AUSTRALIA is using video conferencing to help screen refugees in world trouble spots after adopting the method in Syria. The ongoing Syrian conflict disrupted Australia’s ability to process refugee applications from that country, which has the region’s largest population of Iraqi refugees, the immigration department’s 2011-2012 annual report says. But the department was able to resume the work after introducing video conferencing with the help of UNHCR in Damascus.
“This allowed Australia to continue the resettlement of refugees in Syria during the year when other countries were unable to do so,” says the report. The department says video conferencing is now being trialled in other locations where there are accessibility or security issues.
The report says the greatest challenge to the department’s offshore program during the year was the “very high demands” of the humanitarian program from asylum seekers on boats, refugee applications and people seeking to reunite with families under the special humanitarian program (SHP).
“The SHP was under particular pressure with around 20,000 unfinalised applications, 15,000 of which were for immediate family members,” the report says.
There were so many refugees that only 714 people were granted SHP places in 2011-12, the report says.
In 2011-12, 13,759 humanitarian program visas were granted.