Iraqi refugees’ visas deliberately delayed by immigration department / The Guardian

Sarah Hanson-Young
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young described the decision to delay the two women’s visa grants as a ‘highly political move from immigration department employees’. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP Image

An 84-year-old Iraqi refugee and her daughter have had their visa grants deliberately delayed by the immigration department until the government’s new temporary protection visa laws come into force, and are considering returning home to Iraq.

Emails obtained by Guardian Australia reveal that the immigration department has deliberately delayed making a decision on the asylum seekers’ cases.

The revelations contradict the immigration minister’s insistence that the new legislation will help resolve the “legacy caseload” of 30,000 asylum seekers that need to be processed – and shows that decisions on asylum seeker visa grants have been actively delayed by the department until the passage of the bill was secured.

Both women arrived in Australia a year ago, entering Australia by plane and subsequently applied for protection.

They were both found to be refugees by the Refugee Review Tribunal and have completed their health and security checks. The daughter, a 40-year-old woman, has a two-and-a-half-year-old child who is still overseas with her husband, and is now considering returning to Iraq because a temporary visa does not allow a person to sponsor their family in Australia.

The emails obtained by Guardian Australia reveal that in September a senior case officer in the immigration department wrote of the 40-year-old woman’s case that “although she is grant ready for her visa the appropriate legislation has not been passed for the grant; it may take a few months and could be a TPV”.

The case officer wrote that the woman “advised she wished to return to Iraq and see her daughter who is sick and not to spend any more time in SIRH (Sydney Immigration Residential Housing).” The woman then advised the case officer “that she wished to commit suicide as she can’t bear it any more time and not get a visa”.

A second email from another immigration department officer said: “The applicant arrived in Australia as an Unauthorised Air Arrival (UAA) and therefore, as part of the government’s strategy to place measures on illegal arrivals receiving a permanent visa, the case is on hold until legislation and new reforms are possibly introduced later this month”.

The email goes on to say: “A decision will not be made on her application until new legislation is considered in late September. This is outside our control as it is a government priority.”

The government succeeded earlier in December in passing legislation that would reintroduce temporary protection visas for asylum seekers. The bill has not yet been subject to royal assent and so will not come into force until a later date.

Under the Migration Act the minister must grant a protection visa within 90 days of a decision by the tribunal, but it has now been more than 130 days for the women.

The immigration minister has been contacted for comment about the decision to delay granting visas to the women.

Katie Wrigley, principal solicitor at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, which represents the women, said: “Mothers should not be separated from their two-year-old children. Those accepted as refugees should not be considering returning to places where Australia has found they face a real chance of serious harm.

“This case is particularly disturbing because it involves a young child, her parents and elderly grandmother each facing difficult choices because of the recent passage of legislation which has immediate impact for them. Placing refugees in the position of having to choose between these two very difficult circumstances is unfair and unconscionable.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said: “This is an unfortunate, cynical and highly political move from immigration department employees. There is clearly no way the minister or the department can be trusted to act in the best interests of asylum seekers.”

In October a letter was sent to the 40-year-old woman outlining that she had an outstanding health check, but records seen by Guardian Australia indicate she has now passed her health checks.

“The Australian government has determined that places in the humanitarian program will be reserved for those who engage Australia’s protection obligations through the appropriate processing channels and those who come illegally (by boat or air) to Australia, who are assessed as engaging Australia’s protection obligations and meet all other legal requirements will be granted temporary protection,” the letter said.

“As you and your mother arrived illegally by plane your case is affected by this policy.”


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