New research released today by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) shows that thousands of people across Australia are unable to reunite with their families as a result of current immigration policy.  The report, ‘Addressing The Pain of Separation for Refugee Families’, finds that significant bureaucratic barriers are preventing people who have been recognised as refugees from bringing their families to safety.

One such person is Hadi,* who was forced to flee his homeland in fear for his life, leaving behind his wife and children. Hadi has been unable to reunite with or even see his family for 6 years.

“I worry that any minute there will be an attack on my family.  I am really concerned about their immediate safety” Hadi said.  He added that if he had one wish, it would be, “for my family and my loved ones to be safe and secure. The opportunity for my children to grow up before my eyes. That’s all I want.”

Addressing The Pain of Separation for Refugee Families finds that thousands of people in Australia are in the same position as Hadi. Cases identified in the research includes; those excluded from the right to even apply for family reunion; those who are given the lowest priority for processing; and those who have become Australian citizens but are unable to apply due to the difficulty of obtaining requested evidence coupled with exorbitant application costs. Numerous cases were also identified where those who have managed to submit a family reunion application have experienced many years of delays in obtaining a decision.

Sahar Okhovat, Policy Officer at the RCOA, said that “This important new research brings to light a crisis which is taking place within our own communities.  People who have fled persecution and successfully applied for refugee status in Australia should be able to bring their families here to safety. The current policy is creating two classes of citizens and undermining social cohesion and setting refugees up to fail.

“Having your family support around you, to assist with child care, for psychological support and to assist with the navigation of a new system in a new country are crucial to successful integration. The current policy is denying thousands of people this very basic necessity.

Ms. Okhovat continued that “the findings of this research, which was conducted across the country with hundreds of affected people, are particularly worrying in the light of recent announcements made by the Government.

“These findings, coupled with years of ad hoc, punitive policies including the mooted lifetime visa ban and the confusion created by the US resettlement deal reflect the need for an overhaul of immigration policies that seeks to not just protect Australia’s borders but also to protect the safety and security of refugees and our own society”.

“We are talking about parents and children, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers. We all rely on our families for support and that support is particularly important for people who have been through so much and are trying to rebuild a new life in a new country”, said Ms. Okhovat.

The report makes a number of key recommendations to the government to urgently address this situation, including:

  • Allocating at least 5000 visas under the family stream of the Migration Program for refugee and humanitarian entrants.
  • Introducing needs-based concessions under the family stream of the Migration Program.
  • Conducting a consultation with refugee communities and other stakeholders to assess eligibility for these concessions.
  • Significantly reducing existing processing times for applications and removing other financial and bureaucratic obstacles.
  • Removing restrictions for people who have arrived by boat.

*Name changed and country of origin omitted to protect identity.

Media enquiries: Laura.Stacey@refugeecouncil.org.au / 0488 035 535.