Refugees still desperately fighting under Labor

2 April 2024
Renee Nayef 

When Amin was 25, he fled Iran to seek asylum in Australia. The federal government, led at the time by Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party, had just amended migration laws to deny people arriving by boat the right to permanent protection. Instead, they might be eligible only for three- or five-year temporary visas and put through the Fast Track System—a misleading name for a defective and Orwellian refugee status determination process.

While the change was instituted in December 2014, it also applied to more than 30,000 people who had arrived in 2012 and 2013.

Now, more than a decade later, Amin and thousands of others remain in limbo on bridging visas, or with no visa at all. Last month, he was one of dozens of refugees who participated in a three-day sit-down strike outside Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil’s office, demanding action and answers from the federal Labor government.

The office, in Melbourne’s south-east, has been a frequent target of 12,000 Captive Souls, a campaign group that has organised a string of protests against O’Neil and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles.

The protests come in the wake of a decision by the Albanese government last year, allowing 19,000 refugees on temporary protection and safe-haven enterprise visas to apply for permanent residency and citizenship. The announcement excluded an estimated 12,000 asylum seekers, some who have been living and working in Australia for more than a decade, leaving them ineligible for permanent protection.

“We thought our saviour was going to be Labor. But it was under Labor that the Medicare of my six-year-old daughter was cut”, Amin told Red Flag at the demonstration. He’s 36 now and has two Australian-born daughters who are denied access to a visa and government services like Medicare.

“We did a lot to campaign for Labor, pushing other people to vote for them. They promised to do something for us, but I have changed my mind now, and Labor is much worse than the Liberals”, Amin said.

The Fast Track System puts the fate of thousands of refugees in the hands of a state bureaucrat who conducts a “merit review” in a closed office. The process is arbitrary and can take years. In the meantime, the asylum seekers are left in limbo and must re-apply for temporary visas every six or twelve months.

“Imagine in January, you have your visa in your hand for six months, but you don’t have Medicare”, Amin continued. “You have to apply for Medicare, that takes two or three months. Then there’s only three months left. Two months pass, then it’s time to apply for a visa again.”

The treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by the Australian government is notoriously cruel and has been lauded even by neo-Nazis in Europe.

“After eleven years, I’m frustrated; I’m exhausted. Being here, talking about these things, it makes me so nervous. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, not even in three months. This state of limbo is so painful”, Amin said.

“So many people are hopeless. They are in despair. We’ve been trying and trying, but no results. But still we come out here to get attention. If we don’t have hope, we can’t keep going.”

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