October 19, 2014 | smh
Hundreds of young refugees who arrived in Australia by boat as unaccompanied minors are being denied visas that would reunite them with their families.
Rejection letters began arriving this month. Fairfax Media understands at least two refugees in Melbourne tried to take their own lives after learning of the decision.
Offshore humanitarian processing centres have told lawyers all of the applications will be refused. This means refugees will have to risk their lives to see their families again or wait years to sponsor them in a more restrictive visa category when they become citizens.
The Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minor Consortium estimates there were up to 400 applicants in Victoria alone.
Consortium lawyer Renuka Senanayake said most of the refugees sponsored their mothers because their fathers were killed in their homelands. “They are alone. All their hopes have been built around this,” she said.
All of the refugees are now adults who have waited years for the decision. Most are Hazaras from Afghanistan, with a small number from Sri Lanka and Burma.
Mustafa’s mother and two brothers were refused visas in recent weeks. His family was first separated when the Taliban kidnapped his father, and they fled to Iran. They were separated again when Mustafa was deported back to Afghanistan and also kidnapped by the Taliban.
Mustafa, a Hazara, fears the same might happen to his relatives, who he financially supports from Australia. With no legal status in Iran, they rarely leave their basement home.
“What am I going to do if Iranian authorities catch my family?” he said. “The only thing I want is my family. I’m always hoping that I can live in a safe place with my family.”
Migration agent Denise Gardner said refugees had left their families behind in dangerous circumstances. “There are at least 70 people I have to sit down with and say ‘Sorry there’s nothing to be done for you. You may never see your family again in safety’.”
A number of refusal letters say that the Department of Immigration accepted the refugees’ relatives were subject to significant persecution and had a close family connection with Australia.
They acknowledge that they cannot be settled in any other country but say “Australia does not have the capacity to provide for permanent settlement of all close family proposed applicants at this time.”
Until 2012, refugees could apply to sponsor their relatives for free and only had to prove they were genuinely related.
That year, the visa was scrapped and everyone, except unaccompanied minors, was required to prove their relatives were also refugees, on the recommendation of the expert panel on asylum seekers. In April, the Abbott government retrospectively required unaccompanied minors to do this too.
The expert panel said a backlog of applications was increasing the incentive for boat arrivals and recommended 20,000 places be immediately added to clear it.
In July, the backlog was more than double, with more than 45,000 people hoping their relatives would fill the government’s 5000 places this year.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said it would be “reckless” to change government policy “in response to any form of protest behaviour.”
“The government determined that altering family reunion serves as an incentive for people to apply to enter Australia through the correct channels.”
Another refugee, K, applied for his mother, brothers and sisters to come to Australia four years ago.
One of his brothers was murdered as he was preparing for VCE exams in 2012. He now fears for his sisters in Quetta in Pakistan, with recent news of suicide bombings there.
K, who preferred not to be named, said he felt powerless to protect them now that they have been refused visas: “Anything can happen. Nobody can guarantee (their safety.)”
He had no friends when he first arrived in Australia in 2010, confiding only in the school’s counsellor. Unable to sleep, he used to walk to a park in the early hours of the morning to cry, he said.
The hardest part of being in a new country, he said, was watching other Hazara students’ parents pick them up from school. “I felt lonely and, I don’t know how to explain it, incomplete. If you had your parents here, they would support you in every way.”
Next year, when he becomes an Australian citizen and receives his passport, he wants to visit his family with his mother’s permission, despite her warning him it is too dangerous.