November 29, 2014 | ABC News
Asylum seekers living in Australia are staying indoors for fear of breaching the Federal Government’s new “code of behaviour”, which they say is vague and confusing.
The operators of a refugee legal service in Sydney’s west said they expected a spike in queries related to the code, which was introduced by the Federal Government last year and must be signed by all asylum seekers on bridging visas.
Part of the code requires asylum seekers not to “engage in any anti-social or disruptive activities that are inconsiderate, disrespectful or threaten the peaceful enjoyment of other members of the community”.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the code was a way of protecting the Australian community and its values.
In a statement, Mr Morrison said the code was introduced to:
- provide a strong and enforceable reminder of the behaviour that is expected of people living in the community on a bridging E visa (BVE);
- provide the opportunity for early warning, educative and preventative measures to be taken before more serious behavioural problems can arise; and
- encourage cooperation with the immigration department to resolve immigration status.
“It is government policy and will remain a condition of being granted a bridging visa,” he said.
However, asylum seekers such as “Karim”, a Hazara Afghan using an alias so as not to be identified, said he and his friends stayed at home most days out of fear of breaching the code.
The asylum seeker said he came to Australia by boat in 2012 after the Taliban killed his father and brother.
“I lost my family and I was targeted by the Taliban group who wanted to kill me,” he said.
It is very complicated, it is not very specific and you don’t know what is in it and what is not.Hazara asylum seeker Karim
“I had no choice to come legally because there were no visas for Afghans.”
He said he had experienced increased stress levels since he signed the code.
“It is very hard, it is stressful – you’re staying home all day with no certain future,” he said.
“I’ve been here two years and I’m physically safe, but I’m not mentally safe.
“I have the fear with me all the time I don’t know what will happen.”
Mr Karim said he feared he could inadvertently breach the code, because it was so vague, and consequently be detained.
“It is very complicated, it is not very specific and you don’t know what is in it and what is not,” he said.
He said he was terrified of catching a train with the wrong ticket or driving a car in case he had an accident, which could be seen as a breach of the code.
“If you do something by mistake, you’ll probably breach the code, and you’re not sure that if you breach the code you’ll be back detained,” he said.
Lawyer says code confuses asylum seekers
The code covers six clauses, mostly relating to Australian law, but it was the section on public behaviour that had asylum seekers worried, lawyer Narjis Rajab said.
Ms Rajab from the Refugee Advice Casework Service (RACS) said the section was vague and left asylum seekers confused.
“As a lawyer, when I explain the code of behaviour it’s scary for me because I know little about it,” she said.
“It is very confusing and very daunting.”
She said many clients she had advised did not know what the code was and were afraid of the consequences of breaching it.
“When I explain to them what they have signed and how careful they should be with the way they act, they way they behave in Australian community, it’s very hard,” she said.
“It’s very scary. Sometimes it even makes a client cry and say ‘I don’t know what I have signed’.”
A free refugee legal clinic set up to service the increasing demand in Sydney’s west has seen about 100 clients in its first month, according to lawyers.
RACS, along with Auburn City Council, opened the weekly clinic in October.
Executive director Tanya Jackson-Vaughan said the service was running information sessions about the code, which she described as “unnecessary and unfair”.
“There was already a condition on the bridging visas that you had to follow Australian law,” Ms Jackson-Vaughan said.
“The code of behaviour is a bit wider. It talks about bullying and harassing, which is quite broad.
“I think asylum seekers living in the community should be treated like people who’ve got visas, and we’re all expected to adhere to the law.”