New Directive on Refugees Puts Lives at Risk - RCOA
10 January 2014 at 3:42 pm
Refugee Council of Australia says a new Ministerial directive issued by the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison that specifies family visa applications lodged by refugees who arrive by boat should be the lowest processing priority is a punitive measure that puts lives at risk.
RCOA Chair Sonia Caton said the directive would cut off the sole lifeline available to some refugee families living in dangerous and desperate circumstances overseas.
“Many refugees in Australia have family members, most often women, children, and orphan relatives, living overseas in highly insecure environments or in situations of poverty and destitution,” Caton said.
“These family members belong to the groups most at risk in refugee situations, such as single women and young or unaccompanied children.
“Family sponsorship is often their only hope of getting to safety. Denying family reunion opportunities to refugees in Australia will cut off this lifeline and trap vulnerable people in desperate situations.
“Tragically, RCOA is already aware of cases where family members of refugees in Australia have been killed overseas following delays in family reunion.
“Having family members trapped in desperate situations also brings enormous stress, anxiety and worry to refugees trying to settle in Australia. Starting a new life in a new country is a huge challenge at the best of times, let alone when you are separated from your family and constantly worried about their welfare.
“Let us not forget the Pakistani refugee who set himself alight and died in front of Parliament House in 2001 because he was denied family reunion.
“The UN Refugee Agency says that the family unit has a better chance of settling successfully in a new country than do individual refugees. By prolonging family separation, we are making it much harder for refugees to settle successfully and contribute to Australia.”
Caton said the retrospective application of the directive is particularly unjust.
“There are many recognised refugees who have already paid many thousands of dollars for family visa applications which now have little to no chance of success, yet the visa fees will not be refunded even if they withdraw their application. The Government should process these applications according to the priorities that existed at the time they were lodged,” she said.
“The Government’s argument that these changes will act as a deterrent cannot stand as all future arrivals are to be processed offshore and the only people affected by this directive will be permanent residents of Australia, some of whom have been living here for many years.
“This directive will achieve nothing more than inflicting further harm on people who have been recognised as being in need of Australia’s protection and their families.”