Campaigners are urging Australia to allow thousands of migrants whose asylum claims were rejected under a controversial policy to stay. A week-long protest starts Monday outside the offices of Australian Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil over the cases of up to 12,000 asylum seekers who have spent more than a decade on temporary bridging visas but face the threat of deportation.
In February, the government in Canberra said 19,000 migrants on temporary protection visas or safe haven visas would be allowed to stay in Australia.
However, as many as 12,000 other asylum-seekers, on bridging visas, who are mainly from Iran, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, were excluded from the announcement. A bridging visa is a temporary permit that allows non-citizens to stay in Australia lawfully while their immigration status is resolved. They have to re-apply to remain in the country every six months.
Many had their refugee claims dismissed under a previous ‘fast-track’ policy that advocates say was unfair and arbitrary. It was introduced by the former conservative government in Canberra to deal with a large backlog of asylum claims.
Campaigners are calling for “humanitarian intervention” from the Canberra government.
Mahboobeh Mirshahi is a migrant from Iran, who arrived in Australia by boat in 2013.
She is joining protesters Monday outside the Melbourne regional office of Australian Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil.
Mirshahi told VOA that she fled to Australia seeking safety.
“My family and I on that day with the two children - Tania was six years’ old and my little one six months," said Mirshahi. "We came from Iran by boat because about (sic) the government, about the regime. Actually, in my case as a minority religion. We had to come to Australia and, yeah, now more than ten years we stay here without any visa
Her teenage daughter, Tania, is completing high school but her family says because they do not have permanent visas, she won’t be able to go to university.
Tania told VOA that she wants her adopted country to show compassion.
“Australians seem to have a very negative bias towards those who came here by boat but we just need a little bit of empathy because no-one puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land, you know
," said Tania. "Like, we escaped potential torture and death, and, like, so many horrible stuff (sic) just to come here and not have rights.”
Australian Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has said that genuine refugees “who are ultimately found to have been owed protection” will be allowed to stay in the country.
The Canberra government supports a decade-old immigration policy called Operation Sovereign Borders. It is designed to deter asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat.
Under Operation Sovereign Borders, the navy has been towing or turning away migrant boats trying to reach Australian waters.
That policy has been condemned by rights groups.