Syrian refugee settlement in Australia must be permanent


Anguished Syrian with flagLast week's photo of a Turkish policeman gently carrying the body of a three year old Aylan Kurki and the influx of asylum seekers and migrants to Europe has sparked many calls for Australia to make a generous response to help Syrian refugees.

The conflict has been destroying Syria since its outbreak back in 2011 and it is estimated over 200,000 Syrians have been killed in this brutal war.

By all means we should be offering to resettle more Syrians. That part is easy. Whatever number of people we accept, it is still only small given there are an estimated four million Syrian refugees and a further eight to nine million people internally displaced. This equates to nearly half the population of Syria being either refugees or internally displaced.

The scale is very high but this does not mean that the Australian contribution of 5000 or 10,000 or even 20,000 places here is not valuable. It is a life changer for each person resettled. One idea being proposed is to provide a temporary safe haven visa (TSHV), as was done for the Kosovars back in 1999.

But the Kosovar solution is not a good one. In 1999, 4000 Kosovars were brought to Australia on a TSHV initially for three months but what turned out being several years. Legislative bars were created to prevent them from applying for any other visa whilst here, including protection visas. These bars still exist in the Migration Act. This was the stick part of the deal — they were expected to go home as soon as possible. Just over 120 were allowed to stay after the then Minister Ruddock eventually agreed to allow them to apply for protection. The same happened with East Timorese at the time of the crisis after the separation referendum.

The Kosovars were initially housed in defence department camps around the country. It seemed the easiest way to provide urgent accommodation as they had restricted work rights (20 hours a week). Later some were allowed into the community, only to have to pack up and leave when it was decided that it was safe to return to Kosovo.

Syria's is a far greater humanitarian disaster and is unlikely to be resolved for a decade or more. Therefore the idea of a temporary visa only, with work restrictions and bars on other applications, will only create new stresses and traumas for an already highly traumatised population. The uncertainty of their future is what Syrians are facing already. They do not need this recreated on the other side of the planet.

It would be far better to increase our refugee intake, which has not changed for over twenty five years (apart from briefly in 2012). Although the Coalition Government proposes to increase it from 13,750 visas to around 18,000 visas in 2017-18, it reduced the number from 20,000 visas back to 13,750 in 2013. One justification for this was the cost of resettling more refugees.

Permanent resettlement provides a more sensible solution without creating new stresses of uncertainty. Already we are setting up uncertainty for thousands of refugees who arrived by boat and we only give them a TPV. Refugees need full permission to work so they can arrange and plan their lives without fear they will have to pack up in a few years. Already millions of Syrians are living in uncertainty in Turkey (nearly two million) Lebanon (1.1 million), Jordan (629,000) and even in war ravaged Iraq (nearly 300,000).

If we hand out temporary visas to the Syrians, they will be in limbo for the length of the visa and their ability to resettle and contribute to their new country becomes less. Work restrictions create a dependency, which is one thing from which the Syrians want to escape. The TSHV only creates uncertainty and dependency for people who have already been terrorised by violence at home.

Only last year, funding for aid to Syria was cut. Now the Government wants to send the RAAF to bomb DAESH, but is very reluctant to increase our total refugee intake. A bombing campaign will not destroy DAESH, and in an ironic way, it will contribute to the war effort of the Assad regime, which is one of the main sources of killing of civilians which causes the movement of so many people. DAESH is brutal, but the Syrian government bombing of civilians is causing more deaths.

The TSHV is only a temporary solution. It is not a good solution, just a stop gap. It may look good to be able to say we are bringing several thousand Syrians here, but it is far from a rational approach. Here are three ideas that hopefully will be considered.

Firstly, significantly increase the total resettlement numbers, and give the Syrians a permanent visa. Also make it possible to have in-country resettlement. This enables people to leave Syria knowing they have a future without being forced to wait in camps or struggle in cities around the region in the hope they might get a visa.

