Let them stay

If the plight of refugees in our country will affect your vote in the upcoming election, don’t be fooled. While Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) holders are now eligible to apply for non-humanitarian visas, the Federal Government is introducing yet another hoop in  this humiliating process.

The regulations, as recently reported, will allow those TPV holders who have ‘made important contributions to their community during their time in Australia’ in country areas to apply for permanent residency.

For residents on TPVs in Greater Dandenong, the regulations don’t seem to mean all that much, except that many of them may now have to move to the country having spent many years establishing supportive communities in this region.

We will be sorry to see them go. There is no doubt that the City of Greater Dandenong would be a lesser place had we never had any refugees settle here. Those living in our area on TPVs make substantial positive contributions, they have built a vibrant community, and they belong.

But I’m not going to argue that point, because I’d be buying into the basic premise of the Howard Government’s argument: that proving you are a refugee and in danger of persecution in your country of origin is not enough. You must also prove that you have special characteristics that make you ‘deserve’ assistance. Not only do you need to be a refugee, you need to be the right kind.

The Howard Government is trying to differentiate the people on whose plight they so heartlessly capitalised in the 2001 election (the ‘illegals’ and ‘queue jumpers’) from those who are now ‘making a contribution’. The main point of division seems to be whether they settled in the country or in the city.


 
This is a most amoral distinction to draw. People who settle in rural or regional Australia are not more deserving of our protection than those who reside in our cities. This is a shameless attempt to build public policy around a balancing act of appeasing rural communities while maintaining the demonisation of those refugees who, in the government’s view, don’t share the same level of strategic political support.

Of course, any policy shift in the area of TPVs represents a victory. This is time for guarded congratulations to groups like Rural Australians for Refugees and Spare Rooms for Refugees.

The government has all the appearance of compassion, but none of the policy that might support the rhetoric. This is not acceptable. We must remember too, that there is a pretty simple answer to this problem. One that doesn’t involve twisted rhetoric, fanciful categorisations and perverse moral judgments. People who are on TPVs in our country have proven, by Australia’s legal definition, that they are in danger of persecution in their homeland. For me, and I think for most other Australians, that is enough to invoke our compassion. Let them stay. 

Clare O’Neil is the Mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong. Greater Dandenong settles more refugees than any other municipality in Victoria.

 

Recent articles by Clare O’Neil .

A history that gives hope

 

 

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