13 November 2003

Fighting to let refugees stay

On the latest (October) figures, 8860 people have been granted TPVs, including 3658 Afghans and 4254 Iraqis. More than 90 per cent of TPV holders have applied for further protection visas; 350 have had decisions. Of these, 342 were refused (about 130 due to them choosing to leave).

It is important to remember that those on TPV holders are people whose refugee status was initially accepted. They came illegally, but they had valid claims. Ironically, the wars Australia fought against Afghanistan and Iraq have disadvantaged refugees from these countries in their claims to stay, because the regimes from which they fled have been ousted. While the Afghans are losing their claims to a new visa, the Iraqis are moving more slowly through the system, because of the difficulty of getting accurate information about the situation in the country.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for a ban on the return of any Iraqis, whether refugees or failed asylum seekers. The UNHCR urges a review of the TPV system. Spokeswoman Ellen Hansen says: 'We're particularly concerned at the Australian practice of denying recognised refugees family reunion and travel documents and forcing them to reassert their claims to refugee status after an arbitrary time period.'

On November 23-24, organisations from various parts of the country will send a group of TPV holders, supporters and employers to Canberra to lobby for change. Delegates will also give 'thank you' certificates to MPs for them to present to refugee support groups in their electorates.

They will be a reminder that while most Australians want a tough border protection policy, many of them are willing to extend a helping hand to people who, once here, have shown themselves worthy residents who don't deserve the treatment they're getting.

Temporary Protection Visas only happen in Australia. A TPV holder has been recognised as a refugee by the Australian government. They have a well-founded fear of persecution on returning to their own country. Sadly, under Ruddock's rules, they have a well-founded fear of persecution if they attempt to stay in Australia, where their refugee status gives them a lawful claim.

Now government supporters might say, but what about the queue. The fact is that there is no queue. There is no system for the orderly processing of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan outside Australia. That is answered by Human Rights Watch:

The government of Australia has argued that when someone's refugee status - in this case a TPV - is withdrawn, and that individual is subsequently returned to their country of nationality or former habitual residence, this somehow "frees up space" for other, new and more needy refugees. There is no direct way in which this statement is true, as extra refugee quota places are not added as a consequence of each departure. If an individual TPV holder were dependent on long-term welfare, his or her return might conceivably free up some welfare resources, but it is questionable whether the administrative costs of re-assessment, detention and deportation would outweigh any such savings. Nor is there any budgetary mechanism for such welfare savings to be reinvested in future refugee resettlement or international aid benefiting refugees. It is therefore an illusory trade-off.

The last leg of the government argument is that refugees who arrive without authorisation pre-empt the quota places of other refugees. That is also untrue. The minister can and does expand and contract the quota at will. I do not know if amanda Vanstone has a retinue of colourful Sydney identities that she takes recommendations from. Certainly Grand Inquisitor Ruddock did. Did anyone ever hear Ruddock, in discussing his hundreds of special ministerial exemptions, worry that he was going over the quota?

Why? Because the quota is as much a myth as the queue.

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