Output group 1.2 Refugee and humanitarian entry and stay

Australia granted 13 507 visas under the Humanitarian Program in 2008–09 Australia granted 13 507 visas under the Humanitarian Program in 2008–09


This group has two outputs:

1.2.1 Offshore Humanitarian Program

1.2.2 Protection visas (onshore)

This output group also encompasses the International Cooperation Branch. See International Cooperation: Highlights.

There are six administered items under this output group:


Onshore Program

In 2008–09, the department implemented the abolition of Temporary Protection visas (TPV) and a range of Temporary Humanitarian visas (THV) with effect from 9 August 2008. By 30 June 2009 about three quarters of current and former holders of these visas had their status resolved permanently.

The government also announced two important initiatives in the 2009–10 Budget.

From 1 July 2009, new, fairer access to work rights for asylum seekers took effect through abolition of the 45 day rule.

Complementary protection will be incorporated into the Protection visa process to enable assessment of non-refoulement (non-return) obligations under relevant human rights treaties.

The department also implemented significant improvements to administrative arrangements and to the guidelines for the exercise of the minister's public interest powers under section 417 of the Migration Act during the year. These changes were in line with recommendations by Ms Elizabeth Proust in the report on ministerial intervention released on 9 July 2008.

The Onshore Protection Consultative Group, a new consultative forum involving community sector stakeholders was established and met for the first time on 2 March 2009.

During 2008–09, 3175 Protection and Resolution of Status (RoS) visas were granted. The department sustained timely processing of Protection visa applications at a time of significant growth in applications, including those arising from events such as World Youth Day and from irregular maritime arrivals.

About 77 per cent of initial Protection visa decisions were reached within 90 days.

Offshore program

In 2008–09, the key outcomes for the Humanitarian Program included delivery of 13 507 visas. This number included 11 010 visas granted under the offshore component and 2497 program countable visas granted under the onshore component.

A humanitarian visa granted to an applicant who previously held another type of humanitarian visa is not counted the second time against the program number. For example, a Resolution of Status visa is not counted against the program number if that applicant previously held a Temporary Protection visa.

Of the total 13 507 visas, 48.1 per cent were granted to refugees and 33.4 per cent were Special Humanitarian Program visas. The remaining 18.5 per cent were Protection and other visas granted onshore.

For the offshore program, visa grants were spread across the three priority regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East/South West Asia.

About 12.1 per cent of Refugee visas were granted to Woman at Risk cases. This exceeded the Australian Government's nominal 10.5 per cent target in the Refugee allocation. In May 2009, the government announced that from 2009–10 this target will increase to 12 per cent.

The government continued to contribute to international efforts to resolve a number of protracted refugee situations where people have been living in exile for more than five years with no hope of returning to their home country.

During 2008–09, 616 visas were granted to Bhutanese who had been in camps in Nepal for many years. This was in line with the government's commitment, announced in November 2008, to resettle up to 5000 Bhutanese refugees from Nepal over coming years.

Australia is also actively engaged in the resettlement of Burmese refugees from camps along the Thai-Burmese border, from India and from other countries in the region. During 2008–09, 2412 visas were granted to Burmese refugees.

As part of an international effort to address the protection needs of Rohingya refugees from camps in Bangladesh, 113 visas were granted to Burmese Rohingya in Bangladesh during 2008–09.

In May 2009, the government announced a longer term planning framework for the Humanitarian Program. This will further support the increased focus on the resettlement of refugees in protracted situations. Certainty about ongoing program levels will allow Australia to make longer term commitments internationally to particular groups of refugees.

As in previous years, the views of the community were considered in program formulation through a consultation process which included state and territory governments, non-government organisations (NGOs) and the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA).

The government also considered the views of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on global resettlement needs and priorities.

The department also maintained an ongoing dialogue with peak NGOs that are stakeholders in the management of the Humanitarian Program. The DIAC–NGO Dialogue on Humanitarian Issues was held in August 2008 and March 2009 with the aim of developing and further strengthening relationships between the department and peak NGOs. It provides an opportunity for feedback on services delivered, for discussion on future directions and on any other issues of concern to NGOs.

The contingent of NGOs included national peak bodies such as the RCOA, Amnesty International, ActionAid Australia (formerly Austcare), the International Commission of Jurists, the Australian Red Cross and the National Council of Churches in Australia.

As in past years, three representatives of Australian NGOs joined the department on the Australian Government delegation to the UNHCR Executive Committee at the invitation of the minister.

The department also participated in the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement in late June to early July 2009. These consultations include representatives from UNHCR, NGOs and resettlement countries.

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International cooperation: Highlights

The department continued to work closely in 2008–09 with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and with other international agencies and partner countries to assist in achieving Australia's migration interests internationally.

These interests include managed migration, the enhanced functioning of the international protection system to more equitably meet the protection needs of refugees, the reduction of incentives for secondary movement, and the provision of support for countries of first asylum.

The department's strategic international cooperation activities include bilateral and multilateral engagement, capacity building, and regional cooperation. They are coordinated and supported in the department by its International Cooperation Branch which develops the International Engagement Strategy.

