Australian gov't lifts freeze on refugee processing

14:08, September 30, 2010      

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Australian federal government on Thursday announced it will immediately lift a freeze on the processing of claims from Afghanistan asylum seekers.

The six-month freeze on processing, which has been blamed in part for overcrowding in Australia's detention centers, was imposed by the government in April and was due to expire in early October.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Thursday said all Afghans affected will now have their claims assessed on a case-by-case basis.

"During the last six months, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has been working to improve its understanding of the situation of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, particularly the situation of Hazaras, who comprise the majority of Afghans seeking asylum in Australia," Bowen said in a statement on Thursday.

"The Government's decision to lift the suspension has been informed by the additional information the department has gathered from a range of sources and close collaboration with the Australian embassy in Kabul (of Afghanistan)."

The government was working closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Afghanistan government to facilitate the safe, sustainable return of unsuccessful asylum seekers, Bowen said.

Earlier this year the Government froze refugee applications of asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, and the suspension of processing claims for people from Sri Lanka was lifted in July.

The development followed heavy criticism of the policy from the Australian Greens and refugee advocates, and came as the government faces pressure over overcrowding in Australia's immigration detention network.

There are almost 5,000 people in immigration detention in Australia in facilities on the mainland and on Christmas Island, and the Government has been expanding the Curtin detention center to fit in the overcrowding of illegal immigrants.

The Government is also working to open an offshore asylum seeker processing center in Timor-Leste, however, the Opposition wants the Government to use the center already in existence on Nauru.

Source: Xinhua


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