The process of gaining asylum in Australia is being routinely defrauded by applicants from China, according to a former Australian immigration officer. Chinese and Australian officials are allegedly implicated in the fraudulent scheme.
Last year, more than 6,000 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by plane. The largest group came from China, with smaller numbers flying in from India and other Southeast Asian nations.
Most Chinese asylum seekers enter Australia on student or tourist visas and then apply for refugee status.
Patricia Cruise worked as an immigration officer reviewing asylum claims for eight years. She says applicants from China routinely defraud the process with help from disreputable migration agents who give them fake stories to learn and false documents to sign.
"I think it undermines people's faith in the system, really," she said. "We have on one hand the boats arriving, the majority of the people on the boats are found to be genuine refugees. But the ones who arrive by plane on a valid visa, frequently based on false information, fake documents. The service of false and fake official documents is openly advertised in Chinese cities and it is not hard to find in Sydney as well."
Chinese asylum seekers are allegedly told by migration agents to pose as members of the banned Falun Gong movement or outlawed Christian groups to convince Australian authorities to allow them to stay.
John Deller of the Falun Gong Association of New South Wales believes the system is being widely abused.
"There are a lot of people who we do not know who appear and stand in front of banners and take photographs. ... I mean previously we have heard migration agents have said, 'Oh go and get a letter from the Falun Dafa [also called Falun Gong] association, that will help you get protection," he said.
Australia's bureau of immigration has not responded to the allegations, but said in a statement that each refugee case is assessed on its merits.
While much of the political debate in Australia has focused on unauthorized arrivals by sea from Indonesia, the major parties have said very little about those who come by plane and seek asylum.
Australia grants visas to about 13,000 refugees each year under various international treaties.
About 90,000 Chinese expatriates are studying in Australia, although numbers have fallen in the past year because of the high Australian dollar and stricter immigration policies.