Australia and Refugees, 19012002: An Annotated Chronology Based on Official Sources

Chronologies ONline

Social Policy Group

Dr Barry York - Social Policy Group

Last updated 16 June 2003

This Chronology is issued electronically. It will be kept up-to-date online. The date of the latest update is noted clearly above.


Part 6 of 10

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Chronology 1997-1999


Details

Source Documents

1997

In March, Minister Ruddock announces changes to the refugee and immigration review systems, with a view to 'shorten overall processing times and to discourage frivolous applications'. The Migration Internal Review Office and the Immigration Review Tribunal (IRT) are to be collapsed into one body, the IRT. The Refugee Review Tribunal remains but review application time limits are reduced, restrictions are placed on working rights during the review period and a $1000 fee introduced for applicants who fail to obtain refugee status.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 28/97, 20 March 1997

1997

On the weekend of 2122 March, the Government returns 114 boat people to China on the grounds that they arrived illegal ly and have no claim to remain. The boat people do not engage Australia's protection obligations when interviewed by Immigration officers. Among the group are 70 Chinese from the PRC who were rescued at sea on 6 March.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 31/97, 23 March 1997

1997

In March, Minister Ruddock announces plans to introduce a 'privative clause' for many decisions under the Migration Act, with a view to limiting the volume and cost of litigation. A privative clause is 'a provision within an Act of Parliament, the practical effect of which will be to limit judicial review to whether the decision maker made a decision that was within their jurisdiction and power to make'. The plan is a response to the large number of litigation cases in the Immigration portfolio, of which 422 relate to onshore refugee decisions. The Minister claims that people who have no legitimate right to be in Australia are using litigation to delay their departure. In 19951996, litigation cost the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs $7.4 million.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 32/97, 25 March 1997

1997

A Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council is established in April to advise the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs on the settlement of refugees, especially the adequacy of Commonwealth services.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 34/97, 4 April 1997

1997

Addressing the Administrative Law Forum in May, Minister Ruddock criticises the condition of the Migration Program inherited from the previous Government. He says it was 'seriously out of balance', with almost 70 per cent of the program in the family stream, entry standards reduced too far in some categories and sham marriages and other abuses eroding public confidence in the overall program. Ruddock informs the Forum that the Government will give greater priority to business and skilled migration and maintain the humanitarian program .

P. Ruddock, Speech, 1997 National Administrative Law Forum, Canberra, 1 May 1997, pp. 34

1997

The Federal Budget provides $20.8 million over four years for enhanced settlement services for refugee and humanitarian entrants. Extra funding is made available for the Adult Migrant English Program and the role of the Home Tutor Program is expanded. The Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council is to advise the Government on the most effective means of delivering the initiatives.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 42/97, 44/97 and 45/97, 13 May 1997

1997

A group of 46 Chinese boat people is returned to China in May. Minister Ruddock thanks PRC officials for their 'high level of cooperation' and says that 'The Government has no desire to keep unauthorised arrivals in detention for any longer than is necessary and this is evidenced by the quick and effective removal of a group of people who have no claim to be in Australia'.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 46/97, 18 May 1997

1997

In June, the Government creates new visa classes to cover specified citizens from Sri Lanka , countries in the former Yugoslav ia, Iraq , Kuwait , Lebanon and China . The aim is to resolve their status, as people who have been in Australia on humanitarian grounds as long-term temporary residents. The new visas affect about 8 000 people and offer further temporary stay, with the availability of permanent residence after they have been in Australia for a total of ten years. The move represents the resolution of Tiananmen Square related decisions.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 56/97, 13 June 1997

1997

The Government sets the 19971998 Migration (non-Humanitarian) Program at 68 000, with a strengthening of the skilled intake. The Humanitarian Program is set at 12 000, bringing the total immigration target to 80 000. The Humanitarian Program's components for 19971998 are Refugees (4000 places), Special Humanitarian Program (2800 places), Special Assistance Category (3200) and Onshore Protection Visa Grants (2000). Priority continues to be given to regions of the former Yugoslav ia, the Middle East and Africa . A total of 420 places are reserved for the Women at Risk Program.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 47/97 and 48/97, 21 May 1997 and MPS 60/97, 24 June 1997

1997

In June, the Vietnamese Special Assistance Category is terminated on the grounds that it had achieved its purpose. The Vietnamese SAC was established in 1995 to provide resettlement opportunities for people in camps who had been denied refugee status and returned to Vietnam.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 60/97, 24 June 1997

1997

Ninety-two Chinese are returned to the PRC after arriving in Australia unlawfully by boat . The 92 people had arrived from China on five boats in 1992, 1994 and 1996. Many had been detained for lengthy periods because they had taken their cases to review following rejection of their primary applications by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The review tribunals and the courts rejected their appeals.

