This Palm Sunday the people of Perth will gather to call for justice and dignity for refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia.
The ‘Walk for Justice for Refugees’ will be a peaceful protest outside St George’s Cathedral from 1-3pm to demonstrate solidarity with the refugee community ahead of the federal election.
Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees client services manager Esther Deng said the Palm Sunday walk was relevant because of the increasingly punitive and difficult Federal government policies that affect the asylum-seeking process and waiting period here in Australia.
“That makes it really important for people in the community to demonstrate in a physical, practical, public way that there should be more justice in their asylum-seeking process as they apply for protection visas,” she said.
Australian Refugee Action Network representative Jan Govett said the walk is an annual event because the issues they’re concerned about in the refugee movement are still in place.
According to Asylum Insight, as of March 2019, 1285 people are in immigration detention in Australia, 430 of them arrived unlawfully.
The average number of days spent in detention is 511, yet 279 people have spent more than 730 locked up.
Ms Govett said most Australians would be horrified to know about the conditions in detention centres.
“We have people who visit with people in detention on the mainland and the conditions are punitive and people are not treated with dignity and respect,” she said.
The 2018-19 budget announced cuts to asylum seeker support including reducing funding for payments to people seeking asylum under the Status Resolution Support Service and repealing the medevac legislation, which was introduced to ensure people in offshore detention are brought to Australia if they require medical treatment.
The budget also included a decrease in employment services for refugees, meaning refugees and humanitarian entrants are exempted from Jobactive employment services for first 12 months after their arrival, doubling the current exemption period.
Ms Deng said CARAD provided assistance to refugees, asylum seekers and detainees where there was nobody else providing them with that support, but that group was growing larger as the government cut more funding and implemented stricter eligibility criteria.
“It becomes more and more difficult for people just to exist within the community while they are waiting for the department of immigration to review their protection visa applications,” she said.
16,250 permanent visas were granted in 2017-18. This has increased from 13,780 in 2016-17 but 15,674 people are still awaiting an outcome of their refugee application while living in Australia.
Ms Deng joked that from a federal policy level, “just about everything” needed to be changed.
“What we are looking for or advocate for is an efficient and transparent protection visa application process,” she said.
“That people making these applications would be supported through that and not just legal or migration advice, but to be provided with a basic financial safety net while they are awaiting the process and they should be given full work and study rights as well as Medicare eligibility.”
Ms Govett said we needed to ensure access to a fair application process and act in accordance with the treaties that were signed at the UN Refugee Convention.
“Regardless of whether they come by boat or plane they should be treated decently and be able to live in Australia while their claims are being assessed with some support services in place,” she said.
“All those things have been gradually taken away from people for a number of years now.”
Ms Deng said there had been a lot of fear mongering about asylum seekers, but noted as people learn more about the facts and hear more experiences of people who are seeking protection and safety, they were very compassionate and generous and welcoming.
More information about the Walk for Justice can be found here.