Petition Concerning Long Delays in Processing Family Visa Applications

Monica O’Wheel, Chair of Circle of Friends Australia Inc. (COFA), and other members of the COFA Management Committee, have received an invitation to sign an important petition to the Commonwealth House of Representatives concerning the administrative mistreatment of permanent residents who are former asylum seekers, and their families.

Asylum seekers who have been granted permanent residence visas can sponsor spouse and dependent children to join them in Australia on a family visa. But a Ministerial Direction under the Migration Act 1958 states that the order of processing of such applications puts applications from former asylum seekers last, behind all other permanent residents and citizens. The result is that family members who are in foreign countries and will already have suffered separation for years, must therefore wait a further 8 years or more for an outcome.

So a child who has been separated from one or both parents would suffer separation during the crucial growing up years when parental guidance is so vital. Such children, on reaching Australia, will often never have seen one or both parents, or will not recognise them.

As these are family members of asylum seekers who gained refugee status, they will in many cases be living in conditions that are a risk to their lives and/or health.

It is not only those in limbo overseas that suffer. The parent(s) in Australia do also. Such separations are a major cause of the high incidence of mental illnesses suffered by asylum seekers, including those who have gained permanent residence or citizenship here.

Another effect of the directive is that children separated during high school or late primary school years will reach adulthood before the application is processed and decided, whereupon they are no longer eligible for a family visa, and will thus be separated for life.

One or more federal MPs are sponsoring a Petition asking that such visa applications sponsored by permanent residents (formerly asylum seekers) be processed in the same order of priority as applications sponsored by other permanent residents or citizens of Australia.

Please visit and sign the petition here.

(The petition is not particularly well written but it does give a good overview of the problem, and we are assured that the sponsoring MPs will be well briefed, and thus able to make a good case to the House.)


Rapid Response for Refugees Circle Appeal

Help us to continue supporting refugee families over Christmas

Warmest thanks to all our donors who have enabled us to keep going this year – you are our lifeblood. Unfortunately we need to call on the generosity of Australians once again. The Rapid Response for Refugees Circle (Circle 110) has a crucial role within the Circle of Friends Organisation to be able to move quickly and flexibly in response to urgent requests for assistance. When other Refugee Support Organisations contact us for assistance, we can be confident they’ve exhausted all other options. As always, any amount will help. We have no “Plan B.”

This year with COVID and then more recently the Government’s actions of moving number of people out of Community Detention onto Bridging Visa with no income support has placed higher than usual stress on this Circle’s finances. We urgently need donations to get through the next two months (December – January).

The Rapid Response for Refugees Circle is at present mainly supporting people who have Bridging Visas and lost employment during COVID. We are covering rent and living support for two families, utilities and transport for one family and medical costs for two families.

Other support has included funding driving lessons and car registration for a man whose wife has a serious chronic illness requiring regular hospital visits and/or admissions and where exposure to infections through the use of public transport is to be avoided at all costs, and paying for a training course because the applicant who is the eldest of 9 children, and poor health prevents her parents from working.

All in all at present we are spending nearly $3,000 month to help keep families in a home, give access to vital medicines and to assist in gaining skills necessary for employment.

Given the recent outbreak of COVID in Adelaide, it will be harder for people to gain employment and it is likely that the families we have been assisting are going to need support for at least the next two months. Sadly we do not have enough money to keep supporting families beyond the start of December. Any donations will be greatly appreciated and go directly to the people in need. If you can, please donate via our secure GiveNow page with the reference of Circle 110 to ensure funds are directed to our Circle.


Home Affairs Moves it Responsibilities to Community

Over October and November this year, more than 500 Refugees and Asylum Seekers across Australia are being moved out of community detention and onto Final Departure Bridging Visas. This will give them, for the first time since they attempted to enter Australia to seek asylum in 2013 or 2014, the right to work. Yet at same time it removes all Federal Financial Assistance and they have been given a mere three weeks to find accommodation and a way to support themselves, in the midst of a global pandemic.

The people targeted by the government this time were transferred to Australia because of health issues, yet few have received sufficient care. The company funded by the Federal Government to provide health care for these group of people has in most cases not provided the necessary care. One man in Adelaide who has needed surgery will hopefully be able to get treatment through Medicare which he can not access on the Bridging Visa.

While in community detention adults were denied access to education and so were not even able to access the Adult Migrant English Services. While some are fluent in English, many are not and none have work experience in Australia to assist in securing employment in this short timeframe. An allowance of less than $100 per week to cover food, basic needs and essential items was provided to people in community detention. This allowance was stopped as soon as people were notified of their change in status, meaning that they do not even have a meagre reserve of funds to assist in finding and setting up new accommodation.

