Category Archives: Australian Asylum Seeking Policy

Truth Telling

Over 120 people gathered at John Curtin Art Gallery last weekend for the Truth Telling and Taking Action symposium about the current situation for asylum seekers in Australia.  It was hosted by a group of service providers, advocates and the Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University.

It was a day of storytelling.

Asylum seekers, on many different types of visas, told of their daily lives and how challenging living on these different temporary visas can be. My overwhelming sense was one of uncertainty and worry.  People wake up every day and wonder whether they will be called in to discuss their visa and if they are safe.

How can Australia torment refugees like this?

There are thousands of people seeking asylum living in the Australian community.  Some of these people have come to Australia by plane and sought asylum afterwards. Some of them have come to Australia by boat. The way they came affects whether they are detained, the conditions of their visas, and how their claim for protection is determined.  It’s very complicated.

The Refugee Council of Australia will be spearheading a major campaign from Thursday 14 March leading up to the Federal election called I Choose to be Humane – treat people like people.  All the presenters described how there is a real opportunity to be heard and make a difference in the next few months.  You’ll be able to access the campaign at www.choosehumane.org.au so register your interest now.

Easy-to-read facts and information are also available from the Refugee Council website.  This is one thing we can all do – be more informed about the debate and people’s lives.

Here’s the definition of some common visa types that might be helpful in understanding this issue.

Bridging visa (BV): Temporary visa granted to allow someone to live in the community while they wait for their refugee claim to be finalised.

Temporary Protection Visa (TPV): Three-year temporary protection visa given to someone who came to Australia by boat and is found to be a refugee. At the end of the three years the holder can only apply for another temporary protection visa.

Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV):  Five-year temporary protection visa that can be granted to someone who came by boast and is found to be a refugee.  At the end of five years, they may be eligible to apply for a permanent visa if they meet that visa’s requirements, but only if they have worked or studied in a designated regional area for at least 3.5 years.

The symposium coincided with Refuge, a Perth Festival exhibition which runs until mid-April, featuring two poignant and timely works – Candice Breitz’s Love Story and Angelica Mesiti’s Mother Tongue. They both utilise cinema and art to present the complex experiences of their immigrant and refugee subjects through music, performance and the spoken word.

Asylum-Seeker-Protest-Rally

Take action

You may have heard recently about how the Australian government is making cuts to the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS). This program provides asylum seekers in the community, who are awaiting the outcome of their protection visa application, with a basic income (89% of a Centrelink Newstart Allowance) and casework support. New tightened eligibility criteria will mean that around 500 people in Perth may no longer have access to this program.

CARAD logoCARAD is a fabulous organisation in Western Australia that has assisted thousands of refugees and asylum seekers with a range of services. Their latest newsletter reports they are witnessing many people facing destitution and homelessness as a result of no longer having a safety net of financial and casework support available to them.

They are calling on people to take action by finding out the facts and getting involved via the following methods.

ADVOCATE – Engaging with your local Member of Parliament is an effective way of demonstrating that you care about justice, non-discrimination and upholding human rights for all. Advice on how to go about writing to your MP is on the CARAD website.

DONATING FOOD – With more and more people relying on their food bank to provide food for their families CARAD is seeking donations. Their website outlines the food and non-food items that are most often needed.

VOLUNTEER – CARAD has many volunteer roles on offer including homework support, English tuition, assisting with the food bank program, and helping out at the CARAD office. They also have a new Food Truck project just getting off the ground and are looking for people who have skills in vehicle mechanics/maintenance, hospitality/food industry, small business management, marketing or event management. Their volunteer information sessions are held every month – here are the ones coming up:

  • Thursday 26 July, 12pm
  • Tuesday 14 August, 5.40pm
  • Wednesday 15 August, 12pm

More information on volunteering is on the CARAD website. If you would like to get involved in the Food Truck project please contact: foodtruck@carad.org.au.

MEMBERSHIP – By renewing your membership or becoming a CARAD member you will give weight to their vital advocacy work, stay up-to-date on news and events and can actively participate in the organisation. More information on membership and on how to make a donation is on their website.