Secondly involve the Syrian community to sponsor family members, who will resettle more quickly in a supported environment. In the last two weeks, I have been contacted by several Syrian families in Australia seeking to sponsor family members from northern Syria or Damascus. Their family member in Syria is in danger, but afraid that just fleeing to border camps in order to meet the 'out of home country' requirement for refugee resettlement will only place them in long term uncertainty. They can then meet the refugee definition, but have only a tiny chance of winning the refugee visa lotto. In-country cases need to be part of the scheme.

Also enable the wider community to support refugee resettlement through a community refugee support scheme — as was done in the late 1980s to mid 1990s. The community pilot scheme, whereby families here effectively sponsor a family member by paying a significant fee ($3080 application fee and $18,910 at the end for the visa) could be expanded and will be quickly taken up by desperate families in Australia.

We should also decouple the onshore and offshore programs — this serves no purpose but giving politicians the chance to say that all onshore cases take away the place of an offshore refugee. On this logic, every person resettled means many others miss out.

Thirdly open the resettlement options to include other refugees from other countries. Iraqis (Yazidi women are made sexual slaves by the gangsters of DAESH), Rohingas (who are being forced out of Myanmar/Burma and are stateless) and Hazaras (who have already built communities in Australia), are just three examples of other refugee populations in dire need.

We have a chance to make a difference for people and we need to learn from previous mistakes why the 'Kosovar solution' was no solution. Temporary resettlement is only a temporary solution for people who deserve much better than a short visa. Syria will not be solved for years so just moving the Syrians from the uncertainty and dangers in neighbouring countries without providing a longer term solution for them is harsh and unwarranted. We cannot help everyone, but we can make a major difference for some people, so let us make that possible for a significant number of people, rather than keeping a quota because that is what was always done.

Kerry Murphy profile photoKerry Murphy is a partner with the specialist immigration law firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers and member of the boards of the IARC and JRS.

Flickr Creative Commons image by Freedom House.

Topic tags: Kerry Murphy, asylum seekers, Syria, refugees, Kosovars



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Existing comments

Australia has some of the easiest protocols for refugees to become citizens. Citizenship is encouraged. 4 million people have taken citizenship oaths since WW2. Refugee advocates often claim Australia has few refugees; 25th on the list for generosity. However, We don't "host" refugees like many of the countries that would be higher up the list. We invite them to be citizens.There are places for 60 million refugees to be safe in the world. But fewer than 200,000 permanently resettled refugees annually in countries where they can rebuild their lives - jobs, benefits, democratic rights. There are not the complex barriers to citizenship that exist in countries like, ironically, Germany. Imagine if there were refugee camps in Australia? Could we host 200,000? We could; but unlikely. So it's smaller numbers, permanently resettled. Kerry's reasoning and facts are sound. Kerry addresses the first question raised by this crisis - how we should respond immediately, in a humane way. But the real big question is the one the world will struggle with. How about next year when there are 2 million arriving on boats? There is a relationship between diasporas and further movements of people, historically. Germany has a need for over a million workers and an aging population. What will Germany and the world do in 3 years time? We have to think of sustainable solutions.
john | 09 September 2015

Hi Kerry: What a wonderful article and sensible solution. Your humanitarian solution makes sense. As an American, I only wish our government would do something to help these people as well. Our silence is lack of outreach to these people is horrible.
Geri Spieler | 09 September 2015

And let us not discriminate on the grounds of religion, as proposed by this appalling government.
Peter Downie | 09 September 2015

Kerry, it makes sense and is well argued. Just don't expect any of it from this parliament.
ErikH | 09 September 2015

No 'One size fits all' solution, will solve the problem. There are many who will prefer to return 'home' once it is possible and safe to do so. Others who have sponsors here will fit in and boost our living standards. Each case needs to be treated on its merits.
Robert Liddy | 09 September 2015

Humanitarian aid from Australia for refugees is vital for the people of Australia. Future generations need to be able to hold their heads high when they speak of their country!!
Gene Trim | 09 September 2015

What's the rationale behind the government's 'generosity' in accepting resettlement refugees? Is it cheaper because the UNHCR has done all the work? Tom
Tom Mayne | 11 September 2015

Kerry, so with all these visas classes 200, 201 and 2012 are not permanent residency? Also how long do you think form 80 takes for Syrian refugees?
Kinan | 03 November 2015


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