Additional Afghan refugee resettlement and sustained spending on immigration detention feature in Australia’s 2022-23 federal budget, introduced to parliament on 29 March.
The Australian government will provide an additional 16,500 places for Afghan refugees through the humanitarian program over the next four years, to 2025-26. The Immigration Minister described these 16,500 places as functioning ‘in conjunction with previous announcements’ – including places for 10,000 refugees and 5,000 migrants from Afghanistan, as announced in January – to raise the total number of places provided for Afghan nationals over four years to 31,500.
Adrian Edwards, the Regional Representative for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has welcomed the announcement, saying that ‘UNHCR looks forward to a return to Australia’s previous more ambitious resettlement targets to address the pressing needs globally’. The Refugee Council of Australia has also welcomed the news, stating that while diaspora and civil society groups in Australia have been calling on the government to provide a special intake of at least 20,000 places for Afghan refugees, the places announced in the budget ‘will provide hope and safety to some of the Afghan nationals most at risk’.
As the Afghanistan-Australian Advocacy Network has pointed out, since the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021, ‘the Australian Government has received more than 32,500 applications for the Humanitarian program from Afghan nationals, on behalf of more than 145,000 individuals’. The Network has called for the government to expedite these existing applications.
Over the four years, the new places for Afghan refugees will increase Australia’s refugee and humanitarian intake to a ceiling of 17,875 places annually, which the Refugee Council has said ‘will create greater room for the resettlement of refugees displaced by persecution in other countries’. This increase will not, however, restore the annual humanitarian program to pre-pandemic levels of 18,750 places per year and the core program will remain capped at a ceiling of 13,750 places for 2022-23 and over the forward estimates.
As previously announced, the Australian government is making available a three-year Temporary Humanitarian Concern Visa (subclass 786) across this year and next, open to Ukrainians who reach Australia on temporary visas. On this subclass 786 visa, Ukrainians can work, study, and access Medicare. On 20 March 2022 the government announced that some 5,000 ‘mostly temporary’ visas (such as tourist visas) had been issued to Ukrainians since 23 February 2022. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said these visa-holders will 'have the opportunity and be invited to apply for other, longer-term visas, should they wish to do so'.
The budget also provided some $500,000 for a Ukrainian Community and Settlement Support Program, ‘additional support’ to those Ukrainians who have fled their country and arrived in Australia.
Support for refugees and asylum seekers In Australia
According to the Refugee Council, funding for settlement services has decreased to $522 million in 2022-23, down from $605 million last year. The Minister for Immigration has announced $9.2 million to extend a Youth Transition Support scheme that helps young refugees and vulnerable migrants into employment, education and community sporting activities.
A total of $17.8 million has been allocated over two years to assist multicultural communities to access mental health services, including an additional $10 million for the Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma.
Funding for the Status Resolution Support Service program – through which individuals can access ‘temporary needs-based support’ while they seek to resolve their immigration status – is set at $36.9 million, roughly similar to the previous year.
Detention, Offshore Processing and Operation Sovereign Borders
Once again the Home Affairs budget for ‘onshore compliance and detention’ is set at more than $1.2 billion for the coming year, similar to 2021. Over the forward estimates, this cost is set to decrease slightly to just over $1 billion annually through to 2025-26. The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, which has been designated by the government to monitor conditions in immigration detention under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, has seen its funding cut over four years, from $47.7 million in 2022-23 to $41.9 million in 2025-26.
The budget item ‘IMA Offshore Management’ includes funds to support ‘regional processing and settlement countries (partner countries) to… manage regional processing and settlement arrangements’. The total expenditure in 2022-23 is set at more than $482 million, with annual costs decreasing over the forward estimates. Final expenditure for 2021-22 is listed as $957 million, up from a projected $812 million. As noted in previous Kaldor Centre budget analyses, each year the actual expenditure on offshore processing proves to be far higher than the cost originally budgeted, and this has led the Refugee Council to label the 2021-22 expenditure a budget ‘blowout’.
The ‘sustainment’ of Operation Sovereign Borders, the Australian government’s multi-agency military-led ‘border security operation’, is budgeted at $136.7 million in 2022-23 for activities that include maritime surveillance and replacing vessels that have capacity for ‘on water hold, intercept and transfer effects’. The Defence portfolio supports the Department of Home Affairs in the ‘planning and conduct of operations to provide security of Australia’s maritime borders from unauthorised maritime arrivals’ (among other things), and these activities are budgeted at just over $74 million, down from $317 million expenditure in 2021-22.