Refugees to be given the right to travel overseas

Refugees to be given the right to travel overseas

More than 19,000 refugees who have been separated from their families for a decade will be allowed to travel overseas to see them, ending “great and enduring uncertainty”, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles will announce on Saturday.

The government will also amend a ministerial direction that put people who had arrived in Australia by boat before July 19, 2013, on the lowest priority rung for family reunion visas.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles.Credit:Eamon Gallagher

The policy applies to people who arrived by boat who have been found to be refugees and who are in Australia on temporary protection visas (TPVs) or safe-haven enterprise visas (SHEVs).

Labor went to the election promising to convert more than 19,000 TPV and SHEV holders to permanent protection visas.

Giles said the changes to the ministerial direction, which was introduced by former immigration minister David Coleman in 2018, were “an initial step” in this process.

“The government is improving the family reunion pathways for these permanent visa holders, many of whom have been separated from family for over a decade, exacerbating mental health issues and imposing great and enduring uncertainty on their lives,” Giles said.

“I spend a lot of time engaging with TPV and SHEV holders, their legal representatives and advocates, and I do understand the frustration they feel. But I say to them, we are determined, obviously, to keep every promise we made at the last election and this is a very important promise. We’re also determined to get it right.”

Thousands of people who arrived by boat after July 19, 2013 – when former prime minister Kevin Rudd declared that no one who arrived by boat would ever settle in Australia, effective that day – will be locked out of the changes.

More than 11,000 refugees and asylum seekers find themselves in this category, including hundreds of people rushed to Australia from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for emergency medical treatment under the former medical evacuation law, dubbed the Medevac Bill.

Medevac refugee Mostafa “Moz” Azimitabar met Giles this week to unsuccessfully push his case for permanent protection.

After that meeting, Azimitabar posted on Twitter: “The politics of the last decade are no longer relevant and yet we still pay the price and this Labor government will not uphold our rights.”

The Department of Home Affairs last month wrote to hundreds of medevac refugees and asylum seekers, warning they could not settle in Australia.

“The announced temporary protection visa changes do not relate to you, as you are not eligible for a temporary or protection visa in Australia,” it said. “Settlement in Australia is not an option for you.”

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil later issued a statement saying the letter was sent in error and was insensitive.

Nades and Priya Murugappan with their daughters Kopica and Tharnicaa. 

“I had not seen the letter before it was accidentally sent out, and I hadn’t asked for it to be sent out. In fact, I do not think the letter was appropriate or constructive in any way, in particular because this matter involves vulnerable people.”

However, she made it clear Labor’s policy remained that people who arrived by boat after July 19, 2013, would never settle in Australia.

In March, Australia took up New Zealand’s long-standing offer to take 450 refugees over three years. Resettlement plans are also in place with the United States and Canada.

Giles suggested the deal with New Zealand – where O’Neil is currently meeting with her counterparts – could be expanded in future.

“New Zealand offered, back in 2012, 150 places a year,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t presume that there aren’t other opportunities to secure, durable and realistic third-country resettlement options beyond those which are currently on the table.”

Giles intervened in August to grant a Tamil asylum-seeker family permanent protection after a lengthy campaign, leading to hopes the government would extend this to other refugees and asylum seekers.

The Murugappan family had been on bridging visas for four years after their forceful removal from their home in the Queensland town of Biloela.

Giles would not be drawn on why it was appropriate to grant permanency to this family and not thousands of other bridging visa holders in a similar position.

“My focus at the moment is on dealing in responding to the needs of TPV and SHEV holders,” he said.

Farhad Bandesh in his Melbourne backyard.Credit:Arsineh Houspian

Kurdish Iranian refugee Farhad Bandesh lives in Melbourne and received the letter, to which he has refused to respond.

Bandesh – a musician, artist and winemaker – was the inspiration for Bandesh Wine and Spirits, a business established with his partner, Jenell Quinsee.

At a cocktail party in Brunswick on Sunday, more than 60 friends and supporters called on the government to rethink its determination to resettle people on bridging visas.

“You know what’s happening [in Iran] right now,” Bandesh said. “It’s not only about Kurdish people, it’s about all the people living in that country. They are suffering for 43 years.

“We cannot talk about our rights, basic human rights in Iran, and yet here also I’m suffering – from this government.”

“I’m living in limbo. My life is limited. I cannot study, I cannot get a qualification. Why, as a human being, can I not study in this country? Australia’s a beautiful country, of course this is a beautiful country. But we need to eliminate this policy on innocent refugees.”

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