Senator the Hon. Amanda Vanstone, Acting Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 69V/97, 15 July 1997

1997

A group of 15 Sri Lankans is returned to Sri Lanka after arriving by unauthorised boat at Coral Bay, near Exmouth, Western Australia a few weeks earlier. A total of 383 unauthorised boat arrivals have been removed in the 12 months since July 1996.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 72/97, 26 July 1997

1997

The 19961997 Migration Program achieves the Government's aim of greater emphasis on skilled migration. Around 37 per cent of the total Program outcome of 73 900 is in the skilled stream (compared with 29 per cent in 19951996). The Migration Program outcome is 8600 visas less than the 19951996 Program.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 75/97, 29 July 1997

1997

About 2000 Sri Lankans and citizens of the former Yugoslav ia, who have been lawfully in Australia from before 1 November 1993, are reminded that their temporary visas expire on 31 July and that they must leave Australia.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 77/97, 31 July 1997

1997

The Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy is introduced as part of the Budget commitment of an additional $20.8 million over four years for a more effective delivery of humanitarian services, particularly in the areas of health, English language training , employment and youth. Government contributions to voluntary groups are increased, and the Community Settlement Services Scheme (CSSS) is introduced to replace the former Grant-in-Aid and Migrant Access Projects Scheme. The CSSS pays particular attention to the aged, women and new arrivals who belong to small emerging communities.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 85/97 and 84/97, 28 August 1997

1997

The 19971998 Humanitarian Program allocates 4155 places to people from the regions of the former Yugoslav ia. The total Program target is 12 000 places, of which 10 000 are offshore and 2000 onshore. Minister Ruddock , who visited the region in July, says of the former Yugoslav ia that 'priority in allocating places continues to be given to people in mixed marriages and other vulnerable cases identified by the UNHCR , such as war widows and people of mixed ethnic parentage, unable to return safely to their home areas'.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 91/97, 30 September 1997

1997

In October, Minister Ruddock launches the report, The Migrant Experience, which is a summary of the main findings of the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia (LSIA). The LSIA, the most comprehensive survey of immigrants ever undertaken in Australia, provides government agencies with reliable information to improve immigration and settlement policies, programs and services. LSIA basically measures how well immigrants settle into Australia.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 102/97, 10 October 1997

1997

On 14 November, Australian Correctional Services (ACS) takes up responsibility for the delivery of services (i.e. guarding, catering, health, welfare, education and transportation) at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney. ACS is jointly owned by Australasian Correctional Management Pty Ltd (ACM) and Thiess Contractors Pty Ltd. ACM has contracts for 44 detention/correctional facilities with over 29 000 beds in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia.

Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs PS 19/97, 14 November 1997

1997

On 17 December, Minister Ruddock and the Attorney-General, the Hon. Daryl Williams QC MP, jointly respond to a United Nations' Human Rights' Committee report regarding the detention of an asylum seeker, 'Mr A' who had been detained between late 1989 and early 1994. The Human Rights' Committee claimed the length of Mr. A's detention contravened the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Ruddock-Williams respond by pointing out that a primary decision was made in regards to Mr. A's application in May 1991 but that 'subsequent review processes beyond the control of Government extended his detention'. They also point out that his arrival and application for refugee status coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of such applications.

Attorney-General the Hon. Daryl Williams AM QC MP and the Hon. Philip Ruddock MP, Joint News Release, 17 December 1997.

1998

The Humanitarian Program for 19981999 consists of 10 000 offshore places and 2000 onshore. Priority remains in the regions of the former Yugoslav ia, the Middle East and Africa . In the offshore component, 4000 places are reserved for Refugees , 4250 for the Special Humanitarian Program and 1750 for the Special Assistance Category .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 37/98, 8 April 1998

1998

The 19981999 Migration (non-Humanitarian) Program remains at 68 000 places with continuing emphasis on the economic benefits of the program. The Skill stream remains the largest component, with 35 000 places (followed by the Family stream with 30 500).

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 36/98, 8 April 1998

1998

The 19981999 Budget includes initiatives designed to strengthen border management. Australian staff resources are increased in countries with a known high risk of abuse of Australia's visa systems and the numbers of immigration staff at airports in Australia are increased. Also, the Budget provides funds for the improvement of the Movement Alert List computer system, which is the central checking tool for the identification of passengers who are of immigration concern. Increased funding is also allocated for surveillance of unauthorised movements in the Torres Strait Protected Zone. The introduction of a $50 visa application charge for some visitors is to contribute to the costs of the initiatives.

Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release No 1, 1998 Budget, 12 May 1998

1998

A major redevelopment of the Immigration Detention Centre at Villawood , Sydney is allocated $35 million in the 19981999 Budget . The aim is to improve security and to better address the needs of detainees of diverse backgrounds.

ibid.

