Eighteen Sri Lanken men, masquerading as genuine refugees, flew home yesterday by chartered jet, courtesy of the Australian government. When they arrived by boat on Christmas Island, they told authorities they were fleeing persecution in their homeland but when they discovered they were going to Nauru, they changed their minds. It was better to go home rather than spend years on a hot, tiny island in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a visa that may not be granted.
It's the first break Chris Bowen has had since Kevin Rudd decided to scrap the Howard government's policy that stopped the boats because he thought it was too harsh. The Minister is hoping that the new laws recently introduced will put the organized crime syndicate of people smugglers out of business. As a further deterrent, he will ban all people arriving by boat from bringing out multiple family members on reunion visas without first proving that they too are eligible for refugee status.
"Until now, the offshore spouse, dependent children and in some cases parents of refugees in Australia could be granted a visa, solely on the basis of that relationship" the Minister said. "This created a situation where the head of the family would arrive here alone, apply for asylum and then bring out members of his family as humanitarian migrants."
With no room left at on-shore detention centres, asylum seekers are being housed in private homes and motels across the country. With the situation now worse than dire, the Minister will offer 'go home grants' of cash or equipment to get others to leave voluntarily.
It was done before when John Howard was PM but this time, Chris Bowen will pay the International Organization for Migration to organize tailor-made packages including goods, training and cash grants up to $2500. "If they are farmers we say, how about we give you farming equipment - we've bought people motorbikes so they can start a courier business."
Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said "Labor's announcement on family reunion is a con, all they're doing is asking them to fill out a different form, line up in a different queue and pay an application fee. At the end of the day, as permanent visa holders, they'll still have access to family reunion. It's another half-hearted response by Labor, rather than restore TPVs that deny completely any access to family reunion."