Labor’s permanent visas announcement leaves thousands behind

On 12 February, nine months after the Albanese government was elected, Labor finally made good on one element of its election promise to refugees.

It was very good news for 19,000 people on TPVs and SHEVs who had eked out an existence for up to 13 years. They are now eligible to apply for permanent Resolution of Status (RoS) visas.

But Labor’s announcement has been overshadowed by the fact that thousands of other refugees and people seeking asylum have been left in a hell of uncertainty.

Despite Ministerial assurances that Labor’s announcement would encompass the 10,000 asylum seekers whose protection visa claims were rejected under the Liberals’ fast track process, Labor has not even undertaken to review their claims.

They remain on bridging or expired visas, many without the right to work or any kind of support at all.

Around half of the asylum seekers who arrived after 19 July 2013 remained in Australia and will now be eligible for permanent visas. But around 1100 refugees brought from PNG and Nauru (and their children born in Australia) have been told they will never resettle here.

Labor is maintaining the entire architecture of refugee deterrence policies. Prime Minister Albanese defended the permanent visa announcement by declaring, “The government will be tough on borders without being weak on humanity.” But four things over the past two weeks show just how little humanity and how much Liberal policy Labor actually embraces.

Firstly, Labor’s 2021 national platform says, “Labor will abolish Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas,” and that, “Labor will abolish this fast track assessment process.” But they haven’t.

Secondly, when it emerged that Nauru’s official designation as a place of offshore detention had lapsed, Labor hurriedly pushed through a new parliamentary instrument (with Liberal support) to renew its status and put beyond doubt its commitment to Operation Sovereign Borders.

Thirdly, a few days later it also emerged that, prior to its permanent visa announcement, Labor had called on the navy for “surge capacity” to turnback asylum boats if they attempted to reach Australia from Indonesia.

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Lastly, on 13 February, Labor pushed its “Aggregate Sentences” bill through Parliament, again with Liberal support, to give itself retrospective powers to overturn a Federal Court decision in December last year that resulted in 163 people whose visas had been cancelled under s501 of the Migration Act being released from immigration prison.

As Solidarity goes to press, around 30 people have been re-detained in raids by squads of Border Force officers and police, including picking up one refugee on his way to work.

Labor’s legislation has been condemned by human rights lawyers and refugee activists. Rachel Saravanamuthu, ASRC Senior Solicitor, said, “People have just begun to rebuild their lives – reunite with family, start new jobs and have hope for their future. All of their dreams have been ripped away so suddenly”.

Section 501 is discriminatory and racist, allowing the government to hold people in immigration detention after they have completed prison sentences just because they are non-citizens. But rather than scrapping s501, Labor has worked with the Liberals to maintain powers that violate human rights.

Labor’s permanent visa announcement is a win for the refugee movement and the struggle in and out of detention. That same determination is going to be needed for the movement’s unfinished business with Labor.

Fourteen thousand refugees remain in Indonesia with those who arrived after July 2014 still subject to the ban imposed by the Liberal government that prevents them being referred to Australia for resettlement. Around 150 people are in their tenth year held offshore on Nauru and PNG.

Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers will rally in Canberra on Monday 6 March to continue the fight for permanent visas for all. Zaki Haidari, an Afghan refugee on a SHEV visa told SBS how happy he and others were with Labor’s announcement that they would get permanent visas but, “Some Afghan refugees also hold bridging visas for whom the government is yet to announce any plans, so our advocacy now turns to them”.

By Ian Rintoul


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