1998

Minister Ruddock announces that, in light of civil disturbances in Indonesia , Indonesian nationals temporarily and lawfully in Australia are able to apply for an extension of stay. He says this will be 'a short-term measure and will remain in place only while the current disturbances make it unsafe for people to return to their home regions'. (Ethnic Chinese are targeted by rioters and looters in demonstrations caused by Indonesia 's national economic crisis.) The extension of stay is withdrawn on 26 June, following the easing of the situation in Indonesia.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 51/98, 16 May 1998 and MPS 75/98, 26 June 1998

1998

A Government 'crack down' on over-stayers and illegal workers results in more than 11 600 people being detained in 19971998.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 71/98, 24 June 1998

1998

In June, 15 people who arrived in Australia unlawfully by boat are returned to Bangladesh. Minister Ruddock says that 'It is unfortunate that people who may already be economically disadvantaged have again lost substantial sums of money to individuals organising such travel when there was no real chance of them being allowed to stay in Australia'.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 78/98, 30 June 1998

1998

In July, details of the 19971998 Migration (non-Humanitarian) Program are announced. More than half the total outcome34 670 visaswere issued in the Skill stream and 31 310 in the Family Stream . In the 19961997 program, 37 per cent of visas were in the Skill stream and 60 per cent were in the Family stream. The shift in the program balance is consistent with Coalition policy and is designed to benefit the national economy and to increase public confidence in the migration program through demonstrating its economic benefits.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 87/98, 13 July 1998

1998

The 19971998 Humanitarian Program delivers 12 020 visas, including 543 in the Women at Risk category. A total of 10 467 visas were granted offshore, mainly under the Special Humanitarian Program (4636) and Refugees (4010). Nearly half the total Humanitarian visas are granted to people resettled from the regions of the former Yugoslav ia, 28 per cent to people from the Middle East and 14 per cent to those from Africa . A total of 1553 people are granted Protection Visas onshore.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 100/98, 5 August 1998

1998

In August, the first stage of the Federal Government's anti-racism campaign Living in harmonyis launched by Minister Ruddock in Sydney. The campaign's centrepiece is a $2.5 million Community Grants Program.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 106/98, 14 August 1998

1998

The planned Humanitarian Program for 19981999 remains at 12 000 places, of which 10 000 are for offshore cases. The former Yugoslav ia remains the main component, followed by the Middle East and Africa .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 110/98, 25 August 1998

1998

A total of $2.1 million is provided by the Federal Government to the National Forum of Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, as part of a $19.3 million package of funding for migrant and refugee settlement services. Refugees and humanitarian entrants are a priority group in the funding, which is granted under the Community Settlement Services Scheme and the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 118/98, 28 August 1998

1998

On 2 December 1998 Minister Ruddock introduces the Migration Legislation Amendment (Judicial Review) Bill 1998 into Parliament. The Bill seeks to establish a new judicial review scheme under the Migration Act, the main clause being a 'privative' provision. The clause does not deny access to courts but limits the grounds of judicial review to the High Court and the Federal Court. The Minister says the aim of the privative clause is to reduce the 'manipulation of Australia's judicial system by unlawful non-citizens seeking to delay their departure from Australia'.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, un-numbered, 2 December 1998

1998

On the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , Minister Ruddock says that Australians can be proud of their humanitarian record, having resettled approximately 600 000 refugees and other humanitarian cases during those five decades. On a per capita basis, in 19981999, Australia operates one of the biggest planned refugee and humanitarian resettlement programs in the world.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 157/98, 10 December 1998

1999

Australia Day, 26 January, marks the 50th anniversary of Australian Citizenship . In 1949, the first people to take out Australian citizenship consisted of less than 3000 migrants and their families from 37 countries in Europe and the Middle East. In 1998, more than 112 300 people from 140 countries become Australian citizens.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 02/99, 25 January 1999

1999

On 10 February, an international conference in Melbourne marks the 50th anniversary of one of Australia's key migrant settlement schemes, the Adult Migrant English Program . The Program has helped approximately 1.5 million new arrivals to learn English.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 21/99, 10 February 1999

1999

In 19971998, 80 per cent of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affair's compliance budget of $50 million is spent on locating, detaining and removing failed applicants for protection visas and unauthorised arrivals.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 29/99, 13 February, 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock announces the Government's intention to introduce reforms to limit judicial review through the implementation of the privative clause (part of the Migration Legislation Amendment (Judicial Review) Bill , introduced into Parliament in December 1998). The number of new refugee-related applications to the courts has risen from 53 in 19931994 to nearly 470 per annum.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 29/99, 13 February, 1999

1999

The Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) has running costs of more than $14 million in 19971998. In addition, litigation costs are more than $9 million. In 19971998, a total of 6506 cases were determined by the RRT and, in 90 per cent of the cases, the RRT upheld the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs' initial decision. About 85 per cent of those refused a protection visa apply for a review by the RRT. However, about 40 per cent of people offered a hearing fail to attend, and about 15 per cent of applicants withdraw their applications before receiving a decision.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 29/99, 13 February, 1999

1999

The Government is owed $2.8 million by failed applicants for protection visas (for the period July 1997 to December 1998), who are subject to the $1000 post-Refugee Review Tribunal fee. (The fee applies to persons found not to be refugees).

