MEDIA RELEASE – SUNDAY 2 APRIL 2023
Church and community groups have gathered with refugees for the 2023 Palm Sunday Walk for Peace and Justice for Refugees. They say that Australia’s refugee policies still have a long way to go before people seeking safety in Australia are treated fairly. They are also concerned that the new AUKUS deal may be an unhelpful move for Australia to be involved in, adding to global tensions and the movement of people across borders if further conflicts erupt.
Anglican Archbishop of Perth, The Most Reverend Kay Goldsworthy AO said of Australia’s treatment of refugees that, “People are still suffering. Thousands of people are still stuck on temporary visas in Australia, often separated from their families with restrictions on their access to basic services. Some are still languishing in detention or in offshore processing and are becoming increasingly desperate.
“The Australian Government has made some very welcome steps in the right direction recently, but there are still significant changes to be made before Australia can be said to treat people who have sought our safety in a fair and humane manner.”
Last month, the Federal Government announced that they will create a permanent visa pathway for 19,000 refugees on a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV). The Palm Sunday event organisers say this was a very welcome move and a profound policy development in Australia’s recent history, but questions remain about those not included in the announcement.
Associate Professor Caroline Fleay, Co-Director of the Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University said there are over 10,000 people who have been refused protection through the unfair “Fast Track” processing system. “These people remain in limbo and are extremely distressed. After a decade or more in Australia, thousands of people seeking asylum will continue to be separated from their families due to unfair protection processes, simply because they arrived to Australia by boat.”
Betty McGeever, from Mosman Park attended the event with the Grandmothers for Refugees group, saying, “My neighbour has been on a temporary visa for ten years after fleeing Iran and only just found out that he is finally eligible for a permanent visa. This means the world to him – he is so immensely relieved, but what about the other 10,000 people still left waiting in uncertainty? It is such a cruel situation to be in and that is why we are walking in the Palm Sunday walk. We have to do what we can!”
Alison Xamon the General Manager of the Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees said it has been a period of unprecedented demand for their service, saying, “We are the service of last resort for our clients and we are really stretched trying to meet the needs of people who have run out of even basic supplies because of their visa situation. Many people on temporary bridging visas are not permitted to work, they can’t access Government supports and are left destitute while awaiting the outcome of their claim.
“For people who were waiting on the Government to announce access to permanency, only to find out that they are not eligible, despite in some circumstances having arrived from the same country, on the same boat as others who have received it, it is very demoralising.”
Organisers of the event also highlighted the need for a proactive approach to peacebuilding. Quaker and long-term peace activist Jo Vallentine spoke at the event saying, “People are increasingly anxious about global unrest that causes such devastation in places like Ukraine, Yemen, Syria and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Australia takes a paltry number of refugees from such conflict zones, with just 5,947 visas granted in 2020-21, the smallest it’s been in 45 years. Now we see the Federal Government committing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on nuclear-powered weaponry. It is a bizarre display of twisted priorities.
“We want the Australian Government to be making the world a safer place, not to be entering global power plays. The AUKUS arrangement only makes us more nervous. This is not the role for Australia. We want to be an agent of peace in the world, not a contributor to more polarisation and military build-up.”