Sydney Protests Against Temporary Protection Visas

Hundreds of people yesterday protested outside the Sydney office of Home Affairs against the continuing use of Temporary Protection Visas for people found to be genuine refugees. Temporary Protection Visas, which have been used since the 1990s, have long been criticised for the uncertainty they bring to refugees who have been through trauma and want to establish a life in a safe country. The government has also been criticised for placing many refugee applicants on Bridging Visas without work rights, forcing them to live in poverty.

The protesters, who were mostly refugees living in Australia on temporary visas, said they were separated from their families with no prospect of reunion and had access to limited social security benefits and work rights.

What are Temporary Protection Visas?

Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) were introduced in 1999 by the Howard government. They are issued to those who are determined to be refugees after making an unauthorised arrival, often after release from immigration detention.

TPVs are valid for a period of three years, after which the holder must reapply and their situation be reassessed. If the situation in their country has changed and they are no longer at risk of persecution, they may be refused another TPV.

TPVs were abolished by the Rudd government in 2008 but reintroduced by the Abbot government in 2013.

Persons on TPVs do not have the right to family reunion and may not re-enter Australia if they leave. They have the right to work and receive Medicare and have access to limited Centrelink benefits as well as torture and trauma counselling.

A person on the TPV may not apply for permanent protection.

What are Bridging Visas?

Bridging Visas (BVs) are visas that are held while waiting for a visa application to be processed or while waiting for a court to decide an appeal against a decision about a visa. There are six classes of Bridging Visas, with different functions and entitlements attaching to them.

Most refugees on BVs are not entitled to work, receive Centrelink benefits or travel out of Australia.

Why do we have short term refugee visas?

The Australian government says that TPVs are one of the three pillars of its border protection policy (the others being boat turnbacks and offshore processing). They are designed to offer short-term protection to people with genuine refugee claims while leaving the government with the option of returning the holder to their country if it becomes safe to do so.

Temporary Protection Visas are part of the campaign of deterrence that successive Australian governments have been pursuing since the 1990s, based on the idea that offering favourable conditions to refugees will lead to an increase in unauthorised arrivals.

Criticisms of short-term visas

Under Australian government policy, thousands of people who arrived by boat between 2011 and 2014 will never receive a permanent Protection Visa. Refugee lawyers say that Temporary Protection Visas force refugees to live in permanent limbo, unable to reunite with their families or to ever obtain permanent status.

Temporary Protection Visas also place an immense strain on the legal centres that are required to prepare a new application every few years for each visa holder.

The short-term visas also make it extremely difficult for holders to obtain employment or commence study. The uncertainty they bring compounds existing mental health issues and holders fear being returned to persecution every time their visa expires.

Refugee services are urging the government to change its policies.

The protest ended with protesters delivering a letter to the Department of Home Affairs demanding permanency, a pathway to Australian citizenship and the right to family reunion.

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