Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Lessons from the case of the lucky refugee

  • 25 January 2019


Rahaf Mohammed is very lucky. Not to be a refugee, but to have been granted residence by Canada so quickly. In my nearly 30 years of working with refugees in various capacities, I have never heard of anyone being granted residence as quickly. The speed of the process is significant, and also the way she conducted her case on social media.

Canada, like Australia, has a long history of being generous and welcoming for refugees. The Canadian process can be quick, as seen for Mohammed. This speed would be unlikely for someone who has applied for resettlement from Australia.

The process for assessment of refugee cases offshore by Australia is quite technical. There are five types of visas available in Australia — the subclasses 200-204. The most common ones are the 200 — refugee, 202 —special humanitarian and 204 —women at risk category. The subclass 201 is entitled 'in country special humanitarian' and the 203 is 'emergency rescue'. The 201 category is really only for those who worked for the Australian Defence Forces in Afghanistan or Iraq such as interpreters. The 203 is extremely rare and I have only ever heard of one case. Only a very small number (maybe less than ten) would be granted in a year.

The forms are long and detailed and the offshore form 842 is 36 pages in length, including five pages of notes and guidance for completion. I am not aware of the comparative Canadian forms, or how long they might be.

The processing times vary considerably. Some cases with UNHCR referral can be done in months, but I am aware of cases where refugees have been waiting three or more years for a decision on their application to Australia. Issues such as type of case, whether the case is seen as a priority or not, maybe gender and other factors can play into this. These and other factors put a lie to the 'waiting patiently in an orderly queue' myth commonly trotted out about refugees arriving onshore and then making a claim. Whereas Canada can issue a refugee visa in an emergency within 24-48 hours if necessary. I am not aware of anything like that in Australia.

Requests for an update from Australian officials on the case or information about what is happening are routinely ignored, or met with Yes Minister style responses that basically say 'The government is still assessing your case.' Not much detail there.