Temporary visas for asylum seekers are no solution

April 14, 2021
Refugee supporters rally in Melbourne, February 2021. Photo: Refugee Action Collective Victoria

A Refugee Action Collective forum on April 12 discussed how the granting of temporary visas to asylum seekers was really just one more unconscionable act by the federal government.

About 100 people attended the in-person and online meeting.

Anna Kingston from the Refugee Action Collective said temporary visas had first been suggested by One Nation’s Pauline Hanson. The then Liberal minister for immigration Philip Ruddock initially rejected the idea as “unconscionable”, but then introduced temporary protection visas (TPVs) in 1999.

More recently, asylum seekers have been given bridging visas, which are usually for six months. Various conditions are often imposed, including restrictions on work, study, education or access to Medicare. The visas also come with a “code of conduct” which makes it difficult for asylum seekers to speak out.

Even those who have been officially recognised as refugees are not given permanent protection. Their visas last between three to five years. Some are on TPV's whiel others are on safe haven enterprise visas, which require them work in the country. 

Atena, a 17-year-old martial arts champion, who has been living on a TPV for eight years, explained how it has affected her life. She wants to go to university, but is not eligible for government funding. Centrelink benefits to her family were cut. Atena’s Medicare card is a different colour — blue, not green. Blue Medicare cards are allocated to individuals who have applied for permanent residence. This can make it difficult to access health care.

Isabella Farrell-Hallegraeff, from Liberty Victoria's Rights Advocacy Project, explained that people on bridging visas often wait many years for their claim for refugee status to be assessed. Their visa may run out and not be renewed, without due process. There is a complete a lack of transparency in how the decisions are made.

Farhad Bandesh, who was recently freed after eight years in detention, told the meeting via video link that although he is now “free”, living on a bridging visa means his future is uncertain.

He said that after being held on Manus Island for six years, he was brought to Australia for medical treatment, but has yet to receive it. Farhad also reminded the meeting audience that many refugees are still locked up in detention centres, onshore and offshore.

Sister Brigid Arthur, co-founder of the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project, which provides practical help for asylum seekers on temporary visas, or those without a visa because it has expired and not been renewed, explained that the temporary nature of these visas creates insecurity. Those people on temporary visas cannot bring their families to Australia.

They also face financial difficulties, Arthur said. Formerly, people on bridging visas received a Status Resolution Support Services payment, which was less than the old Newstart. Now, very few receive this payment. They can look for work, but many cannot find it. Many have also lost work in the pandemic.

Arthur explained that as a result, many asylum seekers are dependent on charities. The Victorian government has given some funds to the Red Cross but this runs out in June. Some asylum seekers resort to asking their neighbours for money, she said.

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