Punishing, not protecting
Australia is stopping people seeking asylum from coming (by boat or plane). If any do come by boat, they are sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea to be ‘processed’ for years, and are being left to languish there with little prospect of living safely and supporting themselves.
Those who enter Australia without getting permission (a ‘visa’) are, by law, required to be detained. There is no time limit to their detention. There is no independent review of whether they should be detained. People are held despite committing no crime.
Those now in administrative detention have been there on average for more than a year, with some detained now for nine years.
In recent years, most people seeking asylum have been released into the community. While this is very welcome, their difficulties do not stop there. Many of them are forced into destitution, because they are not given enough (or, most recently, anything) to live on.
They were barred from working for years, and have not received any real help to settle in Australia by the government. They are forced to live like this for years, as it takes the government years to process their claims.
Even when they are found to be refugees, the punishment continues. Under current policy, refugees who come by boat are forced to live on temporary protection visas forever, meaning they must apply every three or five years to stay in Australia. They cannot be reunited with family, or even visit them without the permission of the government.
Another growing concern is the increasing number of people seeking asylum by plane, as they are now waiting several years for their claims to be determined. People who come to Australia with a valid visa (for example, on a tourist or student visa) but then seek protection face fewer restrictions than those who come by boat, but still face enormous challenges.
Their visa conditions typically depend on the conditions of their original visa, which often means (if they were, for example, tourists or students) that they are not entitled to Medicare and may be unable to work or receive any form of income support.
As they are not permanent residents, they are generally unable to access most social security programs. They are also often unable to access other supports, such as women’s refuges in cases of domestic violence.
Life for refugees in Australia, whether they were resettled or came to Australia seeking asylum, is increasingly temporary. In recent years, the government has begun cancelling even permanent visas of refugees, and delaying or denying refugees citizenship. This denies refugees what they most need – to feel safe.