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October 2002, Volume 9, Number 10

Australia, New Zealand

Australia detains asylum seekers who arrive without proper documentation or arrive illegally by ship, and has begun to bill them for their detention- the first bill for $14,250 was given to a Pakistani for a six-month detention in September 2002, and a total of $18 million has been billed. Of the 9,400 asylum seekers who arrived improperly since 1999, 8,000 have been granted asylum, and they are not billed. However, the others are billed for their detention costs plus legal costs, and they will be unable to return to Australia legally until they pay.

Some 1,500 asylum applicants who arrived by boat, most from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, are being detained while their applications for asylum are being considered. A September 2002 Newpoll survey found that 54 percent of respondents supported the detention of all asylum seekers while their refugee claims are heard.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock made a speech in Geneva in September 2002 at which he argued that the industrial democracies must do more for refugees in the regions that produce them, and be tougher on foreigners paying smugglers to get them into industrial democracies. He said: "We cannot simply focus our energy, our resources, our compassion, on people who are reaching the borders of Western countries through secondary or tertiary movements." Ruddock argued that Australia was helping save lives by stopping people from embarking on dangerous voyages with smugglers, and saving space in the refugee program for those who most needed help. Human Rights Watch, among others, has strongly criticized Australia's efforts to prevent secondary movements.

Ruddock has a daughter, a 30-year old lawyer, who disagrees with Australia's system of mandatory detention. She has left Australia, reportedly because she is embarrassed by her father's hard-line stance against asylum seekers. Ruddock's hard line on migrants placed him fifth on the Australian Financial Review Magazine's annual list of power figures in Australia, after Prime Minister John Howard, media owner Rupert Murdoch, New South Wales state Premier Bob Carr and billionaire businessman Kerry Packer.

Some 34 percent of Sydney's 4.2 million residents were born abroad, according to the 2001 census.

Pacific Solution. The Australian government announced on September 10, 2002 that hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers on Nauru were denied refugee status. Only 66 of 506 claims for asylum processed by the immigration department and the UNHCR resulted in refugee status, with most applications rejected because the Taliban was no longer in power in Afghanistan. As of mid-September 2002, 152 people from the Pacific camps had been granted asylum in Australia and 194 in New Zealand; 59 voluntarily returned home.

The 66 Afghans recognized as refugees may not be allowed to move to Australia, since they were "found to be" rather than "accepted as" refugees.

Up to 50 of the 200 asylum seekers held at Australia's Manus Island processing center in Papua New Guinea broke out of the facility in mid-September. The detainees pushed over a fence and then tried to swim away from the remote island. One man almost drowned. In the end, all the asylum seekers were returned to the detention center.

The Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Groups, which represents 11,000 Catholic and Anglican congregations, issued a working paper on September 17, 2002 that calls for a commissioner for refugees. The paper says the current system fails to treat people seeking asylum with equality or compassion and causes unnecessary hardship.

A September 2002 poll found that 19 percent of Australians supported higher immigration levels, while 42 percent wanted to reduce immigration.. A similar poll the 1991 poll found only nine percent supported more immigration, while 73 percent called for less.

New Zealand. Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel reported that 52,856 immigrants arrived in the financial year ending June 30, 2002; the target was 45,000. About 60 percent of immigrants are selected under a point system, 30 percent are sponsored for family unification and 10 percent are refugees.

New Zealand's economy is expanding by 2.5 percent a year, prompting reports of labor shortages and pushing immigration above target levels.

New Zealand had 237,000 residents of Asian ethnicity in the 2001 census; they were seven percent of the country's 3.9 million people. Asian New Zealanders in October 2002 launched the New Zealand Pan Asian Congress to combat what the group charged was widespread discrimination against Asians in New Zealand. The government made a formal apology to Chinese New Zealanders early in 2002 for official discrimination- until 1944, Chinese had to pay a tax that was intended to discourage them from settling.

New Zealand accepted 1,500 refugees for resettlement in the past two years, and 40 percent were on welfare in September 2002. Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey said that refugees were 0.12 percent of people receiving welfare benefits. (

Australia has 355,762 New Zealand-born residents, and 116,500 have become Australian citizens. A government report noted that New Zealanders were among the least likely immigrants to naturalize in Australia.

"Australia Shuts Down Detention Center," Associated Press, September 23, 2002. Sophie Douez, "Refugee still waiting on islands," The Age, September 19, 2002. "Church leaders renew call for asylum changes," ABC News, September 17, 2002. John O'Sullivan, "Bad blood over immigrants," Chicago Sun Times, September 17, 2002. Jim Baynes, "refugees go AWOL on Manus," The Mercury, September 18, 2002. "Kiwis happy to stay, snub Aussie citizenship," Timaru Herald, September 16, 2002. David Fickling, "Refugees on Nauru to be sent home," The Guardian, September 11, 2002. Peter O'Connor, "Australia and UNHCR reject hundreds of Afghan bids for refugee status," Associated Press, September 10, 2002. "Australia Accepts 16 Asylum Seekers for Resettlement," Associated Press, September 3, 2002.