Who is a refugee?
Photographer : Philippe Tarbouriech
A refugee is someone who is outside their country and fears punishment or harassment (persecution) on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and cannot be protected by their home government.
This is not the same as an asylum seeker, migrant or illegal immigrant. An asylum seeker is someone who makes a claim for legal and physical protection (asylum) and may be classified as a refugee if a body representing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, or a supportive country, grants them refugee status. A migrant consciously decides to leave their country. They do not fear persecution and can freely return to their home state. An illegal immigrant is someone who moves without any legal grounds, such as an appropriate visa or claim for asylum.What is Australia’s policy?Offshore and onshore programs
Australia’s system is divided into two programs for refugees—offshore and onshore. The offshore program is where people apply for protection visas before they come to Australia. In many cases, these people have already been granted refugee status by the UNHCR and have been referred to Australia. The onshore program relates to people who apply for a protection visa once they arrive on Australian soil.Protection visas
Refugees may be offered two types of protection visas—permanent or temporary.
Permanent Protection Visas (PPV) can be offered through both the offshore and the onshore program. However, it is much harder to obtain a PPV through the onshore program. This is because an applicant must have already entered Australia using a valid visa, like a tourist or student visa. In such cases, applicants who are not put into immigration detention are given bridging visas whilst their status is being processed. They are afforded this privilege because they are seen to have entered Australia lawfully. This gives them certain rights, such as access to the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, which helps with basic needs such as food, accommodation and health care. Once receiving a PPV, refugees gain access to a range of refugee specific and general government services to help with resettlement. These include things like Medicare, income support and certain rights, such as leaving Australia with the freedom to return, and the option to sponsor other family members to come to Australia.
If a refugee enters Australia without a valid visa, they can apply for a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV), which lasts for 3 years. TPVs can also be granted through the offshore program. In this case, a TPV can last up to 5 years. After 3 or 5 years, a refugee must apply for either a PPV or another TPV. A refugee may not be eligible for a PPV if, after leaving their home country and before coming to Australia, they spent at least seven days in a country where they could have obtained protection. Refugees on TPVs do not have the same access to services or the same rights as those on PPVs. They have limited access to government support, they cannot be assured re-entry if they leave Australia and they cannot sponsor family members to come to Australia.Can Australia send people back if their request is denied?
According to UN policy, a person who has had their visa application denied can be returned to their home state. However, if there is war or conflict in their country, the UN strongly urges that they not be sent back. In Australia, this means that these people remain in detention centres until such time as they can return home. They are also given the opportunity to appeal the decision made about them. They remain in detention while this is going on. Where do most refugees come from?
The Australian Government’s current policy on resettlement (2004/5) focusses on Africa, the Middle East and South-West Asia.Why do refugees need my help?
Refugees need help with basics—understanding the tax system, opening a bank account, applying for a drivers licence, obtaining health cover, accessing emergency service information, learning and practising English, finding work, finding somewhere to live, enrolling their kids in school.
Refugees are likely to have been exposed to traumatic experiences. They may have fought in wars or had to defend their family. They may have witnessed, been involved in or threatened by violence. As a result, refugees may find it difficult adjusting to a new country, atmosphere, culture and way of life. You can help by helping them get access to support services and assisting them in navigating barriers that may prevent them from participating in their new community.How do I know this?
Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, http://www.immi.gov.au/facts/60refugee.htm
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, http://www.hreoc.gov.au/racial_discrimination/face...