On 14 July the Australian government announced that 9,500 temporary protection visa (TPV) holders would have the opportunity to apply for mainstream migration visas to enable them to remain in Australia permanently without needing to leave the country to lodge their applications.
Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone, announced the initiative, along with a new return-pending visa, which would allow people not in need of further protection 18 months in which to make arrangements to return to their home country, or elsewhere.
What caught my eye in the Minister’s statement were these words:
This decision in relation to the opportunity for those on TPVs to apply to stay in Australia permanently, recognises the fact that many TPV holders are making a significant contribution to the Australian community, particularly in regional areas, [and] [b]ecause of links with Australia through social or work activities, many of these people were able to apply for mainstream migration visas from offshore.
If it is the case that TPV holders can apply to remain in Australia permanently and there are no “hidden extras” then it may be that compassion has finally prevailed for many refugees who are suffering depression, anxiety and have seen suicide as a very real alternative to returning to their homeland.
It is true that “many TPV holders are making a significant contribution to the Australian community, particularly in regional areas” but that is also true for TPV holders in city areas.
That contribution can only be strengthened if there is certainty about their fate.
As a mental-health professional what I am most concerned about is that there may be “devil in the detail”. What TPV holders, and in fact most refugees and asylum seekers, need is clarity.
More than anything they need to know where they stand – they need a starting point in a life that has lost its place. What the TPV system has done to date is exacerbate mental anguish in a population that is already highly traumatised by their experiences in their homeland, and the whole process of flight and dislocation from their country of origin.
If there has been a real change of heart on the TPV policy, then this will indeed be a fresh start for many traumatised people. But there must be something real and genuine in the government’s efforts to make the transition from temporary to permanent status possible.
It will be important that this process include strong consultation with TPV holders in a psychological atmosphere that is not adversarial. It is vital that in the massive job of coordinating this transition, communication and trust underpin the application process.
Reflecting on the past five or six years, it is difficult to overestimate the benefits of the work being done by volunteer and non-government organisations to support asylum seekers. Organisations and community groups such as the Circles of Friends, The Australian Refugee Association, Rural Australians for Refugees, and many other individual ordinary Australians, have developed close and trusting relationships with asylum seekers – relationships that have been nothing short of lifesaving.
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