By late March 2017, at least 1135 letters had been sent to asylum seekers in the community. This number will increase as the year progresses.
Those receiving letters are among the so-called ‘legacy caseload’ who arrived in Australia by boat between August 2012 and January 2014. This group of asylum seekers has been kept in limbo for years. They cannot lodge a claim for permanent protection, and have been subjected to ongoing uncertainty, enforced poverty, constantly-shifting government policy and convoluted bureaucratic processes. For many, the toll on their health and well-being has been devastating.
Initially, these asylum seekers had their processing suspended under the ‘no advantage rule'. It was not until July 2015 that the Government began progressively inviting them to lodge their application for refugee protection. By the time the final batch of invitations was sent, some had waited over four years for the opportunity to apply.
Many have sought legal assistance but have been unable to lodge their claim due to the length and complexity of the application form, the massive backlog in the system, timeframes that are unrealistic, and constraints on the capacity of underfunded and overstretched legal services. Due to unprecedented demand, some legal assistance services have waiting lists of over 12 months.
So far, the letters have been targeted at:
- those who were invited to apply in 2015 and the first quarter of 2016;
- single adult males who are Tamil, Afghani, Pakistani or Iranian; and,
- those receiving support payments (up to 89% of Centrelink’s Special Benefit Payment, which equates to $34 per day).
The Department has indicated that they will be sending letters to other groups over the coming months, including asylum seeker families.