The federal government stopped adding United Nations-approved refugees to its resettlement waiting list for four months last year, department documents reveal.
The October decision, taken when Scott Morrison was immigration minister, wasn’t made public although the government did tell the UN, documents obtained by AAP under freedom of information show.
“While the decision has been communicated to (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) headquarters, the minister has asked expressly that it not be made public and as a result should be treated with appropriate sensitivity,” an immigration department official wrote in an email when the pause was put in place.
Department documents indicated the halt on applications was expected to end on January 31.
Mr Morrison announced last November Australia would not take any more asylum seekers who had applied for resettlement through the UNHCR office in Indonesia after July 1, 2014.
At the time he said the processing ban didn’t extend to UNHCR applicants in other countries.
According to a talking points document the department prepared in November, the two matters were not linked.
It said there needed to be a pause on adding to the offshore humanitarian program waiting list, because it was already under significant pressure with 75,000 unfinalised applications – including from 50,000 people with relatives in Australia seeking family reunions.
“We have sufficient UNHCR referrals on hand to deliver all 6000 refugee places (under the offshore humanitarian program),” the department said.
Australia resettled a total of 13,750 refugees in 2014.
Recent violence in Iraq and Syria had led to high demand and there had also been an increase from Burmese and African applicants, the department said.
It maintained the pause did not affect the government’s commitment to granting 4400 resettlement places to Iraqis and Syrians in 2014 or plans to take a further 4500 Syrians over three years.
Comment has been sought from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and the UNHCR.