The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Long-awaited policy shift brings joy to asylum seekers


When news came through last month of the Federal Government’s new ‘pathway to permanency’ program, amongst the first to rejoice were the many Hazara Afghan refugees who have been separated from their families for more than 10 years.

Comments Print article


Sharif, 54, couldn’t contain his excitement as he showed photos of his family who recently fled to Pakistan after the Taliban took control of their country.

He and his wife have three daughters and two sons, the youngest of whom is now 14 and the eldest 22.

It was his hope that after fleeing to Indonesia and boarding a boat for Australia that he would be able to bring his family here. After a month in detention in Darwin, Sharif found himself on a bridging visa with no assurances he could remain, let alone be reunited with his family.

Just a year ago he was finally granted a five-year Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) which, under the new arrangements, will transfer to a Resolution of Status (RoS) visa which provides permanent residency.

Announcing the policy change, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said all people on TPVs and SHEVs have been found to be refugees, and were owed Australia’s protection.

“TPV and SHEV holders work, pay taxes, start businesses, employ Australians and build lives in our communities- often in rural and regional areas. Without permanent visas however, they’ve been unable to get a loan to buy a house, build their businesses or pursue further education,” he said.

“It makes no sense – economically or socially – to keep them in limbo.”

RoS visa holders will be able to apply to sponsor family members through the migration program.

Although the RoS application process is expected to take 12 months, Sharif said at least he now had hope that his family would be able to join him here.

The self-employed market gardener lives with three other Afghan refugees and they were on the phone to their families and chatting until after midnight when they learnt of the policy change through social media.

“I am very happy,” he said. “I cried a lot.”

He has been sending money to his wife and children who have been living in Pakistan for about two months after the situation in Afghanistan became “very dangerous”.

Sharif’s son Basir is treated for a bullet wound.

Sharif showed a recent photo of his son, Basir, with a bullet wound above his eye.

“They couldn’t stay (in Afghanistan),” he said.

Sharif was one of a long line of refugees making inquiries to the Vinnies Refugee and Asylum Seeker Service at Kilburn last month.

Marypency and her daughter Stella, who came to Australia from Sri Lanka in 2012, was also at the Vinnies House of Welcome within 48 hours of the announcement to find out what it meant.

She is on a SHEV that is about to expire and therefore is eligible for a RoS visa.

Fifteen-year-old Stella said it was “very good news” for her as she would now be able to go to university to study nursing. Her two younger siblings will also have access to tertiary education under the new scheme.

“We have hope at last,” Stella said. “We thought we would be sent back but now we can have a (permanent) visa it’s great…we are very grateful to the Prime Minister,” she said.

Marypency, who works in a bakery, said her plan was to buy a house and to become an Australian citizen.

Vinnies House of Welcome manager Emma Yengi said a lot of people needed assistance to navigate the new system because of language and literacy barriers.

It would also take time for the new visas to be processed and for family reunification to take place but she said access to tertiary education and the NDIS was a “huge plus”.

“Everyone is trying to digest it and see how it fits on the ground, but yes for a bunch of people it’s fabulous news,” she said.

“This gives a lot of hope but I feel for the others (on bridging visas).

“They are the poorest of the poor, the people we are paying rent for, they are the ones who really need our help,” she said.

Sister Meredith Evans RSM, a member of the Wayville Circle of Friends, rang seven families after learning the news and was “overwhelmed” by their response.

“Two of them burst into tears,” she said.

“Just the thought that something has finally happened that offers the possibility of permanency. They have been hanging on, hanging on, 10 years waiting to know what’s going to be their future.”

Another member, Kate Pittolo, said she was amazed by the asylum seekers’ resilience after the “trauma they have experienced before coming here and the trauma this country has inflicted on them”.

“I’m in awe of these people, they represent the best of us,” she said.

“They have been working, paying taxes but they always get the raw end of the deal. During COVID employers couldn’t get Job Keeper for asylum seekers so they lost their jobs.”

Kate couldn’t hold back the tears as she recounted a Somali woman who has not seen her daughter for 10 years but could still “laugh and celebrate the little victories”.



Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

More News stories

Loading next article