The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement that it will ease travel restrictions for refugees on temporary visas and amend a ministerial direction which has prevented separated refugee families from reuniting.
RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said the announcement from Immigration Minister Andrew Giles was welcome and provided some much-needed assurance to refugees who suffer as a result of temporary protection and other punitive policies applied to refugees who entered Australia by boat.
“We have been advocating for a reversal of these policies since their introduction nine years ago,” Mr Power said.
“Under the old travel permissions policy, many refugees on temporary visas had permission denied when they sought to travel to a safe third country to meet spouses, children or parents from whom they had been separated for years. Under the new policy, permission to travel will be granted unless there is a compelling reason to refuse.
“We welcome the news that the Minister will amend Direction 80, which has given refugees who arrived by boat the lowest priority in applications for family reunion. This policy has caused significant ongoing trauma for separated families, with many children growing up never knowing their fathers. Many refugees in Australia have been separated from family members for over a decade.
“These announcements provide a positive indication of the Government’s interest in policy reform at a time when many refugees on temporary protection are despairing about delays in implementing Labor’s pre-election commitment to abolish temporary protection.
“When the Government was elected six months ago, hopes were high that this promise would be implemented quickly. Earlier this month, RCOA and the National Refugee-led Advisory and Advocacy Group wrote to the Prime Minister pleading with him to act, noting the despair that refugees experiencing as time passes without a clear timeline for the end of their temporary protection.”
The letter to the Prime Minister noted: “This distress is heightened by the level of risk being experienced by relatives still stuck in countries of origin such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Tragically, some refugees have lost family members in recent months. These include a father whose teenage daughter was killed in a terrorist attack on young Hazara students in Kabul [in September], seven years after he first applied unsuccessfully for his family to be reunited in Australia.”
Mr Power said refugees and their many friends and supporters across Australia hoped to hear very soon how and when the Government would end temporary protection.
“The Government needs to give urgent consideration to expanding the allocation of family reunion places to address the needs of families separated for more than nine years as a result of this policy,” he said. “Those experiencing the deep pain of extended family separation need visa applications expedited. This can only happen effectively if sufficient places are available.”