The average processing time of asylum seekers has reached its shocking peak under the Turnbull Government. The Canberra Times reports that recent statistics from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection indicate a spike in waiting times last year, peaking at 446 days in November, before finishing the year on 445 days.
It was also reported by the ABC that nearly a quarter of detained asylum seekers had been in detention for more than 750 days. That is slightly over two years.
As it stands, more than 3,200 people remain in detention centres both on and offshore, nearly 150 of them children, according to the Australian. The ABC reports that only roughly a quarter of them came to Australia by boat.
This is a figure that has been steadily increasing over the past six months, and is almost twice that of the lowest average waiting time, recorded at 72 days during the Gillard/Rudd Government of July 2013.
Both the Opposition and the Greens have criticised the Federal Government for allowing the extended processing times. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, while he supports regional processing, has described the increase as “unacceptable.”
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, also openly critical of the increasing processing times, said that the Greens are continuing to encourage legislative change to put a maximum on processing time.
However, the Federal Government retorted on Wednesday that the increased wait times were inherited from the previous Labor Government. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton released a statement saying that “it will take years to clean up this mess and Labor wiping their hands of a problem they created demonstrates they are not fit for government.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously expressed a decidedly gentler approach to asylum seekers than his predecessor Tony Abbott. In February 2015 he declined to support the PM in his disapproval on the Human Rights Commission report on children in detention.
“The main point is the children,” said Mr Turbull at the time. “Children in detention is something nobody wants.”
Turnbull indicated similar sentiments shortly after his leadership victory in September of last year, in which he claimed to “have the same concerns about the situation of people on Manus and Nauru … as I think most Australians do.”
Disappointingly for human rights activists and some Turnbull supporters, the Prime Minister is yet to act on the views that he has previously expressed. Young children remain in detention indefinitely – in spite evidence that prolonged detention puts asylum seekers at serious risk of mental harm- and the media and human rights organisations remained barred from Nauru and Manus Island.
Fairfax has shared a UN Refugee Agency video, which aims to differentiate between a refugee and asylum seeker – echoing the concerns of human rights activists and many Australians.