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Jesuit Refugee Service  |  09 August 2018

For Ahmed, Noor and their children this year’s Refugee and Migrant Sunday will be special as they  begin a new stage in their life in Australia.

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has first-hand experience of the challenges faced by many people seeking safety and a new life in Australia.

Fleeing persecution and violence, and fearing for their lives, Ahmed*, Noor and their three young children were forced to flee South East Asia in search of a new place to call home. A place they could be safe. The family didn’t know the challenges that would lie ahead.

 Complicated process

The process of seeking asylum in Australia is not easy to navigate. So much depends on how, and when, you arrive. Some of the complexity is based on laws and some is based on ever-changing government policy. For Ahmed and Noor, these complexities meant that the family were placed on bridging visas, each with different conditions.

Most concerning was that the children did not receive bridging visas at all. While their parents were legally allowed to stay, and Noor was allowed to work, the children’s tourist visas were about to expire meaning they would be living unlawfully in Australia.

Fearing their family would be torn apart, Ahmed and Noor’s initial dreams of beginning a new life in the ‘lucky country’ were soon replaced with a sense of hopelessness. To complicate things further, because Ahmed had arrived in Australia first and then sent funds to allow his family to join him, the family was ineligible for government-funded Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) payments. Facing homelessness and destitution, Ahmed, Noor and their children found their way to JRS.

You would be forgiven for thinking that this is overly complicated. The system is difficult enough to navigate even when English is your first language. The family’s legal and casework needs were indeed complex, and Ahmed and Noor were incredibly worried for their children. Fearing for their safety and afraid they could be sent back to their home country, Noor was on the phone to Immigration every day, but she was told by the government she would just have to wait in this distressing limbo.

JRS contacted Immigration on the family’s behalf and Immigration explained that, because the parents were born in different countries, the children were not able to apply for a protection visa without first applying for an intervention from the Minister for Immigration.

 In limbo

While the children were waiting for the Minister to allow them to apply for protection, they could not be granted a bridging visa. This meant they were unable to attend school or have access to Medicare for well over a year. This was devastating for them and meant their lives had to be put on hold.

Advocating on behalf of the family, JRS appealed to Immigration to grant the children's bridging visas and also helped Ahmed to apply for the right to work. But the family was desperate and living on the edge, surviving only because JRS provided financial assistance.

After a year of waiting, the children were finally allowed to apply for protection and were granted bridging visas. This meant they could now access much needed Medicare services and most importantly, go to school. JRS staff were privileged to receive hand-drawn thank you notes and photos of the children who started their new lives in Australia with huge smiles on their faces.

Pope Francis’ 20 points of action invite us to unite with each other to welcome, promote, protect and integrate people forced to leave their homes because of war, violence and persecution, asking us to help them find safety among us.

This appeal chimes well with our JRS mission to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced people. Migrant and Refugee Sunday (26 August) is an opportunity for all of us to remember that we  need to come together, to support these efforts. If we each add our own grain of sand to the pile we can ensure all refugees, people seeking asylum and migrants in our country feel included, supported and welcomed.

JRS calls all Australians to walk alongside people like Ahmed, Noor and their little ones. We ask that on this special Sunday you help us celebrate their amazing courage and resilience and acknowledge their richness of spirit, culture and the unique gifts they bring to Australia.

*Names have been changed.

See Australian Catholics for some reflections and activities related to this article, Home in Australia.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

 

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