With the return of the Murugappan family to Biloela, the Albanian government has shown that amnesty is possible for holders of bridging visas, writes Fabia Claridge.
TODAY IS A DAY of celebration for thousands of Australians as Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharnicaa return to Biloela. Their long journey of suffering and abuse and today’s fanfare return to Biloela has been a very public affair.
It’s a story that resonates with us on a deeply human level, almost a fairy tale, with a Dark Lord. But today, media across the country are celebrating the compassionate action of a government minister. Social media is full of outbursts of goodwill, both for the Murugappan family and for the new Minister of Immigration, Andrew Giles.
We commend the Biloela community and the team of volunteers and friends behind this campaign for their tireless and relentless pursuit of this result. We are proud to be a generous and compassionate Australia.
Now that the party is over, we have to wonder what will happen next. Will the White Knight complete his task of giving permanent residency with a clear path to citizenship? Minister Andrew Giles has the power — will he use it?
In a statement on Twitter, Gilles said:
“As Immigration Minister, I am also thinking about how we can finally resolve this issue, so that the family can rebuild their lives in Biloela with the certainty they deserve. I am aware of the options available to best achieve this and will make my decision as soon as possible.
But while waiting for the result, let’s keep a thought for the thousands of others – families, sons, daughters, husbands, fathers, mothers – who are in the same difficult situation as the Murugappan family. They are the victims of a faulty and biased system. Their identities have been deliberately kept secret. We also know that they lived in fear of being deported to danger.
Many, like the Murugappan family, come from dangerous areas and are part of persecuted groups. We know from our own experience that they can be summoned to home affairs and tell them, “It won’t go well for you if you speak in public”. They suffer in fear and silence. It is not for us here to reveal the identity of those we know. But we can tell you this: many Australians have been vicariously traumatized by witnessing state abuse of their friends.
We have had friends who committed suicide out of desperation, because of indefinite detention, threat of deportation to danger, staying with us in our house one day, being re-detained and dead the next. We saw families torn apart, a mother falling to the ground with her newborn baby as her baby’s father was whisked away in a closed van to be deported to danger. Will this reign of terror end now? We certainly hope so.
Bridging visas fall into a number of categories with different requirements. Not all of them are linked to people asking for Australia’s security. There is a huge backlog and a huge bureaucracy; a big mess in the immigration department with a “can’t do anything” ethic. It needs to be repaired urgently.
Labor has already pledged to grant permanent residency to people with Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise (SHEV) visas and we welcome that. We understand that the process will take time, but we are here to ensure that there is no letting up.
Would Australians really feel overwhelmed if other families like the Biloela family elected permanent residency? After all, they are already there to eat, sleep, work alongside you, sit on the train next to you and pay taxes. They just need safety and security so they can help build a better future for all without leaving anyone behind, as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has promised.
Australia voted for change. Let’s embrace it. This is who we are and this is our request.
People Just Like Us, an Australasia-based refugee advocacy organization, is calling for an amnesty for all bridging visa-holding refugees to be granted permanent residency along with TPV and SHEV holders.
There are several cohorts of refugees.
Joyce Fu of People Just Like Us said:
No one should be punished for the way they came to this country. It is impossible to get a proper visa to come by plane if you are fleeing war or persecution. Under international humanitarian law, asylum seekers who have come by boat must be treated equally and fairly. This is in line with the Refugee Convention to which Australia is a signatory.
Refugees who suffer from our cruel national refugee policies have the right to obtain amnesty and continue with their lives.
We must ensure that no one is left behind. The goal is to eliminate all backlogs created over the past 20 years of persecution.
Additionally, Australia needs the contribution of migrants and refugees at all levels.
There has been a hiatus in immigration over the past two years, creating even more capacity. Migrants of all categories must have the certainty of being able to become active members of the community. Permanence is more efficient than continuous processing of short-term visas.
Among the refugee cohorts are those who are trafficked and abandoned in PNG and Nauru. This is an “out of the water issue” that requires very urgent attention. Despite their paper status, they should be included in the single amnesty for the backlog of cases. They have suffered enough at the hands of the Australian state and the New Zealand deal as it stands does not address the urgency of their need for rescue not at sea but on land.
It could be argued that they are entitled to claim asylum for a secondary claim of persecution by the Australian state. The minister has the power. He needs to use it. He has the mandate to do so.
People Just Like Us calls for a punctual reception of refugees stranded in Indonesia
The refugee cohort in Indonesia clearly falls under Australian jurisdiction as they have been warehousing there for nearly a decade at Australia’s request and at our expense. They are about 13,700. Half are Afghans. There are also many stateless Rohingyas.
Previous Australian governments have paid to maintain a secret network of detention centers across Indonesia through the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Some of them have now been closed, but refugees are still trapped there with no right to work, no right to study and no right to travel within Indonesia. Indonesia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. It also has a huge population that is rising out of poverty.
This is the “other” Park Hotel. It’s an open-air prison. People cannot plan a future or move on with their lives. There have been many suicides due to despair and despair. It is a system deliberately designed to steal hope, something essential for all humans. There are daily protests in the streets and belittling by the police. Unfortunately, during the visit of the Albanese Prime Minister to Makassar, some of our friends were locked up so that they could not protest. This is disappointing in a democracy.
By making the visit to Indonesia a top priority this week, Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong have established that they hold our collegial relationship with our near neighbor in high regard. Both in Asia and the Pacific, they understand that it is time for Australia to embrace equality and end the arrogant colonial behavior of the previous government.
By all means, commerce and “people to people” can be increased, but doing so while turning a blind eye to families who commit suicide in the street is not what we voted for. Resolving this backlog of suffering on our doorstep is both good neighborly and strategic.
This is why People Just Like Us calls for a punctual reception of refugees from Indonesia to eliminate the backlog at the source. That’s where the boats come from. Give people an option and they will never risk their own precious life on a boat. Time and time again we have been told this.
Moreover, with the pause in welcoming migrants in recent years, now is the perfect time to do so. Australia currently needs all kinds of workers, skilled and unskilled. A Labor government is also great at providing training and admission could be done in a few steps.
In no time, these people can be running your local restaurant, painting your nails, or taking care of grandma. It can be the doctor in a country practice or the real estate agent who offers you a good deal on an apartment. They could even hold a pipe or drive a forklift.
A one-time influx of refugees from Indonesia can demonstrate Australia’s willingness to reset the future of regional cooperation in the refugee space, not to deter but to manage the flow of people through the region that has always existed by possibly developing a regional solution. An important part of this is decoupling refugees from national security concerns. This false narrative has not served Australia well and degraded our entire nation.
With the upcoming visit of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the recent trip of our new Prime Minister to Indonesia, what better time to start a first big step towards solving the refugee impasse in our region with a timely contribution from Indonesia?
Fabia Claridge has been involved in the refugee movement for 20 years, most recently as co-host of People Just Like Us, a small nimble NGO made up of members from diverse backgrounds.
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