In Adelaide there are 66 people being evicted from their Community Detention homes, 14 families, some couples and singles. Community support services in Adelaide, including Circle of Friends Australia, are organising for the dramatic increase in demands for support and are liaising together to try and ensure all people moving out of community detention in South Australia are able to find adequate shelter and food and other basic necessities.

Additionally Life Without Barriers staff in Adelaide were able to negotiate a three week extension for people to remain in existing community detention accommodation which gives us all a bit more leeway in which to plan and raise funds to assist these people. If they have work then Housing SA will pay the bond and two weeks rent, without an income they will not help. Community members and organisations are raising money to pay bond and rent. It is estimated that each household needs $8,000 for bond and rent. Two people already have full-time work work, 5 more are about to start. Many will travel to the Adelaide Hills for seasonal work. All will be evicted by 18th November 2020.

Circle of Friends Australia has a number of Circles that will be providing assistance. These include:

  • Rent Relief During Covid (Circle 3) will assist people with rent until they find work
  • Rapid Response for Refugees (Circle 110) will assist with any emergency needs
  • Wayville Circle (Circle 111) is supporting three of the families coming out of community detention
  • Covid Support (Circle 124) are assisting with mobile phone, car registration and pharmacy bills, as well as food deliveries and assistance finding accommodation and work.

Any donations will be greatly appreciated – Donate via our secure GiveNow platform. If you have a preference to which area you would like to assist please nominate appropriate Circle when donating.

If you can assist with employment, basic necessities (money for food is being covered by Red Cross at present), transport and so on please contact our Chair Monica O’Wheel via email, info@cofa.org.au.

For more background of this situation see the Refugee Council of Australia’s excellent brief “Removal of Federal support from Refugees medically transferred to Australia: what we have learned so far. Sep 2020


Iranian Women’s Association Campaign for Permanency

The Iranian Women’s Association has launched a petition that says that since COVID-19 has temporarily stopped migration, now is the time for the Australian government to provide permanent visas to refugees and asylum seekers.

The petition points out many of the refugees have lived in our community for many years and have demonstrated their commitment to the Australian way of life, and are highly motivated and often entrepreneurial – they pay their taxes, some have started new businesses and many are highly educated.  
 
The refugees and asylum seekers did not leave their homelands willingly. They are forced to leave behind their loved ones and livelihoods because it is unsafe for them to stay.  Australia is now their only home, but many only have temporary visas.

Now is the time to provide individuals and families with permanent visas, so they can build their futures with us. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that ‘we’re in this together’, the IWA says. Permanent visas are necessary for people to have a sense of stability and consolidate their sense of belonging. The time is now.

Circle of Friends Australia endorses this petition and encourages you to sign and circulate. The online petition which can be found here.


Support of refugee student scholarship holders

A partnership between COFA and the University of Adelaide.

The Guest Speaker at this year’s AGM was Alexander Reilly, Professor of Law, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide. He spoke about how the Universities the value of asylum seekers gaining access to tertiary education. Yet the government classifies asylum seekers as foreign students making University fees for these students are prohibitively high.

In response the University of Adelaide has a program which provides Scholarships to cover the University fees. But the scholarship doesn’t provide any income for the student’s living costs and the students who receive scholarships become ineligible for Centrelink support. It is hard for them to find work, and even if they do, insufficient time is left for study, and without another source of income most would have been forced to drop out. Circles of Friends Australia has been providing vital support for 13 of the 24 student scholarship holders. With only one exception, the scholastic performance of these students has been excellent, most consistently achieving high distinctions and distinctions.

Prof. Reilly also briefed us on the most recent figures on numbers of asylum seekers, including numbers held offshore, and in on-shore detention. For the most up-to-date figures, please see the relevant page in the web site of the Refugee Council of Australia.

Prof. Reilly concluded with the observation:

“It strikes me that the work of COFA reflects all that is wrong in government policy – filling gaps – Family reunion, reviews, assistance with basic living. There was great hope that after the last election there would be a change in policy, but the status quo has remained.

Since February 2018, Circles have raised and spent over $45,000 to support these students. The project is an example of teamwork. Circles participating include Blackwood Hills, and now also Henrietta’s Vinnies Circle, which have provided monthly living allowances, and helped with rent and utility bills. St Ignatius Refugee Support Group has provided computers and other educational materials, Rapid Response Circle has helped with rent, utility bills, and medical and dental costs, and Catherine’s Circle 124 has provided food boxes for a number of them. We are grateful for the generosity of the donors to each participating Circle, and the fine work of Terri Finn, the University’s Student Welfare Officer.