Asylum seekers who arrived by boat between August 2012 and January 2014 are subject to the so-called fast-track refugee assessment process, which lacks basic procedural safeguards and appeal rights.
Under this process, the avenues for appeal are limited and lack independence. Essentially, if an asylum seeker doesn’t get everything right in their application, they risk being rejected, with limited scope to correct a mistake, provide additional information or prove they are in need of protection. 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 arduous, and an error can have grave consequences. Applicants must fill-out complex forms 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 this complex application process. Despite this, the Government has slashed funding to refugee legal assistance and interpreters. For most, the only option is to seek pro-bono legal support.
A small number categorised as extremely vulnerable (e.g. unaccompanied minors) can receive government-funded assistance with their applications. In addition, up to four hours of interpreting and translation services was recently made available for each adult asylum seeker.
Refugee legal centres have scrambled to fill the gap but are pushed to capacity, with lengthy waiting lists. In Sydney and Melbourne, fundraising efforts have helped services to meet the demand and reduce the waiting lists. However, in other locations, services are struggling to provide assistance to all who need it within the arbitrary time-frames set by the Government.