$57m Bill for Asylum Seekers

Sunday Mail (Adelaide, Australia), Jan. 9

AUSTRALIA billed failed asylum-seekers and other deportees more than $57 million last year but recovered just $359,000.

Figures for the past three financial years show a fraction of the amounts billed has been paid.

Overstayers and those who breach visa conditions by working illegally are the biggest culprits. Failed asylum-seekers make up a small part of overall detention and removal costs.

“We have many debtors that are removed and, once removed, the prospect of recovering any money is negligible,” a Department of Immigration spokeswoman said.

The department last financial year sent bills for $57,223,000.

The previous year, $30.2 million was billed and $230,000 paid. In the 2001-02 financial year, $26.8 million was billed and only $102,000 repaid.

The figures cover detention costs, air fares, escorts and other removal costs but do not include legal fees.

People who fail to pay their bills cannot apply to return to Australia for 12 months.

Marion Le, president of the Independent Council for Refugee Advocacy, said the billing system was a smoke and mirrors policy.

“Most people are never going to want to come again anyway, so it’s all academic,” she said.

Ms Le said it was unfair to bill failed asylum seekers when the Government spent so long assessing their cases.

The Bakhtiyari family, which was returned to Pakistan late last month, was sent a bill for more than $1 million to cover detention costs, but the cost to taxpayers exceeded $3 million.

Detainees who are later granted humanitarian visas are not billed, and people offered reintegration packages to voluntarily return home have their debts waived.

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