Refugee rights activists discussed the newly-elected Labor government’s refugee policy at a May 30 public forum organised by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC) Victoria.
Farhad Bandesh, recently released after nine years of detention on Manus Island and in Australia, reminded the meeting that a previous Labor government had “exiled” him and thousands of other refugees. “All Australian governments have denied refugee rights”, he said.
Although Bandesh is no longer detained, he is still suffering: he has a bridging visa that must be renewed every six months, which means that he has no security or “guarantee of safety”.
Hassan Jaber, who came to Australia in 2012, told the meeting he was initially put on a bridging visa with no right to work or study. He is now on a temporary Safe Haven Enterprise Visa, that allows him to work. However it only lasts five years and is about to expire.
Jaber recently received a letter from the government threatening him with deportation, although he is stateless and it is unclear where he would be deported to.
Jaber helped set up Justice for Refugees, a group that campaigns for the rights of refugees living here without permanent residency. This includes 19,000 people on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and more than 9000 whose application for refugee status has been rejected without an interview.
Refugees on temporary visas suffer “mental, physical and financial hardship,” Jaber said. They are denied the right to see their families, some are not allowed to work and must rely on charity.
Jaber said that Labor has promised to abolish TPVs. However, he said it has not said anything about bridging visas.
Lucy Honan, speaking from RAC, said the new government's actions have been “contradictory”. The Murugappan family has been allowed to return to Biloela — but only on temporary visas. Labor remains committed to boat turn-backs and offshore processing. “We need to roll back the whole policy,” she said.
Honan said the refugee rights movement has had some success in changing public opinion and making cruelty to refugees unpopular. An example is the closure of the detention hotels. She said we need to “keep up the pressure” through “people power on the streets”.