The Pacific centres on Nauru and Manus Island are under pressure from the numbers of people arriving there so the government decided to place more asylum seekers on to the mainland.
Bruce Hill talked to Michael Raper, Director of Services and International Operations for the Red Cross.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
RAPER: Yes, there's many aspects to this role. First of all, we monitor everything that goes on in Immigration Detention Centres throughout Australia, including Christmas Island. We recently made a visit to Nauru as well to inspect there and to see whether we would be able to maintain a regular presence there, so that's the first thing monitoring. And the second thing we do then is once people are brought out of immigration detention, which we encourage the government to do, we then run a community detention program so that government puts them into stated addresses throughout Australia, we look after those people, we don't monitor the detention, but we look after them and we look after people on bridging visas, placing them into the community as well and there are some thousands of those.
HILL: Right, so what are you concerned about this decision to release more people into the community in this way?
RAPER: Well obviously, it's a very good decision in so far as it takes people out of immigration detention, which in itself is harmful, harmful to health and wellbeing and this is far better in that sense. But the fact that people will be in the community for an indefinite period and without work rights, both of those aspects worry us enormously. It's deeply problematic, we think, that people will be in the community, perhaps even processed and proven to be refugees deserving of a protection visa and yet be kept indefinitely in that period of limbo without knowing where they stand and without work rights for long periods of time is very harmful to health and wellbeing.
HILL: The government says that it's key priority when dealing with this whole issue is to try and stop the boats coming, stop the people smugglers, break their whole business mould and stop desperate people being taken advantage of and embarking on this very dangerous crossing to stop people drowning at sea, as we heard the Immigration Minister say yesterday.
HILL: If people are given these visas and are perhaps as you say allowed to work, doesn't it make it more attractive for people to come to Australia and sort of stop the government's goal of trying to make it not an attractive proposition to do this?
RAPER: Look, I understand the government's positioning of this as a deterrent and making things more harsh in order to try and deter people and we share, of course, the concerns about safety at sea. We know, therefore, that the longer term solution that the government and Opposition and all parties should be working on is a regional solution that provides care for people that are seeking asylum, proper timely processing and settlement options give people some degree of certainty. But, nevertheless, when people arrive in Australia, the humanitarian imperative is that we provide timely processing of their claims for asylum and if they are genuine, if they are refugees, if they are in need of a protection visa, then they should be given the options of coming straight into our community and not detained in limbo and have that agony and uncertainty of so many, many years already prolonged in an indefinite period whilst they're in Australia, having already been proven to be refugees.
HILL: Why does it often take so long, in many cases years to determine their status. That seems to be the crux of the problem there. They're not getting told very quickly what's going to happen to them?
RAPER: Well, the problem is that they can in fact be processed much sooner and indeed currently, currently, people on bridging visas are in a period of being processed for a number of months and whilst you can live on a very low income perhaps, and whilst you can live in hope and suspend all other things that, all the things that you can't actually have access to because you're on a very low income. You can do that for a couple of months, you can bunk down with other people, you can live in communities, you can couch surf and you can share and these are modest living circumstances that these people on bridging visas seeking asylum are living under. But you can't do that for three and four and five years. And so our concern is that these people can be processed in months, but the government is choosing either not to process them or having processed them, to leave them on a bridging visa nevertheless and not to give them their protection visa, even though they are owed that protection visa.
HILL: If, as you're suggesting, they be allowed to work while they're here as well. Couldn't it be the case that many of them will simply vanish from the system, go underground, and perhaps create something of an undocumented underclass?
RAPER: Well, the evidence doesn't support that proposition. There are many people on bridging visas in Australia today who arrived by plane, and or, those people who have as so-called irregular maritime arrivals and are on bridging visas in the community at present and do have work rights. Those people do not disappear, those people are having their claims processed and the evidence is there is no likelihood of them disappearing and becoming undocumented citizens. There is a risk, of course, that without work rights, they will, without any ability to seek work at least, which in and of itself is beneficial. Many of them don't get work, but the fact of being able to seek it is very important and not being able to seek it is detrimental to the general health, mental and physical and all round wellbeing, so it's very important, in our view that people have that right and that we encourage and support them in being able to seek work, given particularly, that such a high percentage of people, particularly those arriving by boat actually do have a genuine claim and that is proven within months under the current regime. So they should be allowed to have their protection visa and to work and in the meantime, to work as well. Why delay, why defer, when this is a fairly inevitable outcome anyway.