Immigration minister Scott Morrison has circumvented the Senate block of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) by making use of a different type of visa — Temporary Humanitarian Concern visas (subclass 786) (THC).
Labor and the Greens blocked Morrison’s attempt to reintroduce TPVs in December when they voted it down in the Senate. Morrison initially tried to cap permanent protection visas in response, but was later forced to lift the cap.
The Refugee Council of Australia said refugees are now receiving letters saying their application for a permanent protection visa has been refused and instead they are offered a THC visa. “People identified as engaging protection obligations will be considered for a short-term Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) visa”, it said. “If they accept this visa and also meet health, character and security criteria, they will be invited to accept a THC visa.”
Those who unwittingly accept the visa, under the new arrangements, will be permanently prevented from applying for a full protection visa, or any other visa, unless the immigration minister allows it.
Refugee advocacy groups were urging refugees to seek legal counsel before accepting the visa. THC visas holders have no right to family reunion and face other restrictions similar to previous incarnations of TPVs. The visa is valid for up to three years, but this can vary.
The Refugee Council of Australia said the original TPVs caused fear and uncertainty for already traumatised people: “We see these new arrangements as having the same impacts on people found by the Australian government to be in need of protection from persecution,” it said.
THCs were introduced in 2000 to allow people on Safe Haven visas — short-term visas granted to people during a humanitarian crisis such as in Timor and Kosovo — to stay in the country longer, usually because they need ongoing medical care.
It was never intended to be used for those found to be genuine refugees.
The new regulations will reportedly apply retrospectively to the 20,000 asylum seekers living in Australia on bridging visas.
Greens immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government was “trying to reintroduce temporary protection visas through the back door”.
Temporary protection visas were a disaster under the former John Howard government. For most refugees, their home country did not become safe enough to return to, and in cases such as Afghanistan and Iraq, the security situation grew worse. This meant refugees were unable to build a new life in Australia, and instead constantly feared being sent back to danger.