2008–09 featured the following significant developments in the area of international cooperation:
  • Acknowledgement that Australia has one of the best refugee resettlement programs in the world by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr António Guterres, during a visit to Australia as a guest of the government.
  • The election of Australia's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Caroline Millar, to the position of Vice-Chair of the UNHCR's Executive Committee for a 12 month term until October 2009.
  • Positive acknowledgement of Australia's recent changes to migration policies, including the abolition of the Pacific Solution, the exploration of new arrangements to provide complementary protection and the New Directions in Detention policy. The acknowledgement was made during participation in whole-of-government delegations to the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in May 2009.
  • The reinvigoration of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Senator Chris Evans led the Australian delegation at the Bali Process Regional Ministerial Conference which took place for the first time in six years in April 2009. He was party to the ministers' agreement that an Ad Hoc Group be re-formed to address issues of displacement in the region.
The department worked with regional neighbours to develop their capacity in border and migration management by:
  • actively participating in several multilateral fora and workshops for information sharing on border and migration management including the Five Country Conference, the 2008 Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD); the Global Meeting of Chairs and Secretariats of Regional Consultative Processes on Migration (an outcome of the GFMD process); Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Directors-General of Immigration Departments and Heads of Consular Affairs Divisions of Ministries of Foreign Affairs; and the Asia-Pacific Consultations on Refugees, Displaced Persons and Migrants.

    Topics covered in the fora and workshops included: document examination and feasibility of a secure document examination website and e-learning package, training in impostor detection and profiling, minimising the negative impacts of irregular migration, implementing refugee legislation and refugee status determination
  • further developing cooperative relationships in the South Pacific which helped to combat irregular movements and promote managed migration. Assistance included ongoing development of a border management system for Papua New Guinea, establishment of a border strengthening program in the Solomon Islands, and support to Vanuatu to create new migration legislation and administrative processes.

    In addition, the department actively supported the Pacific Immigration Directors' Conference (PIDC), a 23-member forum for immigration agencies in the region. In 2008, the department hosted the PIDC annual meeting, which resulted in the adoption of a new strategic plan for 2009–12 and the establishment of a training project to improve the core skills and knowledge of immigration officers in the region
  • funding IOM to establish an office in Papua New Guinea to assist the Papua New Guinea Immigration and Citizenship Service (ICS) with training and an assisted voluntary returns program. The department provided three advisers to the ICS through the AusAID funded Strongim Gavman Program. Combined, these activities contributed to the ICS's improved capacity to manage Papua New Guinea's borders
  • co-chairing an ASEAN Directors-General of Immigration Departments and Heads of Consular Affairs Divisions of Ministries of Foreign Affairs workshop with the Philippines Bureau of Immigration on impostor detection and profiling techniques. Held in Manila in October 2008, the workshop provided the department with the opportunity to deliver training to all 10 ASEAN countries simultaneously and develop awareness of the methods used for the detection of impostors and the profiling of migrants of concern. The workshop gave rise to an ASEAN–Australia Profile Alert Working Group which was held in June 2009 to develop and share profiles
  • commencing the Enhanced Migration Management Phase II Project (EMMP 2) in East Timor. EMMP 2 is a two year ($3.2 million) capacity building project designed to assist the East Timor government to establish an autonomous migration service, including developing new migration legislation and administrative processes. The project will also deliver a comprehensive migration training program and provide enhancements to East Timor border management systems.
The department contributed to the enhanced functioning of the international protection system by:
  • continuing to fund UNHCR's provision of practical assistance to build capacity in the Asia-Pacific region which addresses refugee and asylum issues and strengthens asylum laws, regulations and procedures
  • the adoption of a General Conclusion on International Protection at the UNHCR Executive Committee Meeting held in October 2008 which highlighted protection concerns such as the need to consider age, gender and diversity issues, ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities and respond to the challenges of protracted refugee situations
  • actively participating in Asia-Pacific Consultations on Refugees, Displaced Persons and Migrants workshops. The workshops, one on the implementation of refugee legislation in the Pacific and the other on refugee status determination, resulted in key outcomes including Samoa's decision to develop national refugee legislation.
The department pursued strong regional and international arrangements to deter secondary movements of asylum seekers by:
  • continuing cooperation with the Indonesian Government and IOM in providing humanitarian assistance (including food, accommodation, and medical care) for irregular migrants in Indonesia intercepted en route to Australia. Intercepted persons who have protection claims are referred to UNHCR for assessment.
The department continued to provide support for countries of first asylum by:
  • providing $10 million in 2008–09 to help address the protracted situation of displaced Iraqis, help create protection space and assist Iraqis outside Iraq find settlement options pending long-term resolution. Through UNHCR, IOM, CARE Australia and ActionAid Australia (formerly Austcare), this additional funding has been spent on projects assisting displaced Iraqis in neighbouring countries (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Syria) and transit countries (Indonesia and Malaysia). Activities supported by the funding included: skills development to improve livelihoods and prospects for sustainable return, UNHCR refugee assessment and registration, and psychosocial assistance to displaced Iraqi children and youth.

The department continued to engage with relevant agencies in other countries to increase awareness of new and emerging people movement issues, and to anticipate future movement opportunities and security challenges.