It might have been the fulfillment of a Labor Party election promise but refugee and asylum seeker advocates were still shocked and overwhelmed when the announcement came at 10pm on Sunday February 10.
There were tears of joy, phone calls to temporary protection visa holders – many of whom had already heard the news on social media – and much scrambling for detail about the changes.
Meeting the day after the announcement, members of the Wayville Circle of Friends celebrated with bubbles and were visibly moved as they spoke about the reaction of the families they have been visiting for so many years.
There was also a recognition that not all asylum seekers would benefit, including those on bridging visas and the ‘double negatives’ whose refugee status had been rejected under the flawed ‘fast-track’ system. They also knew that processing of the new permanent visas would take time and that their work in assisting these vulnerable families and individuals was far from over.
But nothing could hide the joy and relief that their pleas for a fair go for many people escaping trauma and conflict had finally been heard.
The Wayville Circle (or Circle 111) had its origins in 2012 with the opening of the Inverbrackie Detention Centre. It was established by members of Christchurch Uniting at Wayville who were visiting asylum seekers in the centre.
Following the closure of Inverbrackie in 2014, the group expanded and began working with asylum seekers living in the community. It is one of eight Circles that offer various forms of support and advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers in South Australia.
Members of the Wayville Circle were also instrumental in reigniting Justice for Refugees SA to lobby the Government to change its harsh policies and laws, to educate the broader community about the plight of people seeking asylum in Australia and those in detention on Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru.
So why, after all this time, did the Labor Party have the courage to change the visa policy? Perhaps, finally its members recognised that if they were true to their core values, and listened to their core constituents, then it might translate to more votes.
Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles was quick to play the political card when announcing the decision last month, saying “there are thousands of TPV and SHEV holders in the community that have endured 10 years of uncertainty due to the policies of the previous Liberal Government”.
“It makes no sense – economically or socially – to keep them in limbo,” he said.
The Albanese Government was slow to act after taking the reins in May last year, prompting Justice for Refugees SA to organise protests outside Labor ministers’ offices in Adelaide little over a month ago.
Wayville Circle member Kate Pittolo, who wrote to the Prime Minister on Australia Day and participated in the protests, was relieved that the Government adopted some of the recommendations made in a policy brief released by the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law in June 2022.
This includes the use of the already existing Resolution of Status visa which means that the process of granting permanency will not be further delayed by the need to amend any legislation.
As part of the policy change the Government will fund much-needed legal assistance for people applying for the permanent visa. In South Australia this legal assistance is being provided by the Legal Services Commission which has already established a dedicated phone number (8111 5750) and email address email@example.com.
Hopefully this assistance will also be available to those asylum seekers who aren’t helped by the latest decision. People like Nobert Eltran, who faces deportation despite being a valued and hard-working member of the community for 10 years (story page 1), and people like Saeed, Majeedh and their four children who escaped persecution in Iran (The Southern Cross, August 2022).
When I spoke to Saeed and Majeedh’s 18-year-old son Mohammad, who has spent more of his life in Australia than Iran, he said the policy change didn’t make any difference to his family who would still have to go through a complex appeal process. Desperate to study at university after completing Year 12, he remains unable to do so as he cannot access a student loan.
The absurdity of the situation is that the Government’s current policy is to not send people back to Iran or Afghanistan because of the political situation in those countries.
If the Albanese Government is true to its word and doesn’t want to see people who are working, paying taxes and contributing to society remain in limbo, these anomalies need to be urgently addressed.Jump to next article