Leaders from the Archdiocese of Perth, other Christian faiths and people of good will gathered with refugees in Perth city on Palm Sunday 10 April to call for a reset of Australia’s refugee policies. With the traditional Walk for Refugees cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions, the group gathered on the lawn of St George’s Anglican Cathedral in front of a visual display of cut-out figures, representing the more than 1600 refugees and people seeking asylum in Western Australia but remain stuck on temporary visas or in detention.
Attending from the Perth Catholic community were Justice, Ecology and Development Office Director, Carol Mitchell, Catholic Outreach Director, Marietta Russo, Office of Parish Renewal Co-Ordinator Fr Nino Vinciguerra and Catholic Mission WA Director Francis Leong. The group was also celebrating the recent release of two refugees from the Perth Immigration Detention Centre. The two Iranian refugees had been in locked detention after being “medevaced” from Manus Island in 2019. The Government’s decision to release “medevaced” refugees follows another recent announcement by the Federal Government to create an extra allocation of humanitarian visas for people fleeing Afghanistan and Ukraine.
Justice, Ecology and Development Office Director, Carol Mitchell said the Australian government has provided support to refugees previously and it is important they increase that momentum. “Australia has a moral obligation to resolve the refugee crisis and support people seeking asylum so those who are fleeing from violence or poverty are treated justly and humanely,” Mrs Mitchell said. “We ask for an end to indefinite detention and for pathways to permanent visas for all those who are defined as refugees or who meet humanitarian criteria,” she said.
Speaking for the occasion was refugee Nader Hosseini, a tiler from the Hazara ethnic minority in Afghanistan. He said people in his situation were in increasing despair. “We have fled the Taliban nearly 10 years ago and yet we still cannot be with our families,” Mr Hosseini said. “My four children [are] still in danger. The Australian government has agreed that I am a refugee, but they won’t allow me to bring my family here.” Mr Hosseini is one of approximately 20,000 refugees living, working and paying tax in Australia who remain stuck on an endless loop of temporary visas.
There are a further 11,000 people on bridging visas still awaiting the outcome of their asylum claims, as well as a smaller number who remain in detention facilities around Australia or are being processed offshore in Papua New Guinea or Nauru. At the end of March this year, Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews announced that Australia will now accept New Zealand’s offer, first made in 2013, to take 150 people per year for the next three years. Unfortunately, for Mr Hosseini and the vast majority of the more than 30,000 people who arrived by boat up to 10 years ago, they will be ineligible for the scheme and will remain in limbo.
Chair of the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service, Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long said the decision is well overdue given the New Zealand Government made the offer nine years ago. “The Catholic community continues to support and pray for all refugees and asylum-seekers in Australia and in offshore detention. “We ask for an end to indefinite detention and for pathways to permanent visas for all those who are determined to be refugees or who meet humanitarian criteria.”