7 December 2022

We must urgently call on government for humane, compassionate treatment of refugees  

Marchers at the No One Left Behind rally. Picture: Jacob Andrewartha 

By Audrey Statham 

9 November 2022

It was taken as a sign of hope by refugee communities, advocates and supporters when the Labor party won the recent federal election that a more humane and compassionate approach would now be taken towards refugee policy and the treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum in this country.  

Labor was quick to make good on one of the commitments it made concerning refugees in the lead up to 21 May. In August, the Labor government gave permanent visas to the Tamil Nadesalingam family from Sri Lanka who were finally allowed to go home for good to Bilolea, Queensland. However, they haven’t yet honoured their other election promises to refugees. 

The first promise was to grant permanent visas to refugees on temporary protection visas, known as TPVs and SHEVs. The second was to address the flaws in the “Fast Track” system established by the Coalition government for assessing people’s claims for protection, and to implement a new efficient process for re-assessing the claims of people denied the right to fair and proper review of government decisions under the previous system.  

The majority of those on temporary protection visas and those waiting for their claims for asylum to be assessed have been living in limbo for more than nine years. About 19,000 people on temporary protection visas have been recognised as refugees. Yet they live in a constant state of uncertainty due to the temporary nature of their visas and without ability to reunite with their families.  

Around 10,000 people whose claims were assessed under the Fast Track system are on bridging visas which include access to Medicare and work rights, but no eligibility for income support. This leaves them living in poverty, vulnerable to destitution and without dignity as they’re reduced to dependency on charities which are overstretched. 

Expectation was very high that Labor would make all the changes it had promised to make for refugees while it was in opposition in a timely fashion. It is now more than 200 days since Labor came to power, and yet refugees on temporary protection visas and people seeking asylum on bridging visas continue to be kept in limbo and in the dark about their future – apparently forgotten by Labor. In stark contrast to its election promises, this delay by the Labor Government appears callous and inhumane. 

Read more: New hope for action on refugees, climate and Indigenous Australians

For that reason, the Social Responsibilities Committee of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne endorsed the No one Left Behind rally by Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) which took place on Saturday 5 November. 

Hundreds of people including refugees, people seeking asylum and their supporters attended the rally. Speakers included Nazir Yousafi, the Victorian Afghan Associations Network, Nos Hosseini, Iranian Women’s Association, Pauline Brown from Labor for Refugees Victoria and Samantha Ratnam, MP and leader of Victorian Greens.  

It was an important opportunity to send a clear and urgent message to federal Labor that Australians want a more humane and compassionate country for refugees, and to call on Labor politicians to get on with the job of holding to the commitments they made to refugees.  

Read more: Call for government to fulfil moral responsibility to refugees

Melbourne Anglicans can show our support for refugees and people seeking asylum at these upcoming events which are happening in November: 

Thursday 10 November, 7.30pm: ‘Sparrows of Kabul’ is a song cycle that explores Australia’s long involvement in Afghanistan with Afghan musicians on stage. The Grand Hall, Kingston’s Arts Centre, Nepean Highway, Moorabbin. This is a free event that you need to book for at: kingstonarts.com.au/PERFORMANCE/MUSIC/Sparrows-of-Kabul  

Saturday 12 November, 2.00pm: ‘Art Meets Activism: Art Auction Fundraiser Supporting Refugees’ is a public auction of works donated by leading artists highlighting the need to treat refugees and people seeking asylum with dignity and compassion. Three artists with lived experience as refugees have contributed artworks and will receive 100 per cent of the sale price. Meat Market Stables, 2 Wreckyn Street, North Melbourne (doors open for viewing at midday), the details can be found at: artmeetsactivism.com  

Tuesday 29 November, 11.00am: ‘Canberra Convergence for Refugees’ is being organised by a coalition of refugee groups and advocates who will travel to Canberra to call for Labor to fulfil its election promises to refugees on TPVs and SHEVs and people on bridging visas whose claims were assessed under the Fast Track system. A bus will leave from Melbourne on Monday night and arrive back in Melbourne late on Tuesday night. Book a seat on the bus by 5pm on Wednesday 23 November at: trybooking.com/CEBVS  

Dr Audrey Statham is a member of Social Responsibilities Committee of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, and a parishioner at St Mary’s North Melbourne. 

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