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 29/99, 13 February, 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock estimates that each claimant for a protection visa whose application is refused 'who then applies to the Refugee Review Tribunal , appeals to the Federal Court, has one associated intervention request, and is then located, detained and removed from Australia, costs the taxpayer a minimum of $20 500'.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 42/99, 7 March 1999

1999

Of the total number of people unlawfully in Australia, more than 5000 are estimated to be failed claimants for protection visas .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 42/99, 7 March 1999

1999

In announcing the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs' success in 'smashing' a 'sophisticated Sydney-based people smuggling ring', Minister Ruddock says that 'Australia will not allow queue -jumpers to push in ahead of genuine refugees'. The people smuggling ring brought Iraq i nationals to Australia on false documents for between $6000 and $12 000. The ring was uncovered through an Australian Federal Police operation conducted over a six month period.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 46/99, 15 March 1999

1999

In light of the situation in the former Yugoslav ia, the Australian Government invites people from the former Republic of Yugoslavia, who are in Australia temporarily and lawfully, to apply for an extension of stay. Minister Ruddock says that the measure is 'temporary' and 'will be subject to ongoing review as the situation in Yugoslavia develops and efforts are made to restore peace'.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 55/99, 5 April 1999

1999

The Australian Government decides to accept 4000 Kosov o Albanians for temporary stay in Australia. Under the 'short-term humanitarian measure', the 4000 will be given an initial three-month 'safe haven ' visa which will be extended as required. They will also receive food, accommodation, health care and other necessities of life.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 56/99, 6 April 1999

1999

A special Government task force consisting of immigration officials, interpreters and a representative of the UNHCR , prepares to fly to Skopje in Macedonia with a view to selecting displaced persons for temporary asylum in Australia. Family units are to be given priority and selection is made on the advice of the UNHCR. The main concern is for people who were forced to flee Kosov o since 26 March.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 57/99, 9 April 1999

Minister Philip Ruddock, Part Transcript - Press Conference, 9 April 1999

1999

Removal arrangements for Kosov o Albanians are placed on hold, following a request by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees , Madam Ogata. The UNHCR indicates a need to re-evaluate the international humanitarian effort.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 58/99, 10 April 1999

1999

A 40 metre vessel, 'apparently carrying a number of unauthorised arrivals', goes aground off Macksville, south of Coffs Harbour, northern New South Wales on 10 April. Immigration officials detain 43 of the passengers but a dozen or more evade their efforts. The Opposition's Justice and Customs spokesperson, Duncan Kerr, describes Australia's border patrol as a laughing stock.

Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, DPS 4/99, 10 April 1999

J. MacDonald, 'Coffs Harbour boat people spark immigration probe', The Sunday Age, 11 April 1999

1999

A group of 26 people from China who arrived at Cairns, Queensland, unlawfully by boat on 12 March, is returned to the PRC . The 26 are victims of a people smuggling racket and inform Australian officials that they paid around $US2500 each to join the boat. The sophistication of the operation is evidenced by the type of vessel used: a twin-engine 35 metre boat that cost the group around $US43 000, equipped with global satellite navigation equipment and radar. Minister Ruddock reiterates the Government's determination to implement the Judicial Review Bill in order to restrict unlawful arrivals' ability to delay their removal through court action and appeal.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 59/99, 11 April 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock urges the media to be precise in its use of the term 'refugees ', citing the UN Convention definition as the appropriate one. Under this definition, an individual must be outside their country of nationality or of usual residence and must be unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution of a racial, religious, national, social or political nature. The Minister is concerned that the term 'refugee' is wrongly applied in the media to individuals who 'arrive on our shores clandestinely seeking migration outcomes or work opportunities'. He says such people are more accurately described as 'unlawful arrivals' and commonly referred to as 'boat people '. He also points to the distinction between a 'refugee' and an 'asylum seeker '; the latter seeks refugee status but does not already have it.

The Hon. Philip Ruddock MP, 'Open letter to all media outlets regarding refugees', 12 April 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock attends the International Symposium on Migration in Bangkok, Thai land, convened by the Thai Government to discuss irregular and undocumented movement of people between countries from regional and global perspectives. Twenty countries attend the three-day symposium.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 60/99, 20 April 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock praises the 'excellent cooperation' received from the Government of the PRC in its determination to combat the illegal smuggling of people. He says:

China has informed us on a number of occasions of vessels they have intercepted leaving the country attempting to travel to Australia. It is crucial we continue effective intelligence sharing on the most recent boat arrivals in an effort to establish the identity of the people involved and the way in which such operations are organised.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 60/99, 20 April 1999

1999

In light of the continued expulsion of Albanians from Kosov o, the Australian Government offers priority processing for permanent resettlement for up to 200 families under the Humanitarian Program . This is in addition to the temporary refuge offered on 6 April. About 600 000 Albanians have been forced from Kosovo.

Attorney-General, the Hon. Daryl Williams AM, QC, MP, Acting Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, News Release, 22 April 1999

1999

The Australian Government maintains its planned Humanitarian Program for 19992000 at 12 000 places, 10 000 being for offshore cases and 2000 onshore. Any places not used in the 19981999 program are rolled over into 19992000. Priority remains in the Former Republic of Yugoslav ia, the Middle East and Africa . Four thousand places are reserved for refugees, 4300 for the Special Humanitarian Program and 900 for the Special Assistance Category . About 800 places are kept unallocated for contingencies.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 63/99, 29 April 1999

1999

The Migration Legislation Amendment (Temporary Safe Haven Visas) Bill 1999 passes through the Senate on 30 April, with the support of all Senators.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 66/99, 30 April 1999

