The federal government’s move to reduce the time that asylum seekers have to lodge protection visa applications is an affront to the principle of access to justice, NSW Young Lawyers have said.
In a statement released earlier this month, NSW Young Lawyers president Emily Ryan (pictured) decried the position taken by Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
In light of a federal decision to slash the lodgment times for protection visas, Ms Ryan said that thousands of vulnerable people are scrambling to make applications under a new Fast Track Assessment process for asylum seekers.
Some lawyers are claiming that their clients, who are seeking asylum in Australia, have been told that they must apply for a visa within 60 days or lose their right to seek asylum all together.
“There are simply not enough hours in the day and not enough funding to employ appropriately skilled people to provide the urgent and specialist legal assistance that is required to meet the new time frames,” Ms Ryan said.
“As a result of this policy change, thousands of people who have been waiting for legal assistance may now find that they are unable to access that assistance in the limited time allowed and face losing the right to seek asylum,” she said.
This year, NSW Young Lawyers chose the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) as its nominated charity.
Not three months into 2017 and RACS, the only community legal centre in New South Wales to offer free legal assistance to asylum seekers, has been flushed with clients concerned about the impact of the new visa deadline.
The new Fast Track process applies to approximately 11,000 people who have come to Australia by boat between August 2012 and 1 January 2014. According to NSW Young Lawyers, those clients affected are those who have not yet been in a position to lodge a visa application for temporary protection.
“While these people were permitted to apply for temporary protection in 2016, many were not able to do so immediately because they could not afford private legal representation,” Ms Ryan said.
Ms Ryan said that despite a deal struck with the department to allow clients on the RACS waiting list more time to lodge their applications, a number of people were still subject to the 60-day protection visa deadline.
“We have worked with RACS to assist their clients with temporary protection visa applications for the past six months, and we have seen an enormous number of volunteers who are willing to give up their time and expertise to offer assistance to people seeking asylum in Australia,” Ms Ryan said.
NSW Young Lawyers is asking those who wish to help fund the urgent delivery of free legal services to asylum seekers to visit the RACS' GiveNow website.