Friday, 28 December 2007


This was a great editorial:

"A Visa that lowers the bridge on asylum seekers" in The Age
IT IS not much of a choice: return to the country where you may have a genuine fear of persecution or stay in Australia where you will be prevented from living with anything resembling dignity. While your application for refugee status is being processed you will be allowed to live in the community but prohibited from earning a living and supporting your family. Access to Medicare or income and housing support will be denied. You will either have to work illegally and risk being detained or rely entirely on charity. The fear of destitution, family breakdown and physical and mental illness will hang over you like the terror from which you may have fled.This is the cruel reality for the nearly 3000 people who are living on bridging visa E, which provides them with legal status while their applications to remain in the country are being determined or reviewed, a process that can take several years in some cases. For some, their crime is that they have failed to apply for protection within 45 days of what is usually their lawful arrival in Australia. This punitive and draconian provision was introduced to encourage genuine claims for refugee status to be made quickly and to deter those that are not. What this fails to take into account is that applicants affected by trauma, who fear authority, do not speak English or lack the proper documentation may be unable to meet this requirement. The result is that they have few rights, except, perhaps, an abject day-to-day subsistence.The Rudd Labor Government has moved quickly to introduce a more compassionate system for those seeking asylum in Australia. It has pledged to dismantle the "Pacific Solution" and has already ended the nightmare of the seven Burmese asylum seekers held for more than a year on Nauru and given them refugee status. It is also re-examining the cases of the 74 Sri Lankans deemed by former immigration minister Kevin Andrews to be refugees, then told they would not be allowed into the country. Now, and with equal haste, it needs to resolve the many problems inherent in the country's overly complex, and in the case of E visas, inherently unfair bridging visa program that not only condemns many of those seeking protection to poverty and homelessness, but denies them basic human rights.The first step should be to abolish the 45-day rule and entrench the right to work and have access to medical and social security benefits in the E visa. Mindful of an immigration system that needs to, and should, protect Australia, the Government could then consider introducing an appealable process whereby work rights may be revoked if there is reason to believe an application has not been made in good faith. Such changes are necessary in a society interested in treating all people humanely. Practically, they would also lift the considerable burden of ensuring these asylum seekers' welfare from the shoulders of charitable community and religious groups who have assumed what is rightly the government's responsibility and who are, not surprisingly, buckling under the pressure. The benefits to the economy of these people being allowed to work are obvious.It is not in Australia's best interests to deprive people of their dignity and the right to earn a living. This can only reduce them to a state of fragility that would leave them ill-equipped to make sensible decisions about their future, and, should their applications to remain here be successful, seriously undermine their integration into society as strong, independent and resourceful citizens with existing and beneficial links to the community. Similarly, this country has a fundamental responsibility to ensure that those who are finally compelled to leave these shores do so not as broken people, but as people who have been given every opportunity to gather the financial resources and emotional strength needed to embark on a fruitful life elsewhere.

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