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Reuniting refugee families

16 December 20160 comments

The federal government has been urged to allocate more visas for family reunification and speed up processing times for visa applications in a new report that highlights the distress separation causes to refugee families.

The report by the Refugee Council of Australia says that family separation can have psychological, social and financial costs to individuals and the broader society.

It says separation can also have a negative effect on social cohesion adding to feelings of abandonment and isolation.

The report, titled Addressing The Pain of Separation for Refugee Families, says family separation can trigger instances of self-harm, thoughts of suicide and declining mental wellbeing, especially among young people.

“Family separation deprives people of social and emotional support critical to positive settlement outcomes,” the report said.

“Family separation is costly, both to refugees and to the wider Australians community. There is enormous pressure on people in Australia to support relatives in refugee situations overseas, which was seen to both compound the stress of family separation and impose a significant financial burden on people attempting to settle in Australia.

“That financial pressure, in many situations, could compel people to forego study in favour of paid work and could place people at risk of workplace exploitation.

“Currently, as family separation is one of the main reasons for the negative mental health of many refugees and people seeking asylum, barriers to family reunion significantly contribute to the need for increased mental health services and the costs associated with these services,” the report said.

The report made five recommendations to make the family visa stream more accessible to refugees, including allocating at least 5,000 visas under the family stream of the Migration Program for refugee and humanitarian entrants with concession rates or waivers on fees.

It also recommended introducing needs-based concessions under the family stream of the Migration Program which could be available for people who are sponsoring relatives in humanitarian need and are able to meet some but not all of the eligibility and documentation requirements for family visas.

The report recommended consultations with stakeholders to develop a process for assessing eligibility for concessions.

It recommended the Australian Government should significantly reduce existing processing times for family reunion applications, improve its procedures for communicating with visa proposers, restore funding for professional migration advice services under the Settlement Grants program, expand the no-interest loan scheme administered by the International Organization for Migration and extend eligibility for the scheme to refugee and humanitarian entrants sponsoring relatives under the family stream of the Migration Program.

It also recommended removing current restrictions on family reunion for refugees who arrived by boat.

The report also recommended reform of the current Community Proposal Pilot/Community Support Program through a reduction in the visa application charge, increasing the size of the program, ensuring humanitarian need remains the primary criterion for processing priorities and am including a “safety net” mechanism to protect those sponsored in cases of emergency or relationship breakdown.

It also argues that the Community Support Program and the Humanitarian Program should be separate, to create more resettlement opportunities.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist