By BRIANA WALKER
Now the boats have been stopped, we haven’t really heard a lot from our politicians regarding refugees. But the public has spoken— over 75% of Australians support refugee family reunion according to a new poll published this month by the Refugee Council of Australia. With more people seeking asylum now than any time since World War II, and only 0.28% of the world’s refugees being protected in Australia last year, it seems the separation of families in crisis and the current policies surrounding refugee settlement need to be readdressed.
While the current government boast about “protecting our borders” (yes, this is the name given to the current refugee policy) and saving the budget billions, thousands of people settling in Australia as refugees have to wait years before seeing their families. Unfortunately, some never will.
Under current policies, the Special Humanitarian Program is the primary avenue for those with a confirmed refugee status to attempt to reunite with family members. However, in their 2016 report, the RCOA found the demand for SHP visas outnumbers the available places by 7:1. Many claims were found to be subject to long waiting periods, and the need to source ‘substantiate’ evidence of family relationships posed a barrier.
Having met numerous, onerous criteria, the average processing time for a successful offshore application to be granted a visa is 14 and a half months. Further, in July this year, the United Nations refugee agency found the Federal Government to have breached a promise to resettle refugees with close family ties in Australia, as a part of a deal with the United States.
When asked whether refugee families separated across the world should be reunited, the majority of the nearly 2000 respondents to the recent poll (including voters for both major political parties) answered ‘yes’ or ‘yes— but only after appropriate background checks’.
With 97% of respondents agreeing family is important to them, RCOA CEO Paul Power said now is the time the political leadership in Australia to respect the community’s opinion and make family reunion a reality.
“Unfortunately many refugees living in the Australian community have no idea if or when they will see their families again and they fear for their safety,” he says. “Without more humane policies in place, people will continue to suffer.”
As family separation continues to have detrimental psychological, financial and social impacts on those trying to resettle in Australia, Mr Power believes both major parties should commit to allocating at least 5,000 visas under the family stream of the Migration Program for refugee and humanitarian entrants.
Carrying on from their findings, the RCOA are advocating for the reunion of refugee families through the online movement #FairGoForFamilies. The pledge, open to the public to sign, seeks to pressure our policymakers into consulting with refugee communities, creating more visas and needs-based concessions, and allowing shorter process times with fewer costs and restrictions to those arriving by boat.