The letters are being sent to people who have been waiting to lodge their asylum claims under the so-called ‘fast-track’ assessment process – a process that has turned out to be neither fast nor fair.
The fast-track assessment process, which commenced in mid-2015, removes a number of basic procedural safeguards and appeal rights. Essentially, if an asylum seeker doesn’t get everything right in their application then they risk being rejected, with almost no way to correct a mistake, provide additional information and prove they are genuinely in need of protection. Under the fast-track process, the avenues for appeal are much more limited, lack independence, and do not enable new information to be considered. According to the Department: ‘if you do not give us all of your protection claims and we refuse your application, you might not have another chance to provide these claims’.
The process for determining whether a person is a refugee is complex and difficult, and an error can have grave consequences. Applicants must fill-out complex forms that are more than 60 pages in length, together with a detailed statement of claim – all in English. The process is complicated enough for a native English speaker. For someone who may have experienced trauma, fled persecution, and has limited English, the process can be overwhelming.
It is crucial asylum seekers have access to legal assistance to navigate the lengthy and complex application process. Despite this, the Government no longer provides funding for refugee legal assistance and interpreters. A small number who are categorised as extremely vulnerable (such as unaccompanied minors) can receive government-funded assistance with their asylum applications. But for most, the only option is to seek pro-bono legal support.
Refugee legal centres have scrambled to fill the gap but are pushed to capacity, with waiting lists that stretch into the thousands. With limited resources, these centres have been unable to provide assistance to all those who need it within the arbitrary timeframes set by the Government.