The Australian government has completed a comprehensive review of the cases of dozens of immigration detainees, some of whom have been in custody for up to six years. More than 30 asylum seekers will be allowed to stay in the country as a result. The immigration minister promises to overhaul the system to make it more accountable. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Australia has reviewed the cases of all immigration detainees who have been held for more than two years - 72 cases involving individuals from 22 countries.
The government wants to speed up the processing of asylum seekers and weed out those whose claims are not considered genuine. Twenty four people are being deported as a result of the review.
Thirty one will receive protection visas. Although officials have released few details, some are Chinese followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement who fear persecution if they return to China, where the organization is banned.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans has the final say in these cases, a situation he wants to change.
"I'm trying to reform the system as quickly as I can. I don't think that the minister ought to have as much power in the system as I do have. I don't think it's transparent enough. I don't think it's accountable enough. I think that's evidenced by the fact that the former government just let these people rot in long-term detention without resolving their cases. But it's going to require legislative change and so it won't happen overnight," Evans said.
The review has not resolved the fate of 17 long-term detainees. Their cases will again be assessed. Some remain in custody, while the rest will be allowed to live in the community.
Immigration activists criticize the decision to expel some of the long-term detainees. They say the deportations are not part of a compassionate immigration policy.
Australia's system of automatically detaining asylum seekers who enter the country illegally has been softened in recent years. Children are no longer routinely held and a controversial offshore processing center on the Pacific island of Nauru closed earlier this year.
Nevertheless, most illegal entrants are detained while their asylum claims are processed. Some can spend several years behind bars as their cases go through the appeals system.
Recent figures show that more than 4,500 people are held in Australian detention centers, most of them from Indonesia, Malaysia, China and the Philippines.
The government considers its tough stance on illegal immigrants a vital part of national security efforts.
The country annually accepts about 13,000 refugees who enter under official humanitarian programs.