Refugees’ permanent visa protests step up the pressure on Labor

The permanent visa grant to Tamil asylum seeker Neil Para after his epic walk from Ballarat to Sydney has set off as chain reaction of protest.

12,000 Captive Souls, representing asylum seekers on bridging (or lapsed) visas, began protesting outside Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil’s office in Melbourne. Then Iranian, Tamil, Iraqi and Bangladeshi asylum seekers staged four days of protest outside Anthony Albanese’s office in early October, chanting, “Albo, Albo, End this Limbo.”

Meanwhile a Tamil cricketer and asylum seeker, Thienushan Chandrasekaram, began a bike ride from Brisbane to Canberra, arriving to join hundreds of Iranians and Bangladeshis protesting on the lawns of Parliament House on 17 October.

On 18 October, hundreds more asylum seekers were on the Parliamentary lawns to welcome the 22 Tamil and Iranian women on bridging visas who had walked to Canberra from Clare O’Neil’s office in Melbourne to demand permanent visas.

Despite a commitment to scrap the fast track refugee assessment process introduced by the Morrison government, Labor has done nothing for its victims. The arbitrariness of Labor’s decisions is fueling the growing frustration and anger. The Biloela family got permanent visas shortly after Labor was elected, and now Neil Para’s family has been granted visas, but more than 10,000 asylum seekers are still in limbo after 11 years.

Around 1000 others being denied justice are the refugees and asylum seekers brought from Nauru and PNG but denied permanent resettlement in Australia.

The victims of Labor’s commitment to Operation Sovereign Borders continue to mount, onshore and offshore.

The Guardian broke the news that after mothballing Nauru in June, 11 asylum seekers (almost certainly Tamils) were intercepted and taken to Nauru in September. Labor has maintained the same silence regarding on-water matters as Morrison. The fate of the asylum seekers on Nauru is unknown.

Stranded in PNG

And in PNG, the crisis surrounding the fate of the remaining 62 refugees has been exposed by the eviction of an Afghan family. After maintaining the secrecy of the Morrison government’s 2021 deal with PNG and denying that the government had any responsibility for the refugees in PNG, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil was forced to admit that Labor had last handed funds to PNG under the deal in July 2022.

But a whiff of corruption surrounds the Regional Resettlement Scheme as the hundreds of millions provided seem to have mysteriously dried up. Service providers have not been paid for months, while allegations are also emerging that the funds have been skimmed.

Refugees who are meant to be supported under the scheme have been evicted or forced to move from one place to another; they have been left without food vouchers or their living allowances while utilities that had previously been provided such as electricity, gas, and WiFi have been cut. The refugees’ only medical provider, Pacific International Hospital, claims it is owed nearly $40 million and has started cutting back services to refugees.

After the revelations PNG’s Chief Migration Officer Stanis Hulahau threatened to send the refugees back to Australia unless there are more funds provided.

The secret Morrison deal that Clare O’Neil is still defending has facilitated the funding scandal and the cover-up of the systematic abuse of refugees in PNG. Among the 62 are around 16 who are too mentally unwell to even engage with authorities like UNHCR, others have been waiting years for resettlement in the US or Canada that never comes.

The refugees should be brought back to Australia—they also need permanent visas. Labor is stained with the same rotten policies of Morrison and the disgraced Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo.

The refugee protests are not going to stop. Another protest walk for permanent visas is planned for November. “Permanent Visas For All” protests are planned in Sydney and Brisbane on 29 October.

By Ian Rintoul


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