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Bridging visas are a more humane way to treat people seeking protection (2011 Media Release)

Asylum Asylum Seekers and Refugees

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed today's announcement that bridging visas will be granted to an initial group of asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat.

This will allow them to live in the community while their refugee claims are finalised.

"The Commission has said for some time that asylum seekers who arrive by boat should be treated the same way as those who arrive by plane, and that they should be given bridging visas instead of being held in detention for long periods," Commission President Catherine Branson QC said today.

"We are pleased to see the government acting on this recommendation. We hope to see as many people as possible granted bridging visas and removed from detention as quickly as possible."

Ms Branson welcomed the government's intention to make greater use of community-based alternatives such as bridging visas and community detention.

She said this had the potential to address the current problem that thousands of asylum seekers and refugees have been held in immigration detention facilities around Australia for long periods of time.

"There is no need for people to be held in detention facilities while their refugee claims are assessed," she said.

"Using bridging visas is an effective alternative that is much more humane and cheaper than holding people in remote detention facilities for months or years at a time.

The Commission also welcomed the Minister's announcement that the government will move towards using a single system for assessing people's refugee claims.

"We've been opposed for a long time to the current situation where asylum seekers go through different processing systems depending on how they arrive in Australia," Ms Branson said.

"Giving all asylum seekers access to the same refugee status determination process should lead to a fairer, more efficient and more cost-effective system. We hope this will be implemented as quickly as possible and we look forward to receiving more details from the government about its plans."

However, Ms Branson said she was disappointed that the government was retaining the excision regime, meaning that asylum seekers that arrived by boat would only be granted access to the onshore processing system at the discretion of the Minister of the day.

"We have repeatedly recommended that the government abolish the excision regime under the Migration Act," she said.

"All asylum seekers who arrive in Australia should have automatic access to the same system for assessing their refugee claims."

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Media contact: Louise McDermott on (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597