Temporary Protection Visa Changes

25 August 2004

The Uniting Church has welcomed the compassion and decency being shown to TPV refugees who have established work and family connections in Australia, but said recent changes will leave many refugees no better off.

UnitingJustice National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said yesterday's announcement should be followed up by policy changes that address the real problems facing Australia's refugee protection system.

"These changes prove that all that is required to treat people humanely is political will. But this attempt to address the needs of current TPV holding refugees ignores the fundamental flaws in our humanitarian program.

"This is an initiative which will only benefit some groups of TPV refugees and does not address the real problems. Minister Vanstone's visa juggling may appear impressive but she is, in fact, dropping the ball.

"The Government is obviously confused: they know that they have been harsh and abusive in their treatment of refugees but do not want to appear 'soft' – so now we have a policy that is good for some people while being of no help to others. The attempt to portray themselves as a caring Government lacks credibility as long as they continue to espouse policies that deter and punish people fleeing persecution and harm," Rev. Poulos said.

Under the Government's changes vulnerable TPV refugees who have not been able to work and who do not have family or close community connections are unlikely to obtain a visa. The most needy and vulnerable are likely to be left unaffected. Future asylum seekers will continue to be caught up in this messy visa system.

Rev. Poulos said that this is not a policy change – temporary protection visas are one of many of the Government's punishment and deterrence policies that need to be overturned to restore integrity to our humanitarian program.

"In recent times, the Government's visa juggling has unnecessarily complicated and confused our migration programs and visa arrangements. Protection claims have been pushed from onshore to offshore, unnecessarily complicating the program numbers. TPV refugees onshore are now being given opportunities usually held for offshore applicants, confusing the important distinction between refugees and migrants. Meanwhile, refugees who have claims processed under the Pacific Solution or offshore processing arrangements on Christmas Island continue to be unable to apply for onshore protection visas.

"No-one could be blamed for being confused. The Government itself is obviously confused. "The Uniting Church calls on the Government to stop juggling visas, to grant permanent protection to those Australia has recognised as refugees, to restore integrity to the humanitarian program, and to make our visa system sensible and just," Rev. Poulos said.