Coalition revives visa from hell

Refugee advocates confront Scott Morrison.

Immigration minister Scott Morrison reintroduced temporary protection visas (TPVs) on October 18 in a two-page “regulation” that amends the Migration Act and strips many rights and protections for refugees in Australia.

Morrison said the move was part of the government's “border protection policy” and aimed to “discourage” people from making “dangerous voyages to Australia”.

Yet the revival of TPVs under the Coalition's present refugee policy will affect only refugees already in Australia, because anyone who takes the “dangerous voyage” to Australia is now being immediately transferred to offshore detention centres, dumped in a Papua New Guinea camp or deported directly back to the place they fled.

The Coalition's ambition for recent and future arrivals is that these people will never be able to apply for a protection visa in Australia, temporary or otherwise, and will never be able to settle in Australia.

Instead, the retroactive TPV regulation will apply to everyone now waiting for a determination of their asylum claim. This will include the more than 32,000 people who arrived after the former Julia Gillard government stopped processing refugee applications in August last year under its “no advantage policy”.

It will apply to all asylum seekers who now hold a bridging visa or are in detention, as well as everyone that has been waiting for drawn-out ASIO security checks and everyone going through the appeals process.

Immigration lawyer Kerry Murphy says this will have devastating consequences for many of his clients. He wrote on Eureka Street on October 20: “[M]y client, 'Ali', who was accepted as a refugee back in 2011 but has been waiting for a security check since then, only gets a TPV. He is now married to an Australian and they have a child, but the 8503 condition on his TPV prevents him from making a partner visa application in Australia.

“My client 'Ahmed's' first Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) was conceded by the Government to be legally flawed and is awaiting his second RRT; if he is successful he will only get a TPV. Part of his case involves the ongoing threats against his family, including his wife — from whom he will now be separated for years.”

Murphy said a big lesson of John Howard's TPV regime was that forced separation of partners and children caused severe mental health and medical problems for refugees. “In one case, a TPV1 holder grieved the death of his son, who was killed in a bomb attack. He had been hoping to sponsor him to join him in Australia once granted his permanent visa. Instead, his relief at being finally granted a permanent visa was forever overshadowed by grief.”

The visa would last just three years. Its present wording does not allow refugees the prospect of ever receiving permanent protection in Australia. TPV holders will also be unable to sponsor family to reunite in Australia, and it even denies them the right of return if they leave the country, so they could not visit family if needed.

This means, despite Morrison's fatuous claims about keeping people from making dangerous sea journeys, TPVs are a cruel punishment for refugees already here. The irony is that denying family reunion means that rather than “deterring” refugees, Howard's TPVs in fact caused even more women and children to take the journey — a phenomenon that led to the horrific SIEV-X disaster in 2001 and is doomed to be repeated under PM Tony Abbott and Morrison.

The Coalition is set to repeat Howard's crimes against refugees. Morrison has also told his department to refer to refugees in detention as “illegals” or “detainees”, rather than “clients” — a quite deliberate attempt to ramp up demonisation of people in the department's care.

Abbott said before the election that the 32,000-asylum seeker “backlog” — caused by the Labor government ceasing all processing to try to out-do the Coalition's harsh policies — would be cleared by an “audit” that would give individual immigration case workers the power to determine refugees' claims and strip refugees of appeal rights.

Morrison and Abbott have been broadly condemned across representative, advocacy and legal refugee agencies in Australia.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said: “During their existence TPVs created a second class of refugees who, in contrast to permanent visa holders, faced ongoing limbo and uncertainty about their ability to remain in Australia, as well as deliberate exclusion from basic welfare and integration services.”

The Coalition is repeating the doomed policies of the Howard government and making innocent people suffer for it.