Asylum seekers in Australia pressured to return home 'voluntarily'
Vietnamese returnees would face 'ongoing repression' and huge debts
- Kesha West for ABC
- July 3, 2014
The head of Human Rights Watch in Australia is concerned about the increasing pressure being put on asylum seekers to voluntarily return home.
The Australian Government says the claims are baseless.
Vietnamese detainees are the second largest group in Australia's immigration detention facilities - there are almost 600, according to the latest figures from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Refugee advocate Trung Doan says most are fleeing religious and political persecution.
"There's ongoing repression," he said.
"If you try to organise a group of people into an NGO or you speak up about corruption or the lack of democracy, then you are visited by the police and you may be thrown in jail."
He says hundreds of Vietnamese are waiting in Australia's detention facilities to lodge asylum applications, and some have been waiting for years.
"They are constantly told by immigration officials that you're not welcome here, that you have no chance of staying in Australia, if you stay then you will spend your lives in camps like this, you won't be out there," he said.
Allegations have emerged that while they wait to lodge applications, many detainees are being put under pressure from immigration officials to voluntarily return home.
'All voluntary returns are voluntary'
The ABC spoke to one Vietnamese asylum seeker, 'John', held in Western Australia, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.
"They said 'if you want to return home any time, they're willing to help'," he said.
"They repeated that like mental torture for us."
"They said 'the waiting time is still very long', 'they're not sure when you would get the result - it could be 1, 2, 3 or 5 years, or could be that you get rejected'."
'John' paid $8,000 to people smugglers to get to Australia - a huge debt by Vietnamese standards.
He says he and his fellow detainees were offered just over $3,000 to voluntarily return to the countries they fled, an offer many feel compelled to take up.
"Their family will suffer because they had borrowed money from the bank for the escape," he said.