Noosheen Mogadam, Senior Lawyer at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, shares her view on the impossible and unfair situation a group of people seeking asylum in Australia are currently facing. Prior to her time at the ASRC, she spent years as part of international humanitarian response operations, most recently focussed on the conflict in Syria which began in 2011. Countries neighbouring Syria accommodate an estimated total of 5.6 million refugees, needles to say, on her return to Australia, she was exasperated to learn of the extended processing times for people seeking asylum in Australia. For example, during a recent night clinic, she was saddened to learn that it has taken over 5 years for Australia to invite one Rohinga man, with clear cut claims for protection, to an interview to hear his refugee claims.
Noosheen is one of 17 lawyers at the ASRC who provides free urgent legal help and is fighting for the rights of people seeking asylum. She writes about a particular group of people who she believes require an urgent emergency response:
If you saw 200 people drowning, you would call the police, ambulance, there would be news networks covering the scene. But what if it wasn’t a pool of water, but rather, a helpless bottomless pit of depression and despair?
In fact there are a group of 200 almost forgotten asylum seekers. These people arrived by sea and had their initial claims heard by an Australian government official back in 2009 or 2010. But the processes set up by the government were later changed. Other processes were initiated, however nothing concrete has happened in terms of dealing with their status in the country.
The only way they could validly make a protection application was if Minister Dutton personally allowed for it.
So they waited. For many, waiting has meant not holding a legal status in Australia. Waiting has meant not having the ability to study or work. Waiting has meant separation from family including their children.
I would send a periodic email to the Department of Immigration for clients in this position. The Department email address was aptly strange and long-winded:
tpva.complex.decisions.and.support@. It may as well have been visa.too.hard.basket.sorry@.
The response always reminded that the Minister has a non-compellable discretion.
And then it happened. In June 2018, Minister Dutton created a legislative Instrument allowing 108 individuals out of the some 200, to make a temporary protection application to stay in Australia. We were urged by the Department they were now to be ‘fast tracked’. After up to eight or nine years of waiting, these battered and weary people were given only 28 days to put forward applications. No resources or support was provided for their legal assistance.
We called in our clients. One who came to meet me was Rahmat*. From a review of his old files I could see he was from the FATA region in Pakistan, a place described as a major theatre of militancy and terrorism. He was targeted because he was from a minority religion and because he had a profile as a performer. He left his family behind to prevent them from coming under further attention.
“So tell me what happened before you fled Rahmat”, I asked.
He told me he was taking medications because he has been told he was suffering depression and had stopped sleeping.
“I haven’t seen my wife and daughter in 8 years Miss”.
I knew he was considered unlawful in Australia and therefore without any right to get a job. When I asked him what he had done since he has been in Australia, he looked at me blankly.
He eventually said “I was allowed to study earlier, but I am now not allowed to use my skills because I cannot work. I was also a trained engineer in Pakistan”.
He had been calm until that point. It seemed this was the first time he had reflected on what he has been doing. At that point, this calm dignified well-spoken man suddenly burst into tears. “I don’t feel human” he said as he slumped onto the floor. We lodged his application for protection. We told him the next step is an interview with the Department.
Last month the legislative instrument the Minister had created in June was disallowed by the Senate, over two months since it had been enforced. The Senate criticised the consequences of ‘fast tracking’ people, rightly raising that it restricted access to a full merits review. A similar legislative instrument was created in July 2017, turning 86 long-timers into ‘fast track’ applicants, unfortunately that instrument escaped parliamentary scrutiny.
The forgotten 200 are still floating around aimlessly. There needs to be an urgent review of the handling of this caseload, including the arbitrary use of legislative instruments and creation of public policy on the run without any community consultation.
If justice delayed is justice denied, theirs is a textbook case of a process which has arguably become, in itself, persecutory. Given the way this group of people have been mauled and chewed on by the vicissitudes of the system, the Minister should immediately intervene and grant visas. After nearly a decade, it is only fair that they can call Australia their home.
Noosheen Mogadam is a Senior Lawyer at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. If you’d like to help our Human Rights Law Program fight against injustice you can donate here.
*In order to protect the identity of the people we are seeking justice for, the name and personal details within the story have been changed.Leave a reply →