Rediscovering our Welcoming Identity -the welcome we should be offering to refugees

Rediscovering our Welcoming Identity

Temporary Protection Visas in Australia: a reform proposal is “Policy Brief 13” of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, University of New South Wales. Mary Anne Kenny, Nicholas Proctor and Carol Grech are the authors of this document that was published in June.

  This is a most welcome publication. Should its 17 carefully formulated recommendations be followed, we will have legislation that will overcome “the most detrimental elements” of our refugee law and policy that have prevailed for over a decade. Through their analysis, the authors have provided insight into the complex demoralising process of the system of refugee “processing”, that has left many of us wondering if this “country of refuge” has become a kind of minimum security prison.

  “Policy Brief 13” presents material that enables us to appreciate the “perpetual limbo” that has been experienced by the 31,253 people classified as the “legacy caseload”. The authors clearly aim to help lift an onerous weight off the shoulders of a very vulnerable group of people who are living in our midst who, we should not forget, are already our neighbours.

  As a careful examination of Australian refugee law and policy, and the way Temporary Protection Visas have functioned in people’s lives over the last decade, “Policy Brief 13” is explicitly dedicated “to the asylum seekers and refugees who have sought asylum in Australia by boat.”

  This fine-grained analysis of the administation of our polity’s refugee law and policy, will be welcomed by those who advocate for refugees in a national context that has been fraught with bi-partisan political intransigence and uncertainty. The “Policy Brief” makes a strong and coherent case for legislative and administrative changes that, if implemented would clear the way for a rediscovery of what I call “our welcoming identity”.

  So, we hope the reform proposal is received by the Federal Government as an encouragement to take a firm stand for justice for the “legacy caseload”. These are neighbours from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and also other countries. They have arrived in our midst having fled armed conflict, violence and human rights violations that were part of their everyday life. By giving due respect to the report’s 17 detailed recommendations, the Federal Parliament will help overcome what many have felt to be a demoralisation of our nation’s life. The Proposal is written in a way that gives hope of a renewal in our welcome for refugees. Should our Federal Parliament concur and take on the suggested reform it will help to affirm “our welcoming identity” as a vital part of our national life which has suffered an ecclipse in recent decades. 

  The document aims at overcoming the punitive characteristics associated with the Temporary Protection Visa (TPV). The reader who delves into this report will also be confronted by a detailed attempt to explain the complex visa system: Temporary Protection Visa (TPV), the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) as well as other visa classifications such as the Bridging Visa (BV) and the Resolution of Status Visa (RoSV).

  The listing of the acronyms for four visa categories, will also assist those unfamiliar with refugee law and policy to follow the argument. By itself, the 4 items of the list signifies something of the complex and confusing labryinth that “legacy caseload” people have had to negotiate. Even so, we citizens, with whatever neighbourly help we seek to give, are reminded by the visa list of how vital it is to find those with legal and administrative expertise and nous, to assist in negotiating the system by providing legal and administrative support and advice. Meanwhile those of us away from the actual negotiation on behalf of refugees, continue to give our support “for people that we don’t see”, as we have quoted Phil Glendenning of the Refugee Council of Australia in our byline above.

  So, the document also reminds us why it is important now, as we wait for the uptake of its reform proposal, to stay involved even if it is only in small, seeming peripheral ways. The well-crafted, professionally framed recommendations provides the Federal Parliament with a well argued pathway to legislative reform, pointing to how our polity can be turned around on this matter from actions “inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under international refugee and human rights law.” And let us not forget that by all indications the world’s refugee crisis is going to be with us for some time yet.

  In recent times, concerned political voices have condemned “rogue” governments, and leaders who fail to abide by the “rules-based” international order. Well then: “Policy Brief 13” is a well researched document that helps us to call on our Federal Government to dispense with its “rogue” standing in the administration of our own refugee laws. It should do so for the health of our Commonwealth, as Government, Opposition, and the other members of the Federal Parliament all join together for justice to ensure this reform.

  “Policy Brief 13” is a call for a just approach to refugee law and policy that is eager to restore Australia as a compassionate and trusted potential destination for those seeking refuge. “Policy Brief 13” deserves our support and the authors our thanks for reminding us of the importance of the welcome we should be offering to refugees.

Bruce Wearne, July 25th, 2022

This article is the view of the author and is not necessarily the view of Queenscliff Rural Australians for Refugees.