Seeking asylum is a human right, yet in Australia thousands of people are languishing in an immigration system that punishes rather than protects some of the world’s most vulnerable people. And for some families it means children are born without citizenship.
A life of limbo
People seeking asylum are people who have fled their country fearing for their lives and are waiting to have their refugee status recognised. But in Australia, our immigration policies have made it a long and arduous process. RACS supports people seeking asylum with legal support throughout their refugee applications by helping them navigate complex policies and painful interviews.
“RACS is an independent community legal centre,” explains Tanya Jackson-Vaughan, executive director of RACS. “We are the only dedicated organisation in NSW providing specialist legal support to people seeking asylum, at no cost. These people hope for a safe and peaceful future. The legal assistance RACS provides is a crucial first step in providing a safe home for them and their families.”
In 2017 RACS helped over 4,500 people lodge their protection visa applications with the support of volunteers, pro bono lawyers and a team of about 30 staff. In 2018 Australian Ethical supported RACS with a $20,000 Community Grant to help establish a program for stateless families.
The program assists children born to parents who are stateless. Stateless people are without a nationality or citizenship of a country because the government refuses to recognise their group or ethnicity as citizens. Examples of stateless people are the Rohingya or the Kurds. They do not have any legitimate way to confirm their existence through documentation.
RACS supports these families to ensure children can get Australian citizenship. For many, this is the first time they have had a sense of identity in many years.
“The money from Australian Ethical will go directly to help 10 families with their citizenship applications,” says Tanya. “We have many clients from a Rohingya background and they will be assisted by this program. We know it’s effective because we’ve already helped a few families prior to receiving this funding.”
Australian Ethical is proud to support RACS to make a difference in the lives of these families. But we also recognise that Australia’s refugee system needs to change.
Despite the rise in global trends of people seeking asylum, Australia lags behind the rest of the world in terms of its refugee intake. At the end of 2017 there were 68.5 million people fleeing their country, and 52% were children. But only a small percentage was resettled by Australia. In fact, we take just 0.65% of the world’s refugee cohort placing us 45th relative to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Seeking asylum is a human right and we’d like to see Australia live up to its commitment to the Refugee Convention. That includes ensuring a timely application process, no more mandatory and indefinite detention and no more separating families.
“We hope that another government comes in and changes the laws for refugees,” says Tanya. “We want to see permanent protection return for people so they can bring their families here. Separating families is torture. At the moment there are 20,000 people in Australia who haven’t seen their families for six years.
“Permanent protection is the safe and humane thing to do,” Tanya says emphatically.
A Permanent Protection Visa gives people the ability to live and work in Australia indefinitely, providing some long-term security.
At Australian Ethical we advocate for a more humanitarian approach. These people are individuals fleeing for their lives and Australia can offer a safe place for them to build their lives. Many of our country’s greatest nation builders have been refugees, adding culture, innovation and colour to the fabric of our society.
Australian Ethical does not invest in companies operating detention centres and we support the ‘human rights floor’ developed by No Business in Abuse for treatment of people seeking asylum (zero tolerance for child abuse, no arbitrary and indefinite detention and no cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment). Some argue that a company should not be criticised for simply implementing government policy. We disagree. Human rights transcend the laws and actions of individual countries, being universal rights possessed by all humans. Indeed international human rights laws were developed after World War II to protect against human rights violations committed by governments. Individuals and companies have a responsibility to respect human rights in their activities, independently of government policy.