1999

On 1 May, following a request from the UNHCR , the Australian Government activates its plans to provide safe haven for 4000 displaced Kosov ars. Extensive preparations for their reception are in place, with the first group scheduled to be given health checks and orientation at East Hills Processing Centre , Sydney, before travelling on to Brighton Barracks, Tasmania.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 67/99, 1 May 1999

1999

In a Budget statement, Minister Ruddock highlights initiatives aimed at enhancing the immigration and multicultural affairs programs. These include an extension of the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme to help people in urgent need of assistance during review of failed protection visa applications and a doubling of funding (to $10 million) for the Living in harmony anti-racism campaign . Also included is an extension of autonomy to the Refugee Review Tribunal and the new Migration Review Tribunal by prescription under the Financial Management and Accountability Act to ensure each tribunal has full responsibility for financial management. Funding is also allocated to a review of the post-RRT review fee by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration and for a Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs' presence at the proposed new Australian Consulate-General in Dili, East Timor.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, Budget 99 MPS 72/99, 11 May 1999

1999

The number of unauthorised non-citizens entering Australia unlawfully by boat increases significantly in 1999. At 20 May, 440 have arrived, compared with 200 for the entire 1998 calendar year.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 82/99, 20 May 1999

1999

The Australian Government issues warnings in Somalia , via the media and the High Commission in Nairobi, to dissuade Somalis from being duped by a major people smuggling operation that charges each individual $US2300 to travel by boat from Mogadishu to Australia. Efforts are directed through local media because of the absence in Somalia of a central legal authority to whom the Government can appeal to thwart the operation. The people smugglers are attempting to recruit an estimated 2000 people. The Government also approaches governments of countries along the route, where the boat might dock.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 83/99, 23 May 1999

1999

In urging the Opposition to support the government's Judicial Review Bill, Minister Ruddock points out that, of 1036 people in detention, 137 detainees have taken legal action to delay their removal from Australia. The 137 lodged applications for protection visas that were rejected by both the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and the Refugee Review Tribunal . In 19971998, he says, there were 1045 applications to the Federal Court seeking judicial review of migration decisions. In the 19981999 financial year (at 9 June) there are 1148 new actions.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 91/99, 8 June 1999

1999

Eight Members of Parliament are appointed as 'Patrons to the Kosov o Safe Haven s' in Australia. Senator Kay Patterson, the Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Ruddock, is the Government's principal Patron. The Patron arrangement is designed to ensure that the Kosovars will have access to a representative of the Federal Government, and made as welcome and comfortable as possible, during their stay in Australia. Patrons are expected to visit the centres in which Kosovars reside every two to three weeks.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 93/99, 9 June 1999

1999

A group of 83 Chinese who tried to enter Australia illegal ly by boat near Port Kembla on 17 May is returned to China. The group, like other recent unlawful arrivals, has been falsely promised jobs on Olympic projects in Sydney and has wrongly been told that the Australian Government would offer an amnesty during the Olympic event.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 95/99, 10 June 1999

1999

At 10 June, almost 3000 Kosov ars have been brought to Australia and reside in safe haven centres in Brighton (Tasmania), Puckapunyal and Portsea (Victoria), Leeuwin (Western Australia), Singleton (New South Wales) and Hampstead (South Australia).

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 94/99, 10 June 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock says that an illegal boat arrival at Christmas Island on 11 June reveals the 'treacherous nature of illegal boat landings and shows the utter disregard of people smugglers for the lives of their desperate human cargo'. Five passengers on the boat are missing and feared drowned. Four crew and three unauthorised arrivals are detained and held at Christmas Island before being transferred to Port Hedland Detention Centre.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 96/99, undated but probably 12 June 1999

1999

A journalist with The Australian, who helps to transport a disgruntled Kosov ar family, the Salihu family, from Singleton safe haven to East Hills is criticised by Minister Ruddock for 'undermining the accommodation arrangements' in place for hundreds of Kosovars about to arrive in Australia. The disgruntled family say they want to remain at East Hills or return to Kosovo. As staying at East Hills is not an option, as people under the Kosovar safe haven operation 'do not have the right to pick and choose the accommodation provided to them', Minister Ruddock begins consultations with the UNHCR to arrange the family's repatriation. The seven members of the family are transported by the International Organisation for Migration back to their village in Kosovo, which has been declared a safe area.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 92/99, 17 May 1999, MPS 95/99, 18 June 1999 and MPS 97/99, 23 June 1999

1999

Over a period of less than two months, a total of 3919 Kosov ars are processed at the East Hills Centre, Sydney. Minister Ruddock refers to the Kosovar Safe Haven operation as 'the largest single humanitarian evacuation that Australia has ever undertaken', and praises the 'astounding' level of support from non-government organisations.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 101/99, 26 June 1999

1999

Following recommendations of the Prime Minister's Coastal Surveillance Task Force, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs increases its compliance officer presence at seven overseas posts (Shanghai, Guangzhou, New Delhi, Colombo, Nairobi, Pretoria and Ankara) and five key airports (Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Denpasar, Singapore and Dubai) in its efforts to curb people smuggling . The Department also continues to work closely with foreign governments. Half a million dollars are allocated to support strategies in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to detect, detain and remove people attempting to enter Australia illegal ly and a senior Departmental officer is seconded to Coastwatch .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 102/99, 27 June 1999

