For many people the life they can lead and the freedoms they can enjoy depend on the country in which they were born, the beneficence of their government, religion, colour, gender, climate and war.
In Australia we are fortunate to have a strong democracy, an independent court and a stable bureaucracy. It is very difficult to imagine life without any of these securities. Is that why we make harsh judgements on those without them?
Australia responds very differently to those who arrive by boat and those who arrive by plane. Clearly those who arrive by plane have different resources such as paperwork and finances to buy a visa and the ability to show identity. Those arriving by boat are imprisoned on Manus, Nauru and Christmas Islands and told they cannot expect to live in Australia even if they have family there. Increasingly however, it makes little difference to those on the Australian mainlands how they arrived and with what visa. Those people on Bridging Visa Class 3, the visa provided once the original visa has expired, are left without work or study rights, without income or Medicare and are dependent on various NGOs for survival which also help them navigate the complex legal process where decisions are made, seemingly randomly.
This is not to say that everyone who wishes to settle in Australia has a right to residential visas. Clear, reliable guidelines and timely processes that support the individual in the choices available are required. Many of the people trapped in limbo-land on Bridging Visas are asylum seekers. Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention of Refugees http://www.unhcr.org/en-au/1951-refugee-convention.html which recognises the right of people to seek refuge from persecution. The original convention was drawn up in 1951 in response to European refugees. In 1967 it was amended to make it inclusive of refugees beyond Europe. As a signatory, it is incumbent on Australia to provide safe, humane and dignified sanctuary to asylum seekers while their claim is being assessed. The question always to ask in these tricky circumstances is: how would you like to be treated if caught in a similar situation? Not many of us would not wish to be treated with respect and compassion. When we are, we find it easier to accept a decision, including an adverse decision.
Even though a person is recognised as a refugee under international law they are assessed separately by the country to which they have fled; how they fare, will depend on the attitudes of the government of that country. The current system in Australia for assessing refugee status is through a series of interviews and hearings where the Asylum Seeker provides whatever information they have to support their claim. The final appeal lies with the Minister.
One would need to be blind and deaf not to be aware of the conditions and suffering on Nauru and Manus Islands and to a lesser extent on Christmas Island. Hold that in mind while you consider Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda, originally established for 40,000, now holding 160,000 South Sudanese refugees. It is thought to be the second largest refugee settlement in the world. How does Uganda respond to this?
Uganda’s refugee policy allows each family a small plot along with travel and work rights. Bidi Bidi is transitioning from crisis centre to thriving community. Robert Baryamwesiga, the camp commandant says:
“These are innocent women and children who are fleeing now; they need a home. They need a life, a normal life, because they are innocent. They are not politicians. They are just victims.”