If you are located elsewhere in Australia there are a range of other organisations you can support that assist asylum seekers and refugees.

take action

Respect and dignity

Rosemarys Dad (1)

My father, Colin Sayer

My late father was driven by a set of simple values all his life: that all people deserve respect and dignity whoever they are. He often said, ‘I don’t care if you are the Queen of England or a street sweeper – we’re all human and just the same.’

Those values were imprinted on me and today help define who I am. Every day as I continue my PhD studies in human rights and the writing of refugee stories I am reminded of my Dad’s values and by the common threads of humanity that bind us all.

I had the chance to reflect on this a few weeks ago at the Australian Academy of the Humanities two day symposium with its theme of humanitarianism and human rights. Academics, writers and thinkers discussed what it meant to be human and compassionate and what happens when we are not.

My dad would have laughed about the application of academic and social theories to something he saw as so straight forward. I can imagine my explanations of why I needed to study and research these issues as well as be an advocate for human rights. I think it would have baffled him.

However, he would have been horrified at the racist policies of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party and the election of Donald Trump with his nationalistic and divisive views. We would have talked about why people are frightened and how that fear has been shrouded in a security discussion that positions asylum seekers and refugees as potential terrorists… or someone different to us… someone seen as ‘other’. I’m sure he would have been concerned about security issues too, but we would have come back to our shared values of respect and dignity when we discussed the situation on Manus Island or the treatment of people by the Australian government who have been found to be refugees and still don’t have permanent residency and access to the services they need.

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Kim Scott, Author

If he’d been at the event he also would have loved writer Kim Scott’s moving and intimate portrait of his life as young Aboriginal boy searching for an identity and a sense of belonging. While my dad was never short of a word, and certainly had strong views on many issues in society, he loved meeting people from different backgrounds and went out of his way to do so. He loved a good story and he listened well. He was empathetic – although he would have told me not to use fancy words.

Like many writers and commentators, I have come to believe that this lack of empathy for others allows some in society to express more racist views and to see human rights violations as ‘not their concern.’ Without empathy, my dad’s values of dignity and respect for everyone seem a distant concept.

human rights conference

Photograph by Barat Ali Batoor

They Cannot Take the Sky

The sky is like a friend for a prisoner, because around you everything is metal fences, but the sky, they cannot take the sky.

These words are from a book of stories from people who have been detained by the Australian government for seeking asylum.  Each person reveals in their own words their journey, daily struggles, their fears, hopes and dreams.

The title of the book comes from Behrouz Boochani’s story.  Behrouz is a Kurdish They cannot take the sky coverjournalist and writer who fled from Iran. He has been in detention on Manus Island since August 2013. He writes and reports from inside the detention centre when he can and has over 4,000 followers on Facebook. A film he shot entirely on his mobile phone about the life and treatment of refugees detained offshore, premiered at the Sydney Film Festival recently.

As I read Behrouz’s story and others by people of refugee background, I moved between admiration for people’s resilience and optimism to despair and anger.

The editors have collated the testimonies of more than 20 refugees from Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan. Some have had their claims for asylum granted and have gone on to become outstanding members of the Australian community. Munjed is a surgeon who had to leave Iraq because he refused to mutilate army deserters. Now that our society has decided not to waste his gifts, he is working again and specialising in prosthetic limbs.

My friend Jamila from Afghanistan has also told her story. She was placed in detention as a five year old child with her mother and brother. Thankfully after some time her family were re-united and she now studies law at university in Perth. Others, unfortunately continue to languish in detention.

As Maxine Beneba Clarke writes: ‘This book will make Australians ask –again – of ourselves; what kind of people are we and how did we possibly let it come to this?

The not-for-profit group Behind the Wire is responsible for They Cannot Take the Sky. I suggest you take a look at their website – as well as information on the book they have a podcast, audio stories, videos and a series of portrait photographs. They are also currently running an outstanding exhibition at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne and I certainly hope it tours widely.  It was developed in collaboration with the Museum by Behind the Wire and a volunteer reference committee of individuals with lived experience of seeking asylum.

