TOM VOSMER brings us up-to-date on what has happened in the year since the last Refugee Week.
REFUGEE WEEK, June 14 – 20, has rolled around again, with World Refugee Day, Saturday June 20.
This year the theme is Welcome to Refugees, which is rather paradoxical, given how they have been mistreated for years.
But what has changed for Australia’s refugees and asylum seekers since the last World Refugee Day?
Some have failed to prove their refugee status and are now in terrible situation, effectively stateless in our country or offshore.
The Manus Island detention facility was closed in 2017 and refugees were transferred to Port Moresby, but are still in detention, their lives in limbo.
Some locals resent their presence and during the past year have at least twice attacked groups of refugees, threatening to kill them.
Security responses were slow and inadequate and serious injuries resulted.
For those fortunate enough to live in the Australian community (those who arrived by boat before mid-July 2013) little changed.
Most have now had their refugee status assessed and about 70 per cent moved from bridging visas to temporary protection visas.
However, they still have no certainty of visa renewal, no family reunion, little incentive to make plans for their futures, or to foster hope for a normal productive life.
Many have been working and paying taxes for years.
Some would like to put a deposit on a home but due to their uncertain futures bank loans are not available.
The good news is that the WA government has permitted those on temporary protection visas to pay domestic fees at TAFE and many have enrolled (previously foreign student fees were prohibitively expensive).
But Covid-19 has devastated many, and despite working they are not entitled to JobSeeker or JobKeeper protection.
Local support group CARAD is overwhelmed with requests for support, for rental and food, and medicine assistance.
On the positive side, those offshore are now far fewer. After seven years there are no women on Nauru.
The United States settlement deal so far enabled the transfer of 702 refugees and did not trigger boat arrivals; yet the Australian government refuses to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees per year and the agreement with the US, laden with bureaucracy, needs to resettle about 550 more refugees.
With the coronavirus pandemic many sent to US have lost their jobs and are desperate for assistance. Fortunately, generous and concerned Australian expats in an organisation called Ads-Up are helping in America.
A few nations have shown the way.
New Zealand has an effective program to accept and integrate refugees, and since the Indochinese refugee crisis in the late 1970s Canada has sponsored a private refugee resettlement program, which has successfully resettled 280,000 refugees. In addition to the help it offers, the program has the added benefit of promoting social cohesion. Why not something similar for Australia?
In the government, economic mismanagement continues. Since 2012 more than $5 billion of taxpayer money has been spent on offshore detention and despite there being fewer detainees on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea, the budget allocation for this year is still more than half a billion dollars, a colossal waste of money.
Keeping refugees offshore costs Australian taxpayers 56 times more than it would to have them live among us.
There have been opaque single-bid contracts for refugee/asylum-seeker security services on Manus Island.
One, awarded to Paladin, was for $423m, out of which 500 locals were hired at a cost of $2.7m. What happened to the remaining $240.3m?
Medevac legislation was repealed. It had been working well and the government predictions of weakened borders, the boats restarting and a flood of hundreds of transferees who would overwhelm the Australian health system never eventuated.