1999

On 29 June, Minister Ruddock reiterates that any Kosov ars in Australia under Operation Safe Haven are free to go home at any time, but as they were evacuated to Australia at the request of the UNHCR it is necessary for the Australian Government to consult with the UNHCR first. The UNHCR's priority is with the hundreds of thousands of people living in camps on the Kosovo borders. The Minister points out that some Kosovars have already returned home, with full assistance of the Australian Government. The Minister's comments are necessitated by media reports of a planned hunger strike by one of the evacuees in Tasmania.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 103/99, 29 June 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock rejects as 'totally unacceptable' the claim made in a report of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission that mandatory detention of illegal entrants contravenes Australia's international obligations. The Minister argues that the United Nations' Human Rights' Committee maintains that the detention of individuals seeking asylum does not per se breach Australia's obligations. Of 94 recommendations relating to conditions and the treatment of detainees in Perth, Port Hedland and Villawood , the Minister says he fully supports 35 and partially accepts 37.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 104/99, 29 June 1999

1999

The Senate passes the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1999 (known as the 'People Smuggling Bill'). Under this legislation, a new offence of knowingly organising the illegal entry of groups of five or more people carries a 20 year jail penalty and a fine of up to $220 000. The penalty for individual instances of people smuggling rises from two years to ten years' jail with a fine up to $110 000. Under the legislation, there is no time limit for instituting a prosecution for people trafficking offences.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 107/99, 30 June 1999

1999

Penalties on airlines that bring people to Australia without proper documentation are increased from $2000 to $3000. There is a significant increase in the number of unauthorised passengers travelling to Australia by air. In 19971998, about 1550 were refused entry but the figure for 19981999 exceeds 2000. Airlines have the option of minimising the risk of incurring such penalties by entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to implement the Advance Passenger Processing system. Under this system, passengers undergo immigration processing before their arrival in Australia. The system allows a passenger's status to be confirmed during check-in.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 106/99, 30 June 1999

1999

On 30 June, Minister Ruddock announces the Government's decision to allow the Kosovars brought to Australia under 'Operation Safe Haven ' to engage in paid or unpaid employment up to 20 hours a week. People who work for money, however, will not be entitled to the special allowance provided by the government. A $50 phone card is also to be provided to each family per month.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 105/99, 30 June 1999

1999

More than a dozen illegal immigrants, believed to be Sri Lankans , drown in rough seas on their way to Australia from Indonesia .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 108/99, 22 July 1999

1999

Following the UNHCR 's assessment that it is safe for Kosov ars to return home, the first charter flight of 294 Kosovars departs Sydney on 23 July. More than a hundred have already returned in small groups on Qantas commercial flights. The Kosovars' travel arrangements are organised by the International Organisation for Migration. The first charter flight is with Air Kampuchea and takes the 294 to Skopje in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 109/99, 23 July 1999

1999

A group of 34 Turkish illegal entrants is returned to Turkey on 31 July. The 34 men were victims of a people smuggling racket and paid up to $US8000 each to travel to Indonesia where they boarded fishing vessels bound for Ashmore Reef.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 112/99, 2 August 1999

1999

In 19981999, the Humanitarian Program resulted in 11 360 humanitarian places being granted: 9526 offshore and 1834 onshore. The 640 places not used are carried over to the 19992000 program. The largest single component of the offshore program is from the Former Republic of Yugoslav ia.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 117/99, 12 August 1999

1999

The 19981999 Migration (non-Humanitarian) Program results in the issue of 67 900 visas. More than half the outcome is in the Skill Stream (35 000 visas), with a notable increase in the Business Skills category (5360 in 19971998 to 6080 in 19981999). A total of 32 040 visas were issued in the Family Stream, with 84 per cent taken up by spouses, fiances and children of Australian citizens and permanent residents.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 116/99, 12 August 1999

1999

The Australian Government offers a 'Winter Reconstruction Allowance ' for Kosov ars who return to Kosovo before the advent of the European winter. The allowance provides $3000 for each adult and $500 for each child under the age of 18 who leave Australia by 30 October. The idea is to help the individuals re-establish their lives, restock businesses, buy seeds for farms, building materials and furniture.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 121/99, 24 August 1999

1999

People from Turkey who are in Australia temporarily and lawfully are invited to apply for extensions of stay, in light of a devastating earthquake in the north of their country.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 122/99, 26 August 1999

1999

An Australian delegation to Indonesia , led by Bill Farmer, Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, results in agreement between the two countries on a range of measures to combat people smuggling . The measures include: an extension of existing cooperation and coordination with Defence, Immigration, Police and Customs authorities; improving systems for the exchange of information and criminal intelligence; a range of technical cooperation issues to improve Indonesia's capacity to combat people smuggling; and arrangements for an education/media program to promote knowledge of the dangers and penalties involved in people trafficking. The Indonesian Justice Minister, Dr. Muladi, proposes a formal agreement to cover the work of all the agencies involved in the efforts to curb people trafficking. The Australian delegation comprises senior officers of the Department of Defence, Customs and Coastwatch , Ausaid and the Australian Federal Police.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 123/99, 27 August 1999

