Hard borders lock out Australian visa holders

As international travel becomes the norm for Australians, one group of people are still struggling to find a way back into the country.

After fleeing Syria, Mirna Haddad and her family thought they would come to Australia to build a better life. But two weeks after they were granted a humanitarian visa, the pandemic shut the world down.

What should have been a new beginning has become a two year nightmare for Mirna and her family, who say they want the ordeal to end.

“It was a very happy day when we got the visa. We felt we would finally end all this suffering and the feeling that we had no future. We sold our car to pay for our flights,” she said.

“Then everything changed. Instead of flying to Australia and finally settling down, we have been in Iraq, just trying to find get basic necessities for our children.”

Mirna is just one of the many who have been locked out of Australia over the course of the pandemic despite having a valid visa.

Almost a million people in Australia on temporary visas and 10,000 refugees are, like Mirna, in limbo. The Morrison Government has yet to detail a complete plan for lifting international travel restrictions.

While international borders are open for travel to resume in NSW and Victoria, the federal government has stressed this is for Australian citizens and permanent residents.

Mirna’s sister Diana, who lives in Sydney with her husband and children, has pleaded with the government to rethink its travel ban.

“The longer the travel ban continues, the more worried I get about them.”

The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) has called on the government to include stranded refugees and people on temporary visas as part of the nation’s reopening plan.

In analysis released today, the HRLC said people in these categories should be offered automatic exemptions in addition to the government considering a scale up in refugee resettlement.

Scott Cosgriff, senior lawyer with the HRLC, said it was critical the government made this commitment to ensure nobody was left behind.

“Throughout the pandemic, the Morrison Government has turned its back on its humanitarian commitments. Since the 2019 budget, more than 28,000 spots have been slashed from Australia’s humanitarian intake.

“Australia’s refugee intake has now slowed to its lowest level in 45 years, and 10,000 people the Australian Government has already committed to resettle remain stranded overseas.

“If some level of interruption due to COVID-19 was unavoidable, a permanent deficit in Australia’s refugee intake is not.

“All of us in big and small ways have experienced the difficulty of being separated from the ones we love during the pandemic.

“The Prime Minister now has the opportunity to ensure that families can reunite and that no one is left behind.”

Mukhles Habash is a refugee from Iraq. His brother in law’s family is currently stranded in Jordan after a number of exemption requests were refused. He said the ordeal had been a disaster for himself and his family.

He’s now calling on the Scott Morrison to imagine it was his family who was stuck overseas.

“Can you imagine if it was your family and you did not know what your future looked like?”

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