Ordeal of Being an Asylum Seeker in Australia

May 12, 2014 |

 Asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia by boat have been in a dilemma since the coalition government has taken over power last September. Immigration minister, Scott Morrison, has frequently been introducing new rules and regulations to deter asylum seekers intending to take refuge in Australia after fleeing persecution in their native countries. He is not willing to grant permanent protection even to those asylum seekers who have already been declared refugees and fulfilled the prerequisites to be a resident.

 

Manus-Australian-GuantanmoBay

Manus Island: Australia’s Guantanamo  (Source: ABC Australia)

 

Coalition’s immigration policy has not only been described as inhumane and cruel by United Nations but also by its own sitting minister who had admitted it to be ruthless. This hard-lined policy has subjected thousands of asylum seekers to a great stress and frustration. Losing their hope from Australian government, they are now looking towards the international community and United Nations High Commission for Refugees to help them out.

 

The asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat can be divided into three groups. Firstly, those who arrived before August 13, 2012 and are now permanent residents. Secondly, those who arrived before August 13, 2012 but have not yet been granted protection visas. This group can further be divided into two sub-groups:

a) Those who have recently been refused protection visas by the immigration minister under a new rule (Clause 866.222 of Migration Regulations Act 1994) which declared arrivals by boat without visa as being ineligible for permanent protection visas. Some of them were instead offered temporary humanitarian concern visa lasting for a maximum period of three years.

b) Those who are still awaiting final decisions on their cases. Most of them are declared refugees. They are being dragged on for the last couple of years as their security checks have not yet been completed. There is another group of about fifty asylum seekers who are all declared refugees but have been languishing in detention for several years with no prospect of being released due to negative security assessment. Australian government even defied the United Nations order to release them and make up for the period they were kept in detention.

 Third and last group comprise those who arrived after August 13, 2012 when the Labour government introduced offshore processing plan. This group can also be divided into two sub-groups:

a) Those who have been shifted to offshore detention facilities in Nauru and Manus Island

b) Those who are either in onshore detention centres or have been released into community. Interestingly, there was no criterion as to who to be sent to offshore detention centres and who to be kept in onshore facility or be released into community. It was the sole discretion of the immigration authorities and just a matter of luck for asylum seekers.

Each of the above groups has their own problems. The first group is facing the problem of family reunion as the immigration minister has directed the immigration staff to place their family sponsorship visa applications at the lowest priority  just because they had entered Australia by boat without visas. The decision is going to badly affect both the refugees and their families particularly children. Nobody, but only Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison will be responsible for any mental, physical or psychological damages inflicted upon these refugees and their families in this way. This is one of the worst and cruellest decision of its kind which has rare precedent in civilized human societies.

 

The second group were declared refugees by the former Labour government. They were denied permanent protection last February on the basis of the new clause introduced in Australian Migration Act 1994 by immigration minister after completion of their security check. Fate of these asylum seekers are yet to be decided. Following rejection of the clause by the Australian senate, they are now entitled for being granted permanent protection visas which were capped by the immigration minister on March 4, 2014. All these refugees have now pinned their hopes on Australian High Court’s judgment regarding freeze of permanent protection visas likely to be announced on May 14. However, the immigration minister may probably block their way again to get permanent residency by working out any other tactic.

The other sub-group in this category is facing the problem of lengthy security check which is being carried out for years. They are all declared refugees. However, it is most likely that they would also be denied permanent protection visas once their security checks are over.

 

The third group of asylum seekers is the worst affectees in the sense that they do not have the work permit which has made their life quite miserable. The government has also withdrawn the provision of free legal aid to them to lodge protection claims and seek legal counselling. The processing of their claims have not yet been launched even after a lapse of almost two years. Some of these asylum seekers are in detention centres within Australia and some have been released into community on bridging visas, a number of which has already been expired. However, a few of these asylum seekers who were shifted to Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island have recently undergone initial processing and about half of them were identified as refugees last week.

The government is planning to cope with them after June 2014 when it will be in a position in the Senate to pass legislation regarding reintroduction of temporary protection visas (TPVs). It is worth mentioning here that the opposition Labour Party and the Greens had foiled the coalition’s first attempt to introduce TPV by voting it down in senate last December following which the government went for the option of temporary humanitarian concern visa.

The total number of these asylum seekers whose fate is yet to be decided by the immigration minister is 32000. Abbott government has not only subjected these asylum seekers to an immense mental and psychological strain, but also their families back at their native countries due to its harsh immigration policy. Given the situation in their homelands forcing them to flee, the Australian government needs to be compassionate instead of being cruel to these asylum seekers. The coalition must bear it in mind that these asylum seekers have not risked their lives to reach Australia with the intention to get back to their home countries, but to live in Australia forever and make it their home. They must be given an opportunity to integrate in Australian society instead of being treated as untouchables so that they could play the best of their roles in the development of this country.

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Haider Ali

The writer is a Human Rights activist in Australia and can be contacted at: haiderali.aus@gmail.com