For many years, RCOA has raised concerns about the dismal number and the extraordinary costs of family reunion visas for refugee communities. In 2016, we released a report Address the Pain of Family Separation, highlighting the many barriers to family reunion under the Migration Program and the Humanitarian Program.1 Unfortunately, not only has the Government not done anything to address this, access to family reunion has become harder and harder for refugee communities separated. Border closures and the freezing of Australia’s refugee resettlement program has also exacerbated these problems, but many of the policy barriers existed well before the pandemic.
For refugee communities, family reunion is not only about being reunited with loved ones, but it is often a vital lifeline for people fleeing persecution and war zones, or stranded in countries of asylum where they have no rights and no future. With Australia’s humanitarian program recently cut back down to approximately 12,000 offshore places per year, the family reunion pathway in the Migration Program is often the only way refugees can get their family to safety.
Access to family reunion is costly, complex, bureaucratic and applicants face significant backlog causing years of delays. For some refugee communities, especially those who came by boat, we can only conclude that the prolonged and indefinite separation of family members is not only intentional, but a specific policy designed to inflicted further harm on an already marginalised group in the name (but no evidence) of deterrence.
Over the last six years, we have made numerous recommendations on how to improve access to family reunion for refugee communities. Unfortunately, we have not seen serious consideration of these issues nor the recommendations by the Australian Government. This submission highlights and builds on these recommendations. We ask the Committee to seriously consider these recommendations and ensure the Government addresses this vital issue.