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Refugee groups urge immediate action to reinstate humanitarian visas ahead of Federal Budget

The proposal includes 20,000 humanitarian visa places plus an additional intake of 20,000 places for refugees from Afghanistan.

Community and refugee groups from across Australia have come together with the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) to pen an open letter to the Australian Government calling for an immediate and urgent reversal of cuts to humanitarian visa places.

The group, which comprises community organisations such as the National Refugee Led Advocacy Advisory Group and Action for Afghanistan, Australia Tigray Alliance and Ethiopian Multicultural Action Group, is asking for the quota of humanitarian visas to be restored back to 2013 pre-election level of 20,000 places, as part of the 2022 Federal Budget.

The group is also calling for a special additional intake of 20,000 places for refugees from Afghanistan.

“The 2022 Budget provides an opportunity for the Government to reset its response to global refugee needs. The restoration of the 28,000 lost humanitarian visas should begin with a two-year additional intake of 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan and the restoration of the annual Refugee and Humanitarian Program to its 2013 level of 20,000 places,” the open letter reads.

RCOA president Jasmina Bajraktarevic-Hayward said Australian 20-21 Refugee and Humanitarian intake has been the lowest in 45 years.

“Not only have we lost over 28,000 places which were promised by the Government in its pre-election Budget in 2019, but we now have the lowest Refugee and Humanitarian Program in 45 years – all while serious conflicts are escalating in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ethiopia and now Ukraine,” Ms Bajraktarevic-Hayward said.

“The number of humanitarian visas needs to increase dramatically, especially in light of the grave humanitarian situation that is unfolding in Ukraine,” she said.

Chair of NRAAG and Member of the Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network (AAAN), Shabnam Safa, said: “With the ongoing humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine, Australia can and absolutely must do more to help by increasing our Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Since the fall of Kabul in August last year Australians have overwhelmingly supported calls to provide safety to refugees. Now it’s time for the government to step up and fulfil its moral obligation by restoring the program to its previous level and announcing an additional intake of at least 20,000 from Afghanistan, that the diaspora community have been calling for in the last seven months.”

President of the Australian Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Advocacy Network (AACSAN) Joseph Youhana said: “Unanticipated world crises are expected not to ease; refugees have no voice, control, or influence in these crises. AACSAN calls on the Australian government to open bigger doors to protect refugees through humanitarian resettlement. Our great country can increase the annual refugee intake and bring larger positive influence to the Australian lands.”

Mehari Berhe from the Australia Tigray Alliance said: “Australian Tigrayans feel helpless about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Tigray and the inaction of the international community. Nearly 500 days have passed since the Tigray war erupted and plunged 7 million Tigrayans into one of the worst humanitarian crises of recent times and they are still waiting for meaningful action and peace. We demand Australia grant urgent humanitarian visas to those in this dire situation.”

A special intake for refugees from Afghanistan will create more space for refugees from other nations, as happened with the special intake of 12,000 visas for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in 2015.

“Without an immediate and significant increase in humanitarian visa places, Australia will be unable to appropriately respond to the emerging needs of Ukrainian refugees, as well as the 150,000 or more refugees from Afghanistan who have applied for resettlement in the past six months and the many refugees displaced from conflicts in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Yemen and Venezuela,” Ms Bajraktarevic-Hayward said.

“We believe the Government can and should do more to ensure a consistent, holistic, and generous response to support people affected by ongoing, protracted conflicts around the world and we urge the Government to act on this as a matter of priority, starting with the 2022 budget.”

ENDS

About the Refugee Council of Australia: RCOA is the national umbrella body for refugees and people seeking asylum and those who support them. A non-profit organisation completely independent of government RCOA promotes more humane treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia, the region and globally. For further information and more detailed statistics on the cuts to the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, see RCOA’s recent brief.

MEDIA: For more information or to arrange interviews contact Jackie Hanafie on 0493 393 416 or media@refugeecouncil.org.au

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