by: Valerie Johnston

An October 1, 2017 deadline for more than seven thousand asylum seekers in Australia has been described by the executive director of the country’s Refugee Legal, David Manne, as “arbitrary, unnecessary and unfair.”

Announced on Sunday, May 21, 2017 by immigration minister Peter Dutton, this “immovable” deadline applies to asylum seekers in what is known as the legacy caseload. This is a group of more than 30k asylum seekers who reached Australia between the months of August 2012 and January 2014. Most have already applied for protection, but the 7k remaining have not yet made their applications, and this is due mostly to the fact that they were banned from doing so until October 2016.

Even when it became possible to do so, one source explains the process as “onerous and complex,” to the degree that “applicants have virtually no chance of navigating it without help from not-for-profit agencies that have had to prioritise the most urgent cases, find innovative ways to tackle the backlog and tell many they will have to wait for the assistance they need.”

The hesitation to file is what prompted Dutton to impose the deadline, publicly expressing his belief that those who have yet to file must be “fake refugees”. The documentation that asylum seekers must file is 41 pages in length, features more than 100 questions and usually takes between ten and fifteen hours to complete – with legal assistance. With government funding for asylum processing cut by 85%, it seems inevitable that delays should occur.

Scores of legal centres are offering free support, but most face tremendous waiting lists due to the time required for each application. The announcement on Sunday spurred a tremendous increase in volunteerism to support asylum seekers’ filing necessary documentation, but experts fear they just will be unable to handle the work in time.

Manne, when questioned about the matter said that “any attempt to deport a person for failing to lodge a protection application would be challenged in court”. Currently, the legacy caseload includes families with children as well as individuals with many from Iran, Rohingyas (an ethnic minority persecuted in Myanamar), Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.