PoliticsSocial issues

Refugee Council concerned by Turnbull’s citizenship changes

The changes will hit older refugees the hardest.

BY Max Mairata.

As we know, the Australian government has proposed changes to the citizenship process, with plans to strengthen the requirements through tougher testing and for many, longer waits to qualify.

The foreshadowed changes stress the importance of integration into Australian society- including the Australian values statement, and the introduction of an English language test. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said the Australian community expects aspiring citizens demonstrate their allegiance to Australia, their commitment to live in accordance with Australian values, and their willingness and ability to integrate into and become contributing members of the Australian community.

But Refugee Council of Australia CEO Paul Power believes the proposed changes will be most damaging to people bought to Australia under the Federal Government’s refugee resettlement program, particularly those older in age. The potential changes target the most vulnerable of citizenship applicants.

“The sad irony is that people who have come to Australia as refugees value the freedom and security associated with Australian citizenship more highly than any other group in the nation.

People who have experienced persecution and oppression have a much greater understanding of the importance of Australia’s freedom and democracy than those of us who have always lived in a free society.”

Retired ambassador Richard Woolcott highlighted the importance of special consideration for refugee and family migration entrants, who may struggle to learn English as adults due to disrupted or restricted formal education.

Woolcott led a 2008 review of the citizenship test, prompting him to warn against a testing regime which was intimidating and discriminatory.

Mr Power commented, “while the majority of refugee and humanitarian entrants are children and young people who typically learn English quickly, those brought to Australia as refugees include some older adults, torture survivors and people with disabilities who struggle to master English.

These are the people who are most likely to miss out on citizenship under the changes being planned by the Government,” Mr Power said.

Former refugee Munjed Al Muderis believes compassion is the key. “We need to tolerate each other with acceptance… If we treat each other as human beings the world will be a better place.”

Mr Power concluded that; “On Australia Day, Mr Turnbull described Australia’s sense of justice as being based on solidarity, mutual respect and lending a helping hand to people who fall behind. I see none of these values in his announcement about citizenship, just more punishment and more exclusion for people whose voices and contributions to Australia are all too easily ignored.


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