1999

A group of 85 Chinese from Fujian Province, who arrived in Australia illegal ly in late May and early June, is returned to China, bringing to 186 the number of illegal Chinese entrants removed from Port Hedland Detention Centre since mid-August. The Fujian group were expected to pay the racketeers about $36 000 for their trip to Australia. Minister Ruddock says that Australia is not a 'soft touch when it comes to unlawful arrivals'. A press statement released in China spells out Australia's position: people who attempt to enter Australia illegally are detained and, if they have no right to stay as refugees, are deported as soon as possible.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 126/99, 2 September 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock announces funding initiatives totalling $30.2 million over the next three years to assist migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants to settle in Australia. The funding is part of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs' Community Settlement Services Scheme .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 128/99, 3 September 1999

1999

The Impact of Migrants on the Commonwealth Budget report is released and indicates that, from their second year in Australia, the overall impact of people from the Migration and Humanitarian programs on the Commonwealth Budget is positive. The report attributes the positive impact to the Government's increased focus on the Skill Stream.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 129/99, 3 September 1999

1999

Nearly half of the 3921 Kosov ars in Australia under Operation Safe Haven have returned home by 9 September, and a further 700 request to return. Safe haven centres at Singleton, Puckapunyal and Hampstead are closed, leaving five still operational.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 131/99, 9 September 1999

1999

The independent inquiry into the return of a pregnant woman to China publishes its findings (known as 'the Ayers' Report'). The inquiry is established by Minister Ruddock in May, and headed by Mr. Tony Ayers AC. The inquiry into the case of a Chinese woman allegedly returned to China to face a forced abortion finds that the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs' actions were lawful and the woman's treatment in Australia was humane. The case is also among the terms of reference of the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee's inquiry into Australia's refugee and humanitarian program .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 134/99, 14 September 1999

1999

A total of 1450 East Timorese evacuated from the UN compound in Dili are given protection in Australia on three-month safe haven visas. The group follows the admission of 350 United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) staff and their families on the same 'safe haven' visas. The East Timorese UNAMET staff remain in Darwin under the responsibility of UNAMET but the other evacuees are transferred from Darwin to former Kosovar safe haven centres in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. The East Timorese evacuees have access to a range of services, including health care, food and education, trauma counselling, language services and a weekly allowance of $27 for adults and $10 for children. Minister Ruddock says that 'the successful formula used for the Kosov ars is being replicated for the East Timorese'.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 135/99, undated but probably 16 September 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock announces on 17 September that the East Hills safe haven centre in Sydney, currently holding 468 Kosov ars, many of whom will return home by the end of the month, will be used to accommodate some of the 1438 East Timorese recently evacuated to Darwin .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 137/99, 17 September 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock rejects calls for a formal population policy for Australia, made by the report, Australia's carrying capacity: one nation - two ecologies (known as the 'Jones Report').

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 138/99, 20 September 1999

1999

The Border Protection Legislation Amendment Bill is introduced to Parliament by Minister Ruddock . The Bill proposes to give officers of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Customs the power to enforce Australia's border strategies in international waters, unconstrained by the 12 mile rule. Other new powers proposed include the power to detain, forfeit, seize and dispose of ships and aircraft used in people smuggling operations.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 139/99, 23 September 1999

1999

The East Hills haven is closed to Kosov ars who can now only access support services at Bandiana and Portsea havens in Victoria and Brighton in Tasmania. Exception is made for Kosovars who are medically unfit to travel. Minister Ruddock reiterates that the Kosovars must leave Australia by the end of October, and repeats his offer of a $3000 winter reconstruction allowance for each who does so. The East Hills haven is needed for East Timorese evacuees, of whom there are now larger numbers than Kosovars.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 141/99, 29 September 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock announces new measures aimed at curbing the growing number of people arriving illegal ly in Australia. The measures to be introduced include: excluding unauthorised arrivals from accessing permanent residence by giving those granted refugee status a three-year temporary protection visa or a short-term safe haven visa; stopping people who have effective protection overseas from gaining onshore protection in Australia; and using biometric tests (such as fingerprinting and DNA testing) to help ascertain the identity of asylum seekers. The latter measure is directed at people who might already have protection elsewhere, or who have been refused refugee status overseas. The overall package is designed to stop so-called 'forum shopping', whereby individuals try to obtain residence as refugees in a country of preference rather than in the closest or more logical alternative. The proposed legislation will prevent unauthorised arrivals from obtaining permanent protection visas and associated benefits such as family reunion .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 143/99, 13 October 1999

1999

During its 20 years in operation, the Community Refugee Settlement Scheme has assisted nearly 60 000 humanitarian entrants.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 144/99, 15 October 1999

1999

On 22 October, Minister Ruddock announces an extension of stay by one month for those among the 450 Kosovars still in Australia who will remain beyond the end of October. The extension is made to allow individuals to complete medical treatment in Australia. All others who do not leave on the last charter flight, on 26 October, will not be eligible for the Winter Reconstruction Allowance , which ceases at the end of October, and will become unlawful non-citizens subject to detention and removal. The visa of one Kosovar who has breached his visa conditions is not extended.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 149/99, 22 October 1999

