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Letter to Immigration Minister regarding Palestinian visa refusals

On 12 June, RCOA CEO Paul Power wrote to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon Andrew Giles MP, expressing our deep concern regarding the high number of visitor visa refusals for people fleeing Gaza. We reiterated the need for Australia to develop a principled approach to humanitarian evacuations and ensure that those who need protection are able to find it.

240612 Minister Giles Palestinian Visa Refusals
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12 June 2024 

The Hon Andrew Giles MP
Minister for Immigration and Citizenship
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600 

Dear Minister Giles, 

I am writing to express the deep concern of the Refugee Council of Australia regarding the high number of visitor visa refusals for individuals attempting to flee Gaza and travel to Australia. 

According to Senate Estimates from 29 May 2024, 4,614 people have had visitor visas refused, while only 2,686 have been granted since 7 October 2023. The grounds for refusals are predominantly based on the applicants’ inability to demonstrate a genuine intention to stay temporarily, as required by the criteria of the visitor visa. 

This situation highlights our ongoing concerns about the use of visitor visas for individuals fleeing conflict, a purpose for which these visas was never intended. Expecting people fleeing a war zone to demonstrate an intention to return in a few months is not only unrealistic but also inhumane. We urge the government to adopt a compassionate and humanitarian approach in issuing such visas to ensure people can escape the conflict. 

At the Refugee Council, we have been developing a set of principles to guide the Australian Government’s approach to emergency evacuations. These principles have been detailed in our submission to the Humanitarian Program discussion paper. While we acknowledge that Australia cannot grant visas to every person fleeing Gaza, it is imperative that those most in need of protection are able to find safety. These principles include: 

  1. Safe Emergency Pathways: Australia should initiate safe emergency visa pathways during officially recognised humanitarian crises to facilitate the secure entry of individuals and families fleeing persecution, violence, and human rights violations, while providing clear policy guidance and acknowledging the challenges of leaving crisis zones.
  2. Timeliness and Accessibility: In response to humanitarian disasters, Australia should implement a rapid response system for issuing emergency visas, simplifying application processes, ensuring family unity, reducing fees, offering documentation flexibility, and providing additional support for meeting English language and health requirements.
  3. Durability and Flexibility: Emergency evacuees should receive permanent visas or clear paths to permanency, with tailored approaches and flexibility for temporary visas when necessary, to adequately address the needs of displaced individuals while ensuring protection against refoulement.
  4. Additionality: Emergency responses should be managed separately from the annual refugee program, with dedicated resources that do not detract from the existing program, ensuring sufficient capacity and support for emergent needs.

  5. Settlement Support and a Safety Net: Post-arrival, Australia must provide robust support based on the needs of emergency entrants, focusing on social security, health services, accommodation, education, and employment to facilitate successful integration.

  6. Partnerships with Multicultural and Diaspora Communities: The Australian Government should continue to strengthen partnerships with diaspora and refugee-led communities to enhance culturally inclusive emergency responses and support effective settlement processes through existing and new policy frameworks.

  7. Transparency and Communication: It is crucial for Australia to maintain clear, ongoing communication about its humanitarian crisis responses, involving key communities and agencies in regular feedback and problem-solving processes to enhance transparency and community engagement. 

It is especially appropriate for Australia to issue visas to individuals with family or community connections here. This action not only provides a critical lifeline for those escaping conflict but also underscores our commitment to a multicultural society. It enables Australian community members to actively participate in offering protection and support. Additionally, it offers some relief and a sense of empowerment to those in Australia who are deeply distressed by the ongoing conflict in Gaza. 

We urge the Australian Government to review its approach to visa applications from people fleeing Gaza and to ensure that our principles of humanitarianism are upheld. It is crucial that our visa policies reflect our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable and upholding Australia’s reputation as a compassionate and just nation. 

We acknowledge the ongoing diplomatic efforts by the Australian Government concerning the Israel/Gaza conflict. We call on the Government to intensify its efforts in urging the Israeli Government to agree to an immediate ceasefire and to allow the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Additionally, we urge the Australian Government to do everything possible to encourage both sides to work towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict, including the release of hostages held by Hamas. 

We look forward to your response and are available to discuss this matter further at your earliest convenience. 

Yours sincerely,
Paul Power
Refugee Council of Australia

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