According to Amnesty International, a Bill is being debated right now that will make significant changes to the assessment process for asylum seekers. And these changes are not good ones. I especially like the part where the bill “calls for a number of provisions in the UN Refugee Convention – to which Australia is party – to be removed from the Migration Act.”
Not unexpectedly, number one on the Exciting List of Mean Things To Do To Refugees (yes, that’s flippant, but honestly, it’s flippancy or despair right now) is the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas, which puts people in a horrible position where their refugee status is reassessed every three years, with the threat of deportation at the end of each three year period if they are no longer deemed to be at risk.
Given how very bad our government has been at assessing risk to asylum seekers, both within our system and in terms of deporting people back to their countries of origin where they are trapped in war zones, killed, ‘disappeared‘, or otherwise persecuted, exactly as they told us they would be, this is a pretty frightening thought. Bad enough to have to go through this harrowing process once, but to have to roll the dice for your life every three years seems cruel and unusual – and not conducive to mental health.
Let’s be clear – a temporary protection visa tells people: “You are not one of us. You are not welcome.” It says “Don’t get too comfortable here.” On a practical level, it also says “Don’t bring your family, and don’t go home to visit them,” which is another cruelty designed to make people give up.
These are all, quite frankly, terrible things to do to people who have already suffered from persecution in their home countries.
But it’s also a pretty terrible thing to do to Australia. Setting aside the burden on our collective conscience – which I think is immense – the temporary protection visa weakens us as a country. Whether you take the protectionist view that people who come here from other cultures need to assimilate, or the multiculturalist view that people who come here from other cultures enrich us, the temporary protection visa undermines this, because the other thing this visa tells people is: “You have no stake in this country.”
If we are serious about being worried about terrorism, this is a really stupid thing to do. And if we just want to be decent human beings, it’s a deeply unkind thing to do.
Either way, we need to stop doing it.
The High Court of Australia recently ruled that we could not prevent people from applying for permanent protection. I’m guessing that the new Bill is designed to counter this.
So. Here’s what we can do today.
Amnesty International is encouraging you to call your Senator today, and provides some scripts you can use to do so. You can find a list of Senators for your state here – click on the map to find the ones for your state.
This is horribly intimidating, I know. Frankly, I always feel as though I sound like a complete idiot when I ring a politician, so I’ll probably use Amnesty’s script, or something very like it. And still sound like a complete idiot.
You can also send emails or letters, which is a bit less scary. I’m going to try to draft something over the weekend and post it here, just in case that is useful to anyone.
If you are more of a rally sort of person, there is also a Walk for Refugees coming up on October 25th in a city near you.
If you’d rather run than walk, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has a Run for Refugees fundraiser coming up in conjunction with the Melbourne Marathon.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to sit, Love Makes A Way is an ecumenical Christian organisation that does training in non-violent direct action and does sit-ins at the offices of politicians. (They definitely have non-Christians involved in the sit-ins – I’ve spotted at least one Rabbi in photos – but I suspect you’d need to be pretty comfortable with prayer to participate, regardless of your affiliation.)
And if you know about any other actions that can be taken on this, please let me know, and I’ll add them to the list.
Now, I’m off to spend the rest of my lunchbreak ringing a Senator. Wish me luck!
PS – another item on this bill is the new Fast Track Processing, which sounds really great on the surface, but tends to greatly disadvantage people who have been traumatised by torture or sexual violence if they are unable to talk about this immediately (essentially because there’s no real time to build any sort of rapport with the interviewer, and these sorts of things can be incredibly difficult to talk about and tend to be revealed over a longer period of time). And of course ‘greatly disadvantage’ can mean getting deported when they really are at risk.
Edited to update: I have now rung six senators – Senators Di Natale (Greens), Conroy (Labor), Muir (Motoring Lobby), McKenzie (Nationals) Madigan (Independent) and Fifield (Liberal). In that order, I might add, because I figured that I’d leave the scary ones and the ones who might actually be on the fence until last. So the Greens were basically my practice run, because I find this terribly intimidating, but I pretty much know which way the Greens will vote, so there’s no way that phone call can go badly! My script was similar to the one from Amnesty – though when I was speaking to the Coalition offices, I expressed my awareness that this was Coalition policy, but that I wanted to let the Senators know that I was against it. I also mentioned my concerns that TPVs are counterproductive if we are seriously concerned about terrorism, because they don’t give people a stake in our community.
Everyone I spoke to was very friendly and helpful, especially the woman from Senator McKenzie’s office (who took notes while I was speaking – and when I apologised for speaking fast, because I was nervous, said that they always want to hear from people and know what they think about what the government is doing, and I shouldn’t worry, which was kind of her), and the man from Madigan’s office (who seemed struck by my argument about terrorism, which he said wasn’t one he had considered, and also informed me that Madigan was absolutely against TPVs, which was good to hear). I left a message on Senator Muir’s voicemail, which I suspect was pretty much the only phonecall where I managed to sound like a grownup.
But, intimidating as it was, it has been done, and hopefully it will have some weight. I was heartened by the fact that even the Coalition offices made an effort to be approachable and were clearly taking notes.
(I still prefer letters, though. It’s so much easier not to sound like a twit in a letter.)