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Poll Shows Australians Support Refugee Family Reunions

4 October 2017 at 4:32 pm
Wendy Williams
Australians understand the importance of family, according to a new poll which revealed the majority of Australians, regardless of their political preferences, support the reunion of refugee families separated around the world.

Wendy Williams | 4 October 2017 at 4:32 pm


Poll Shows Australians Support Refugee Family Reunions
4 October 2017 at 4:32 pm

Australians understand the importance of family, according to a new poll which revealed the majority of Australians, regardless of their political preferences, support the reunion of refugee families separated around the world.

The ReachTEL survey, commissioned by Jesuit Social Services and the Refugee Council of Australia, found 75 per cent of respondents answered “yes” or “yes – but only after appropriate background checks” when asked whether refugee families should be reunited.

The poll, which surveyed nearly 2,000 people, also found 65.6 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that no parent should be separated from their children unnecessarily.

Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards said the results showed the “overwhelming majority of the Australian public” believed refugees living in the community should have greater access to family reunion.

“Australians understand the importance of family,” Edwards said.

“And the majority of Australians – regardless of their political preferences – acknowledge that refugee families deserve the opportunity to be kept together in a healthy and harmonious way to allow them the best opportunity to thrive in our communities.”

Refugee Council of Australia CEO Paul Power called on both major parties to commit to allocating at least 5,000 visas under the family stream of the Migration Program for refugee and humanitarian entrants.

“Families are better together and now is the time for political leadership to respect the community’s clear opinion by making family reunion a reality,” Power said.

Under current policies, the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) is the primary avenue for people from refugee background who have had their claim for refugee status confirmed to attempt to reunite with family members.

However, a report released by the Refugee Council of Australia in 2016 found that demand for SHP visas outstripped the number of available places by seven to one, with many claims subjected to prolonged waiting periods and barriers around sourcing evidence to substantiate relationships.

Power said the psychological, financial and social impacts of family separation had a significantly detrimental effect on people trying to achieve positive settlement outcomes.

“Ninety-seven per cent of respondents to the survey agreed that family is important to them – unfortunately many refugees living in the Australian community have no idea if or when they will see their families again and they fear for their safety,” he said.

“Without more humane policies in place, people will continue to suffer.”

Nayran Tabiei, a Syrian asylum seeker who travelled to Australia with her husband and daughter six years ago, was forced to leave her three sons, now aged 13, 17 and 22, in Iran.

She told Pro Bono News it was very hard being separated from her children.

“Half of my family are on the other side of the world and I’m here. I cannot go and they cannot come. It is hard,” Tabiei said.

“You feel stuck.

“I am happy here with my situation, they give me shelter and solutions for me life –  because I lost everything in my country, when I came here –  [but] I don’t know if I will be here in the future or not, if I can support my children.”

She said she speaks with her children every night and can see how much they are growing up.

“With my older one when he came back [from the military] I felt ‘oh he is a man’, for three of four months I didn’t see him and when he got back it was like ‘oh my god’,” she said.

“Especially at their age, they are men now, when I left them they were very little.”

Tabiei said she was still searching for a way to bring her children here.

“With everyone I know and everyone I see I say please help me to bring my sons but no one has the answer –  the council, the government, I even sent a letter to Bill Shorten and he answered ‘with this government we cannot help you, sorry about that, we don’t have the influence’,” she said.

“Especially the one who is 22 because he is struggling.

“Young people love to be supported from families, because they are at an age they want to work, they want to have a life. For my 22 year old he finished his military service and he couldn’t find any solution to come here and he is waiting for me.

“The 17 and 13 year olds are stuck in Iran because they cannot take a passport to go out because they have compulsory military service. When they become 18 they can join the military. I cannot support them here, the government won’t let me bring them or support them.

“It is so difficult.”

It comes as Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, and Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs, Zed Seselja, marked the completion of resettlement of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees at a special event in Melbourne on Wednesday.

The government announced two years ago that Australia would welcome 12,000 displaced Syrians and Iraqis fleeing conflict in the Middle East.

All families have now arrived in Australia after the final visas were granted in March this year.

Porter said the commitment to resettle an additional 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, on top of the Humanitarian Program intake of 13,750, was “testament to Australia’s commitment to help those in need”.

“Australia is a compassionate and welcoming nation to refugees, with more than 865,000 people arriving under our Humanitarian Program since 1945,” Porter said.

“Our focus here has been on those most in need, particularly women, children and families of persecuted minorities who have sought refuge from the conflicts in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.”

Australia’s Humanitarian Program has an increased intake of 16,250 places for the 2017-18 financial year and 18,750 in 2018-19.

Seselja said Syrians and Iraqis from this additional intake had settled in all states and territories and in regional and metropolitan areas.

He said Australia had “some of the best settlement services in the world” and should “be proud of it”.

“We are committed to ensuring humanitarian entrants are able to overcome barriers, start a new life and integrate into Australian society as quickly as possible,” Seselja said.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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