Further to Stuart Rees’ eloquent exposure of the Prime Minister’s cruelty toward those Afghans already in Australia on temporary visas, below is my letter to the Prime Minister arguing for a more humane and pragmatic asylum seeker policy. Pragmatic because times have changed – the boats are no longer coming – and because among those temporary protection visa holders are talented, resilient and determined young people.
I know this from reading the applications of young refugees, many from Afghanistan but also Syria, South Sudan, Iran and elsewhere, for tertiary transition scholarships made available by the Public Education Foundation. Over the last five years the PEF has awarded almost 300 refugee scholarships (both for secondary school students and those going into full-time tertiary study). More than 100 scholars have gone on to university, studying in courses as diverse as engineering, pharmacy and construction management. They’ve been school captains and student council representatives. Many are young women who have spent years away from schooling because they have lived under regimes which do not permit girls’ education. Others have spent years in limbo in UN refugee camps. They face a myriad of difficulties on arrival in Australia, from the legacy of trauma to adjusting to a new language and school system.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these difficulties as students struggle with access to laptops, broadband and even physical spaces to study. Despite this, they remain driven to attain educational success, while also helping their families, for example with English translation and, until lockdown, by working part-time. They even find time to demonstrate their commitment to the broader community by volunteering.
It is not enough to say, as the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have, there are no plans at the moment to return Afghan TPV holders to Australia – what an absurdity. It is time instead urgently to set in train processes to allow them, and other asylum seekers, to apply to become Australian citizens.