggling.

The Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill includes additional offences targeting those who finance or provide support for people smuggling activities as well as stronger penalties that recognise the seriousness of people smuggling offences.

Combined, these measures will make it tougher for people smugglers to ply their trade and bring additional rigour to the processing of claims for protection.

These changes reinforce the Government's strong approach to border security and ensure that its humane approach to asylum seekers delivers for those genuinely in need of Australia's protection, consistent with the Refugees Convention.

Sri Lanka: transition from conflict

Sri Lanka is now in a period of transition as it rebuilds following the end of two decades of military conflict.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected in January 2010 following the first nation-wide election for many years and parliamentary elections took place on 8 April 2010.

Progress is being made in tackling the challenging task of resettling hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens and rehabilitating their communities.

Of the nearly 300,000 civilians displaced by the conflict, nearly 200,000 have either returned to their own homes or are living with host families.

The Sri Lankan Government and humanitarian agencies are providing support for returnees through the provision of basic needs such as shelter, as well as assistance to help rebuild livelihoods.

Living conditions for around 80,000 internally displaced people remaining in camps continue to be difficult but reduced numbers have relieved the problem of overcrowding.

Much still needs to be done but local economies in conflict affected areas are also starting to revive and investment by the Sri Lankan Government is leading to reactivation of essential services.

The challenge for Sri Lanka now is to “win the peace” after decades of military conflict.

We have responded generously to the humanitarian challenges facing Sri Lanka and continue to encourage the Sri Lankan Government to move down the path of peace and reconciliation.

Given the evolving situation in Sri Lanka, a suspension in the processing of asylum claims from Sri Lankan nationals is appropriate.

The UNHCR is reviewing country conditions in Sri Lanka.

The Australian Government will consider UNHCR advice in the development of information provided to refugee status determination decision-makers.

Afghanistan: changing circumstances for minorities

The situation in Afghanistan is continually evolving. This is affecting different communities in different ways.

Under the Taliban, the Afghan people lived in constant fear of violence. The Afghan Hazaras experienced particular hardship.

The Taliban's fall, durable security in parts of the country, and constitutional and legal reform to protect minorities' rights have improved the circumstances of Afghanistan's minorities, including Afghan Hazaras.

In general, these groups now have greater personal and community freedoms, economic and social opportunity and access to education and basic services.

In Afghanistan today, ethnic Hazaras are active in civil society, represented in government institutions and are making progress in education.

The UNHCR has been reviewing country conditions in Afghanistan as part of its work on guidelines for refugee status determination for Afghans.

Given the evolving situation in Afghanistan, a suspension in the processing of asylum claims from Afghan nationals is appropriate.

The Australian Government will consider UNHCR advice in the development of information provided to refugee status determination decision-makers.

Remittance dealers: strong measures to prevent financing of people smuggling ventures and other illicit activities

A tough new regulatory regime will provide powers to de-register remittance dealers that facilitate access to funds for people smuggling ventures and other unlawful activities, including money laundering.

These new powers will be administered by the CEO of the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC).

Remittance dealers accept cash, cheques and other forms of payment in one location and arrange the payment of an equivalent amount of cash or value to someone in another location, usually overseas.

Remittance dealers range from global money transfer businesses and their franchisees and agents (e.g. Western Union, Australia Post), to smaller ethnic community-based entities. AUSTRAC estimates that there are around 6,500 remittance dealers operating in Australia.

Australian law enforcement authorities are aware that international cash transfer services provided by remittance dealers can be used to pay the organisers of smuggling ventures.

People smugglers are in it for the profit and need cash flows to finance their illegal operations. They charge large sums to vulnerable people for the dangerous and illegal voyages that they organise.

We must ensure that remittance dealers — which many people use to send money overseas to family and friends — are not misused to give smugglers the funds they need to organise illegal smuggling ventures, or to support other forms of criminal activity.

All remittance dealers are already required by law to register with AUSTRAC before providing funds transfer services. Providing these services without registering is an offence which carries a penalty of 2 years imprisonment or a penalty of $55,000 or both.

We are enhancing the power of the CEO of AUSTRAC to get rid of those remittance dealers who pose a significant money laundering risk, in particular with links to people smuggling, or terrorism financing.

The Government has also developed a proposal for a more comprehensive regulatory regime for remittance dealers which will be implemented as soon as possible, following consultation with the financial services sector. This new regime is likely to include:

Criminal Intelligence Fusion Centre

The Government will provide $14.5 million over four years to establish a new Criminal Intelligence Fusion Centre to provide new capabilities to detect and prevent organised crime, including people smuggling and related activities.

This new investigative capability, based within the Australian Crime Commission, will provide in depth criminal intelligence and analysis in real time.

It will boost the capability of law enforcement agencies to integrate data and criminal intelligence to identify high risk cash flows, patterns of crime and the individuals, businesses and corporate structures that may be involved in criminal enterprises in Australia and overseas.

Tracking and analysis of money flows is critical to uncovering criminal enterprises such as people smuggling. For example it can provide the means to establish how people smugglers finance their operations. It can uncover methods of operation, who is involved and in particular who is reaping the profits.

The Centre will commence on 1 July 2010 with a capability to detect and prevent people smuggling operations and related offences such as money laundering, illegal financial transfers, fraud and identity crimes.

The Centre will co-locate expert investigators and analysts from Commonwealth agencies which may include the Australian Tax Office (ATO), Centrelink and the AFP.

The new Criminal Intelligence Fusion Centre will be based in the Australian Crime Commission because it is the Australian Government's lead agency for gathering and analysing criminal intelligence to assist other law enforcement agencies to fight organised crime.

Anti-people Smuggling and Other Measures Bill

New laws will provide tougher penalties and introduce new offences to deter people who support, participate in or profit from people smuggling.

The Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill has been introduced into Parliament. The Government wants it passed in the week Parliament resumes in May.

The Bill includes a new offence targeting those who finance or provide support for people smuggling activities, as well as tough penalties that recognise the seriousness of people smuggling offences. The Bill:

The Bill also supports the Government's multi pronged approach in combating people smuggling by enabling the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to use its intelligence and analytical capabilities in relation to people smuggling and other serious border security threats.

The Bill will also enable Australia's national security agencies to collect foreign intelligence about people smugglers and their networks.

New offence of providing material support to people smuggling

Such support could include, but would not be limited to currency, monetary instruments or financial services, false documentation, equipment, facilities or transportation.

The offence applies if a person is reckless as to whether the money or resources they provide will be used in, or assist, a people smuggling venture.

It will not apply to a person who pays smugglers to facilitate their own passage to Australia or who pays for a family member on the same venture.

New aggravated offence for people smuggling involving exploitation or danger of death or serious harm

The offence will apply to people smuggling ventures to Australia. The Criminal Code already contains such an offence, which applies to people smuggling ventures to foreign countries.

The offence will apply where a person, in committing an offence of people smuggling, endangers the life of the victim or risks serious harm to them.

The offence will also apply where a person commits the offence of people smuggling either with the intention that the victim will be exploited after entry into Australia or the victim is subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Mandatory minimum penalties

The use of mandatory minimum penalties reflects the seriousness of the activity being prosecuted.

It allows the court to determine an appropriate penalty within the minimum and maximum set by the Parliament.

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