1999

Toward the end of October, Minister Ruddock writes to each of the remaining Kosovar families, indicating that he has extended their visas by a month, until the end of November, to enable them to 'set out in writing why they believe they should be allowed to stay longer in Australia'. The Minister expresses concern that some Kosovars who are in a position to return have accepted 'bad advice' and are choosing to remain. This does not apply to a small group who require ongoing medical treatment.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 151/99, 27 October 1999

1999

A big increase in the number of illegal boat arrivals is apparent in the first four months of the financial year (July-October) with 926 people arriving illegally on 28 boats. All the boats travelled from Indonesia . Increasing numbers arrive at Ashmore Reef, a small uninhabited Australian island about 400 kilometres off the north-west coast of Australia and two days by boat from Indonesia.

Minister for Immigrat ion and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 152/99, 27 October 1999

1999

Forty East Timorese on 'safe haven ' visas are repatriated to East Timor following a stabilisation of the situation there. Minister Ruddock says that 'The recent visit by Xanana Gusmao added extra incentive to their already strong resolve to get home'. (Gusmao is the leader of the East Timor Independence Movement).

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 154/99, 28 October 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock launches an overseas information campaign as part of the Government's strategy against illegal air and boat arrivals. The campaign distributes a range of publicity material throughout high risk people smuggling source countries (such as China, Iraq , Sri Lanka and Turkey ) and transit countries (such as Thai land, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea ). The material explains Australia's new penalties against people smugglers and explains how illegal entrants with no lawful claim to remain are detained and deported .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 154/99, 29 October 1999

1999

On 1 November 1999, a group of 352 boat people arrive at Ashmore Reef aboard an Indonesia n inter-island cargo vessel. It is the largest group of boat people to have ever arrived in Australia. Minister Ruddock says that 'on being located and informed of the penalties they faced for bringing people to Australia illegal ly, the crew sabotaged the engines and the passengers started throwing their passports overboard'. The Indonesian crew are detained and charged under the Migration Act and arrangements are made for the passengers to be transferred to the mainland and detained at Curtin Detention Centre .

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 155/99, 2 November 1999

1999

Minister Ruddock establishes an External Reference Group to advise the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs on Australia's effectiveness in combating people smuggling . The Reference Group includes former Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (19821983), John Hodges , former Chief of Air Force (19871992) Air Marshall Ray Funnell and former Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs (19901993), Gerry Hand . The Reference Group also looks into the reasons behind the sharp increase in unauthorised arrivals to Australia in 1999 and the increasingly sophisticated methods used by smugglers.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 156/99, 3 November 1999

1999

Cooperation with the People's Republic of China in the fight against people smuggling is strengthened following Minister Ruddock 's visit to the PRC and high-level meetings with authorities in Beijing and Fujian Province. Areas of cooperation include the interdiction of boats leaving for Australia without authority, the exchange of information, agreement on public information campaigns to inform the Chinese people about the risks of illegal travel, and continuing agreement on the return to China of people who do not engage Australia's protection obligations.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 162/99, 14 November 1999

1999

In the first two weeks of November, six boats carrying 717 unauthorised arrivals land in Australia. They comprise 513 Iraqis, 147 Afghanis and 57 other nationalities and 23 Indonesia n crew. Minister Ruddock urges the Opposition to support the passage of the Border Protection Bill , which allows Australian officials to interdict and board vessels in international waters, and to also support amendments to the Bill which are aimed at stopping 'forum shopping' (i.e. the practice whereby individuals try to obtain residence as refugees in a country of preference rather than in the closest or more logical alternative.) A few days later, two more unauthorised boats arrive. One, with 62 people, lands at Christmas Island . The other, with 35 unauthorised arrivals, arrives at Ashmore Reef.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 163/99, 14 November 1999 and MPS 164/99, 17 November 1999

1999

Between 1 July and 17 November, a total of 1671 people have arrived without authorisation on 35 boats . Minister Ruddock estimates that at that rate there will be more than 4000 unauthorised arrivals by the end of the financial year.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 164/99, 17 November 1999

1999

The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs' External Reference Group (to advise on Australia's effectiveness in combating people smuggling ) issues an interim report to Minister Ruddock . The Group endorses the action taken by the Government in response to unauthorised arrivals, such as increasing penalties against people smugglers, information campaigns in other countries and the introduction of an initial three year protection visa for unauthorised arrivals who meet refugee criteria.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 165/99, 21 November 1999

1999

More than 500 East Timorese , who have been in safe havencentres in Australia since September, volunteer to return to East Timor, following assessments by the UNHCR that it is safe to do so. The temporary safe haven visas issued to the East Timorese expire on 8 December.

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Media Release, MPS 172/99, 6 December 1999

Next page

Commonwealth of Australia
Chronologies are written for Members of Parliament, being located on the Internet they can be read by members of the public, however some linked items are available to Members of Parliament only, due to copyright reasons.


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