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Lifting of travel restrictions welcome news for refugee visa holders

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has welcomed today’s announcement that fully vaccinated refugee and humanitarian visa holders will be able to enter Australia from 1 December 2021.

RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said the announcement from Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews would be life-changing for more than 9500 refugees who already have humanitarian visas but have been prevented from entering Australia since travel restrictions were imposed when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020.

“This news will be particularly welcome for the many families in Australia with relatives who have waiting for up to two years in host countries badly hit by economic crises worsened by the COVID pandemic,” Mr Power said. “The situation has been even worse in host countries such as Lebanon, Sudan and Ethiopia where internal chaos and conflict has made life even tougher.

“When Australia’s borders closed early last year, more than 4000 refugees were in the final stages of arranging their travel to Australia for permanent resettlement. While the Australian Government has slowed the number of refugee visas being issued since then, the number of refugees waiting to enter Australia has grown by at least 5500.

“Many of those 9500 refugees are fully vaccinated and have relatives and refugee support services ready to receive them. However, thousands of applications for exemptions to travel have been rejected by the Australian Border Force, with approval given to only a limited number in desperate circumstances.

“RCOA has been working with refugee communities and settlement services for more than a year to raise concerns with the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force about the impacts of preventing the travel of refugees with visas to enter Australia permanently. The travel exemption process has been very frustrating, with many refugees in compelling circumstances unable to understand why their applications to travel have been rejected.

“With travel soon to be possible for fully vaccinated humanitarian visa holders, urgent attention must be given by the Department of Home Affairs to ensuring that refugees holding Australian humanitarian visas have access to vaccinations in their current host countries, particularly where vaccination rates are low due to unrest or insufficient resources. In its work with the International Organization for Migration, the Department should also focus attention on assisting humanitarian visa holders to get official recognition of vaccinations already administered.”

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