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Where are the hard questions on refugees?

Opinion

Over the past 12 months the story that has had the biggest impact on me personally, and hopefully our readers, is that of three ‘forgotten families’ on bridging visas struggling to cope during the COVID-19 restrictions.

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Despite being ineligible for Jobseeker or Jobkeeper payments, these people were the first to lose their jobs as cleaners, drivers and hospitality workers and were totally reliant on charities for food, clothing and rental assistance.

But even more troubling was their state of mind as they tried to make sense of a lengthy and complex appeals process after their applications for refugee status were rejected under the so-called ‘fast track’ system. The extreme anxiety of the parents manifested itself in their children as well.

At the time I couldn’t believe that after all the stories I had written about asylum seekers and the injustice of detaining people fleeing conflict and trauma, I was unaware of the 550 families living in our suburbs on temporary visas for the past seven (now eight) years.

They weren’t living on Nauru or in detention – their children were going to school here, younger siblings had been born in Adelaide and many of the parents were working and eligible to pay tax.

The desperate plight of these people should be front page news, but it’s not. The added hardship caused by COVID-19 should be a priority for policy makers, health officials and the justice system, but it’s not.

The welfare of children born in our country or living here and attending our schools for the past eight years should be reason enough to allow these families to stay, but it’s not.

The closure of international borders due to COVID-19 should be an opportunity to introduce an amnesty for those people who have been living in the community or in detention with little or no hope of returning to their country of origin, but it’s not.

Every day we see our political leaders, health officials and police stand up in front of the media and answer questions about COVID-19 and its impact on the community. Has there once been a question from a journalist on the dire situation of refugees?

If one of these 550 families happened to be the family involved with the Parafield Gardens outbreak, would there have been questions asked about why this family was not getting one iota of government support and why they have been living here for so long without a determination on their status?

Would the media hound the Premier and others until they had an answer, or close to an answer, on why more isn’t being done to help these people at both a State and Federal level?

During the pandemic we have seen how massive resources can be put into a crisis both from a prevention and response perspective. Imagine if this amount of effort was put into finding a solution for a group of people who just want to get on with their lives and be productive members of our community.

For a very smart country, we are pretty dumb when it comes to figuring out that refugees who come to our country now are no different to those who have come before them and contributed to making Australia what it is today.

At a time when inward migration is virtually zero and employers are struggling to fill jobs usually undertaken by backpackers and overseas students, it is even more absurd that we aren’t allowing people on bridging or temporary visas to stay here.

On that note, let’s have a safe and happy Christmas with our families and friends while also remembering those who are unable to do so.

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