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Federal Election 2022: A humane immigration system

Jesuit Social Services’ recently released Federal Election platform, A blueprint for a just recovery, builds on 45 years of advocacy and action, to outline the organisation’s vision for a just society across a range of interconnected social policy areas, from climate change to Aboriginal self-determination, youth justice, mental health and affordable housing.

In this fifth in a series of pre-Election blogs, we focus on creating a humane immigration system.

The fall of Kabul in Afghanistan, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the recent release of those arbitrarily imprisoned in immigration detention facilities such as Melbourne’s Park Hotel are moments which call on us to examine and transform the way we treat people seeking asylum in Australia.

The Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) is a national initiative that advocates and campaigns for the just and humane treatment of people seeking asylum in Australia. Formed in 2014, CAPSA is co-convened by Jesuit Social Services and Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) Australia and is supported by an advisory group of national representatives from Catholic peak bodies and organisations across the pastoral, education, social and health sectors. Jesuit Social Services advocates for the fair and humane treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum, both through CAPSA and as an organisation.

We must end indefinite and arbitrary detention

Jesuit Social Services is deeply concerned by the ongoing indefinite and arbitrary detention of people seeking asylum both in Australia and overseas at the hands of the Australian Government. The average length of time a person spends in immigration detention is just under 700 days. However, many people have been detained for much longer — 117 people have been detained for over five years and eight people have been detained for more than 10 years. Experts in law, health, psychology, social work and human rights have expressed their well-founded and ongoing concerns for the wellbeing of refugees and people seeking asylum.

According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Government has released 238 refugees from onshore detention centres since December 2020, including the recent release of the last eight remaining people detained at Melbourne’s Park Hotel. While the release of refugees and people seeking asylum is always welcome news, this pattern of sudden and unexplained release — while others remain detained with no clear end in sight — highlights the cruel, secretive and arbitrary nature of the Government’s approach.

It has been almost 10 years since the re-establishment of Australia’s offshore processing of asylum and refugee claims. We urge the incoming Federal Government to end the punitive approach toward people seeking asylum by ending offshore processing and ensuring against prolonged and arbitrary detention.

Everyone deserves a safe and stable home

People seeking asylum and refugees living in the community also face major challenges, often living below the poverty line, without access to Government support, away from loved ones and with the uncertainty of three-year Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and five-year Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs). The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified these challenges.

In addition to showing basic respect for human dignity, health and wellbeing, research has found that giving refugees on TPVs and SHEVs permanency is likely to generate approximately $6.75 billion for the Australian economy over a five-year period. We call on the Government to abolish TPVs and SHEVs, and provide pathways for people seeking asylum and refugees to permanently resettle in the community.

When people seek asylum, they very often leave family and loved ones. For many, loved ones remain in danger and contact with them can be impossible, intermittent, or unsafe. Being separated from family makes settling into a new country all the more difficult, and the process for applying for visas for family members is difficult and costly, and therefore is beyond the reach of many people. We therefore strongly support the Refugee Council of Australia’s calls for the Federal Government to enhance access to family reunions for refugees and humanitarian entrants.

Global crises call on us to do more for people seeking safety

Since 2018-19, Australia’s yearly humanitarian intake has decreased annually. This is despite the fact that globally, conflict and persecution continue to uproot the lives of millions worldwide. Over 100,000 people have applied for Humanitarian Visas in Australia since the fall of Kabul in August 2021. At the time of writing, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that approximately 10 million Ukrainian refugees have been displaced by the escalating conflict brought on by the Russian invasion at the end of February this year. Ukraine and Afghanistan are only two examples. Conflict continues to forcibly displace people across the world, and Australia must do more in supporting those who seek safety. In response to the growing number of people displaced around the world, we call on the incoming Federal Government to increase its yearly Humanitarian Program intake to 30,000.

Besides the clear moral imperative to offer vulnerable people a chance to rebuild their lives, the case to pursue a more generous humanitarian program makes economic sense. As Deloitte Access Economics and Oxfam Australia have shown, an increase to at least 30,000 humanitarian places (over the next five years) could create, on average, 35,000 additional jobs every year for the next 50 years.

We must extend SRSS eligibility to people experiencing hardship

Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) is the program that supports vulnerable migrants, including people seeking asylum, who are waiting for an official decision on a visa application. The Federal Government’s changes to the SRSS have reduced the number of people eligible for this vital support, placing people seeking asylum at risk of destitution and increasing demands on the community services they turn to for support. Currently, only five per cent of people seeking asylum in the community are estimated to have access to SRSS. As the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre notes, changes to SRSS eligibility have increased the need for people seeking asylum to find work (any work) without adequate support to develop their capacity to do so, or adequate guards against their exploitation in the local labour market. The tightening of eligibility requirements for the SRSS program should be reversed to ensure that vulnerable people can access this vital social support.

We must do the right thing by supporting people seeking asylum to find a safe home, integrate into the community and rebuild their lives in Australia.

Jesuit Social Services’ recommendations for a humane immigration system:

  • End indefinite and arbitrary immigration detention in Australia.
  • Abolish TPVs and SHEVs, and provide pathways for people seeking asylum and refugees to permanently resettle in the community.
  • Expand Australia’s Humanitarian Program to at least 30,000 places annual in response to the growing global protection needs and ensure the program remains non-discriminatory and prioritises the resettlement of the most vulnerable refugees
  • Enhance access to family reunions for refugee and humanitarian entrants, including considering the Refugee Council of Australia’s recommendation to develop a humanitarian family reunion program of 10,000 places annually, outside of the Humanitarian Program, in consultation with refugee community members and organisations and other relevant bodies.
  • Increase Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) funding and expand eligibility requirements to ensure that more people who seek asylum in Australia have access to adequate financial and service supports.

Read our Federal Election Platform:

This blog draws on our Federal Election recommendations for a humane immigration system. Our full Federal Election Platform, A blueprint for a just recovery, lays out our recommendations under 12 areas.