For 19,000 refugees who have set up new lives in Australia, there is finally hope.
The Albanese Government has announced a path to permanency for people on temporary protection visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEV) who have spent years waiting in limbo.
Refugees on TPVs and SHEVs have had no healthcare or mental health support. There have been no realistic pathways for family reunion and kids were even restricted from accessing education opportunities.
Union members have protested this cruel and unfair system for years and the pathway to permanency is a big step in the right direction. However, there are still thousands of people who have missed out.
One step forward, one step back
Although 19,000 lives are about to change for the better, there are still 12,000 refugees who continue to be excluded from permanent visas. In various ways, they are victims of Australia’s hostile immigration policies:
- Around 6,000 people had their initial visa application refused. But those who are undergoing a review process of that rejection and are successful will be able to apply for a permanent visa.
- An additional 2,500 people had their TPV or SHEV cancelled or refused.
- Anyone who tried to reach Australia by boat after 1 January 2014 were excluded. This includes refugees who were transferred to Australia for medical treatment under the Medevac law.
Even though people on TPVs or SHEVs can now pursue a permanent visa, the government has not yet taken the step of fully abolishing temporary protection visas.
Award-winning author and refugee advocate Behrouz Boochani has called on the government to abolish visas that only provide temporary protection.
After fleeing Iran in 2013, Boochani was kept in detention on Christmas Island, then Manus Island, and finally Port Moresby. In 2020, New Zealand granted him refugee status.
Despite the horrific experiences of Boochani and other asylum seekers, offshore detention has continued. The same week that the Albanese Government opened up pathways to permanency, they also sunk $422 million to run the detention centre on Nauru for another three years.
Boochani remarked on political priorities in Australia.
“These politicians are talking about housing, but actually they’ve spent more than $14 billion in those islands [Manus and Nauru] and that money went to the pocket of security companies,” he said.
“And those people [have been] in Nauru for almost ten years.”
Refugee rights are union business
Union members have fought tirelessly to protect seeking asylum as a fundamental human right. Union members don’t just create fair workplaces, unions exist to create a fairer world too.
The Australian union movement has long advocated for a fair and humane refugee policy that upholds our international obligations, and gives people permanent protection so they can live in freedom in our community.
Everyone should be given a fair go. For the refugees who now have a pathway to permanency open to them, they can now earn a living and reunite with family.
There is still work to do and unions won’t be giving up the fight for refugee rights anytime soon.