A child is a child

A new report from UNICEF highlights some alarming statistics about vulnerable children in the world. As I write millions of children are on the move across international borders, fleeing violence and conflict, disaster or poverty in pursuit of a better life.

Hundreds of thousands of these children are alone, without any support and they faceUNICEF child report particularly grave risks. Unprotected, the children are easy prey for traffickers and others who abuse them. I can’t imagine how I would feel if this was my son, daughter, sister or brother who somehow got separated from me and my family. Can you?

UNICEF reports that in 2015-16 at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were registered in 80 countries when they crossed borders. This is a five-fold increase from 66,000 in 2010-11. In fact the real number is likely much higher as not every child is registered. On the dangerous Central Mediterranean Sea passage from North Africa to Europe, 92 per cent of children who arrived in Italy in 2016 and the first two months of 2017 were unaccompanied, up from 75 per cent in 2015.

refugee childSave the Children reported in April this year that it was providing support to children as young as nine, who have fled war or poverty and have travelled under the radar for thousands of kilometres without a parent or guardian. “They are invisible to the authorities, and in some cases even when identified, they are placed in inadequate conditions, sometimes even detained.” As I have written previously, my own country Australia breaks numerous international laws, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, by placing children who have come seeking asylum in detention centres in the country and in off-shore island facilities. Further reading can be found the excellent website of the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.

Nearly all sovereign states around the world ratified the Convention on the Rights of the forgotten-childrenChild. They committed to respect and ensure the rights of “each child within their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any kind.” This means that all children, regardless of legal status, nationality or statelessness have the right to be protected from harm, have access to healthcare and education, to be with their family and have their interests protected.

It’s easy to forget that developing regions host 86 per cent of the world’s refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate. This means that the greatest share of responsibility falls on countries that are often ill-equipped to provide protection, while other wealthier countries take measures to reinforce their borders and stop people from arriving on their shores.

UNICEF reminds us that all children have a right to survive, thrive and fulfill their potential, to the benefit of a better world. Children can have a powerful voice – but we need to pay attention so those voices can be heard. Only then can we be informed, contribute to the conversation and influence change.

State of the Nation

The Refugee Council of Australia has just released its first ever State of the Nation report, a comprehensive investigation into the experiences of those seeking safety and settling in Australia within the broader context of the global crisis of human displacement.

A non-profit, non-government organisation, the Refugee Council of Australia is the national umbrella body for refugees as well as the organisations and individuals who support them. They play an important role in promoting the development of humane, lawful and constructive policies towards refugees and asylum seekers.

At a time when displacement is at its highest levels since World War II, this report critiques our government’s insular and often punitive fixation on closing Australia’s borders. It also examines the challenges faced by those who have arrived in Australia and are seeking to build new lives.

State of the Nation tells us what is happening to real people, here in our community, to their loved ones and their families.  It presents the voices and views, the ideas and expertise, of people who are seeking safety and settling in Australia, and of the many committed people who are working hard to help them.

This is an important report and one well worth reading. There is a short summary of State of the Nation on the Refugee Council of Australia’s website here, as well as the link to the full report.

 

 

In discussion with experts

In our world of ‘alternative fact tweets’ and the 20 second media grab, it has been a real pleasure for me to immerse myself in reading a wide range of books as I prepare to facilitate a number of sessions at the Perth Writers Festival. Held from 23-26 February at the University of Western Australia the festival, as the program states, will be a time of ‘big bold ideas’.

I will be involved with these three panels:

I am particularly looking forward to Borderline with William Maley, Peter Mares and Ben Rawlence. All three writers have released new books about migration and refugee issues. We’ve seen an unprecedented movement of people around the globe in the last decade. There’s been an alarming reaction by western governments to limit the flow of refugees into their countries, while at the same time some have increased temporary migration and short term work or student visas. We’ll be discussing what the long term effect of these policies is and what has happened to our humanity.

Writers festivals are a chance to meet some great writers and thinkers in both non- fiction and fiction. They allow us to take time out from our usual routine, to listen and reflect more deeply. They also provide opportunities to make new friends and to buy or learn about new books… that’s why I love them. I hope to see you there.