Church and community leaders have today joined refugees outside St George’s Cathedral in the centre of Perth to call for a reset of Australia’s refugee policies. The group gathered in front of a visual display of cut-out figures representing the more than 1600 refugees and people seeking asylum in Western Australia who remain stuck on temporary visas or in detention.
The group was celebrating the release of two refugees from the Perth Immigration Detention Centre this week. The two Iranian refugees had been in locked detention after being “medevaced” from Manus Island in 2019.
The Government’s decision to release “medevaced” refugees follows another recent announcement by the Federal Government to create an extra allocation of humanitarian visas for people fleeing Afghanistan and Ukraine.
“Our hope is that the Australian Government’s latest move to release more refugees into the community and to provide more humanitarian visas to people escaping Afghanistan and Ukraine is a sign that it will now move away from its current harsh stance against the 30,000 people who are already in Australia, having fled for safety by sea,” said the Anglican Archbishop of Perth, The Most Reverend Kay Goldsworthy AO.
“It has become clear to the entire world that when people flee for their lives from situations of conflict and oppression, desperation dictates the means of escape. As we have seen in Afghanistan and now in Ukraine, official processes and systems break down in a crisis and can even be used against the most vulnerable.
“It is up to the rest of the world to adapt with compassion to such humanitarian crises. Those most impacted by the crisis should not have to jump through endless hoops in their quest for safety, security and freedom.”
Nader Hosseini is a tiler in the Perth building industry and a refugee from the Hazara ethnic minority in Afghanistan. He said people in his situation were in increasing despair, saying, “We have fled the Taliban nearly 10 years ago and yet we still cannot be with our families. I have my four children still in danger. The Australian government has agreed that I am a refugee, but they won’t allow me to bring my family here.”
Mr Hosseini is one of approximately 20,000 refugees living, working and paying tax in Australia who remain stuck on an endless loop of temporary visas. There are a further 11,000 people on bridging visas still awaiting the outcome of their asylum claims, as well as a smaller number who remain in detention facilities around Australia or are being processed offshore in Papua New Guinea or Nauru. Two weeks ago, Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews announced that Australia will now accept New Zealand’s offer, first made in 2013, to take 150 people per year for the next three years.
Unfortunately, for Mr Hosseini and the vast majority of the more than 30,000 people who arrived by boat up to 10 years ago, they will be ineligible for the scheme and will remain in limbo.
Abdullah Shahabi is also a refugee from Afghanistan living in Perth on a temporary visa. He says that people are beyond desperate, saying, “It is extremely hard for people to remain positive when they can’t see hope for a better future.”
Mr Shahabi fled Afghanistan to seek asylum in Australia in 2012. He waited five years for his refugee claim to be processed, and was then granted a five year Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV). This temporary visa makes it very difficult for him to expand his business.
“I am a painter. I have my own business and I hire other people. I started the business around one year ago. I cannot get a bank loan to improve my business. If I want to buy equipment or a car for my business, I have to pay cash.
“Being on a temporary visa has also affected my mental health. Not being able to see my family, or bring them here, makes me very sad. And now there is the terrible situation in Afghanistan. It is so hard to concentrate and I find it difficult to talk to people.”
Susy Thomas, Moderator of the Uniting Church Western Australia agreed saying that, “It is cruel to continually steal people’s hope. There is no justification to deprive people their freedom and families after nearly 10 years. “With a federal election coming up we would like to invite our political leaders to reset the overly harsh policies that continue to impact people who have been here for close to 10 years now.”
Alison Xamon, General Manager of the Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD) said she was pleased to see the release of “medevaced” refugees from places like the Park Hotel in Melbourne and the Perth Immigration Detention Centre but was also concerned about the increasing demands on their service saying, “We are delighted for the two gentlemen who have been released in Perth and for all who are no longer locked up across the country. This is long overdue and CARAD is ready and willing to assist these men to adapt to life in the Perth community after nearly 10 years in some form of detention.
“At the same time we are conscious of the significant increase in need among our client community. We will continue to do what we can to adapt and we are grateful for our volunteers and the community donations we receive to assist us, but the reality is that there continues to be drastic cuts to the Department of Home Affairs’ (DHA) Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) program. In WA, out of the thousands of people seeking asylum living in our community, only 78 people remain eligible to receive just $36 per day from Centrelink (through the SRSS program). All of the other people seeking asylum are completely ineligible for any form of Centrelink.
“The federal government must stop deliberately forcing people seeking asylum to live in the community with no financial support while they take years to process asylum claims.”
Associate Professor Caroline Fleay, Co-Director of the Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University said there is a growing awareness that refugees like Mr Hosseini and Mr Shahabi and their families should be treated fairly. “It doesn’t make any sense to deny refugees their human rights. After 10 years, people need to be able to settle alongside their families. And there is research that shows there is an economic benefit to local communities if refugees like Nader and Abdullah, who are filling much-needed labour shortages, are allowed to bring their families here and are permitted to fully invest in their local communities.”
To highlight the difficulties facing refugees on temporary visas in Western Australia, Mr Hosseini and Mr Shahabi have worked with supporters to launch an awareness campaign called We All Need Our Families. Their stories, along with a number of others can be found at www.weallneedourfamilies.com