Refugee Council of Australia
Large cardboard Welcome refugees sign in protest

State of the Nation 2017: Refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia

Becoming part of Australia

Becoming part of Australia

Throughout these most recent consultations, people reflected on how Australia’s refugee policies were making it difficult for people to settle successfully in Australia. Preventing people from working lawfully forced people to “do crime to survive”, and put them at risk of exploitation — including sexual abuse. Living in poverty made it very difficult for people to do anything more than survive. It made it difficult for people to engage with the legal system because they were too hungry or couldn’t afford to get to appointments. Locking people in detention would end up destroying people’s mental health. Government rhetoric about ‘illegal’ people invited racism and violence towards individuals. Many wondered how people could be expected to believe in Australian values and to contribute meaningfully to Australia when their first experiences of Australia were of detention, exclusion, hostility, and marginalisation?

I joke with my [Australian] girlfriend sometimes and say if we get married and have kids before I get my visa and my kids ask me why are we citizens and you are not, what should I say? I just wonder… because I’m from Afghanistan? Because I’m a refugee and refugees are not good enough? That’s what they are telling us. After many years when they finally give us a visa, most people don’t feel belonged and they are teaching their children those feelings and it will be very hard to be one nation.

– Person seeking asylum, NSW

Such continuous and prolonged stresses and strains naturally had their effect on families and communities. Sometimes these factors would result in domestic and family violence, which mainstream providers are generally not equipped to deal with. For a number of service providers, it put them in a difficult position, torn between the duty of reporting family violence and the understanding that this could break up an already vulnerable family with ultimately worse consequences. Often, people in the community were afraid to report issues because of fears of detention and deportation.

Such burdens often fall to refugee communities themselves to intervene and manage. Community leaders do increasingly important work in helping their vulnerable community members, though their work is usually not funded and not recognised. Many community leaders are volunteering their time in between full-time jobs, advocating for people who are not able to advocate for themselves, and helping people who have exhausted all other options.

Even when people make it through the process of settling, they find themselves against more obstacles. In 2015, we heard many people tell us of long delays in their applications for citizenship. People were waiting long times even to take a citizenship test, while others were waiting to attend their ceremonies. These delays meant, for many people, not just that they could not vote but also that they could not start the process of bringing their families to Australia. In 2016, we assisted a legal challenge to these delays and learned that these applications had effectively been put in a drawer for months while the Department was working out a way to resolve identity issues. On 16 December 2016, the Federal Court of Australia ruled that these delays were unreasonable.

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