When the Australian Navy raided the boat where Ali Raza sat, six-hours outside of Australia, he remembered the officer’s shouting whilst kicking things around.
‘We got a bit scared and no one could speak English. There was only one guy who was translating the situation for us,’ he remembered.
The terms ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘refugee’ are not interchangeable. Defined by the United Nation’s Refugee Agency, an asylum seeker is a person whose request for sanctuary, as a refugee, has not yet been processed. Laws and international conventions protecting the rights of refugees mean a person with refugee status is afforded greater protection and access to resources than those considered asylum seekers.
‘When I was 15, my father decided to send me to Australia as an asylum seeker,’ says Ali. Ali was sitting at his father’s shop when the phone rang. His Dad on the other end of the line released him of his duty, told him to close up shop and return home.
When he arrived, his father was standing in the doorway, waiting, with bags packed and the car ready to go. ‘He said ‘We are going to a different city to see your Grandpa’’.
They left their home that day by car from Quetta to Karachi.
Quetta is a city in Balochistan, the largest province of four in Pakistan and at the time the area has been ground-zero of a nearly 80-year guerrilla conflict between Baloch Nationalists and the Iranian and Pakistani government. HAKKPÁN Balochistan recently reported an unmarked grave filled with 131 unidentifiable bodies from extrajudicial killings.
Concerned about Quetta’s growing violence, Ali’s father spent a small fortune sending him and his cousin to Australia by boat to ensure their safety.
Karachi would not be the end of the trip, instead, it would take Ali and his cousin over two months by foot, a hijacked taxi ride, and in a half-sinking boat -abandoned by its captain- to reach his destination, Christmas Island.
At Christmas Island detention centre, he was separated from his cousin, then strip-searched and his belongings taken away. The phone number his father gave to him to contact him on was disconnected, and alone he sat in the detention centre 6000 kilometres away from Pakistan.
Everyone on that boat was given a number, Ali’s was 2-0-1-3. ‘Whenever we go for getting lunch, dinner or breakfast, they ask you two-zero-one-three come and get your lunch or dinner’.
Ali now lives in Sydney on a Temporary Protection Visa.
Temporary Protection visa’s and the implications for asylum seekers
In Australia 40 000 people live on Temporary Protection visas. Many of them, like Ali, arrived here on a boat.
Temporary Protection visas provide asylum seekers whose application for refugee status is being processed the ability to live and work in Australia for three years.
Associate Professor Caroline Fleay at Curtin University’s Centre for Human Rights says that the Temporary Protection visa leaves people in constant limbo.
‘TPVs is a punitive policy based around punishing people based on how they arrived, and this is people who have endured and continue to endure the trauma of having fled insecurity and probably violence.
In 2013, changes were made in regulating TPV under the coalition government meant those or are holding a TPV could not apply for permanent residency.
As a result, those who find themselves on the TPV are stuck in a cycle of applying, from visa to visa every three-years’.
The history of asylum seekers policy in Australia
In 2018, Australia’s intake of refugees was around 12 000. Compared to Turkey, which hosts up to 4 million refugees, this is substantially lower.
Yet, a recent survey found half of Australian’s believe immigration should be halved, and laws such as the medevac bill, which allows those detained on Nauru and Manus Island to receive medical treatment in Australia, is considered controversial.
Fleay says that these policies around stopping the boats were political opportunism by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
‘It was a clear message, a very powerful message, “Stop the Boats”, and that is how it has come to be understood in Australia that people are to be stopped getting on boats and coming to Australia.’
Sign at Karachi airport in 2014 about coming to Australia by boat (Source: Twitter)
Operation Sovereign Borders was the policy which the Abbott ran on in his 2013 election and was to stop the unauthorised maritime arrivals of asylum seekers.
Prime minister Scott Morrison the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection at the time spearheaded the operation.
By framing people seeking asylum as a border protection issue, Fleay said it will be difficult for the coalition government to back down from its stance of anti-immigration in the short term.
Employment and education on the TPV
Despite being a finalist for the WA Youth Awards 2016, Ali struggled to find employment after graduating from high school.
Ali felt that his visa status affected his prospects when job seeking.
‘Lots of them, [employers] they don’t know which visa is it. You have to give an explanation, what kind of visa is it, how does it work out’.
According to the Refugee Council, English language skills, unrecognised overseas qualifications, and lack of work experience and social networks in Australia are the three main barriers to employment for asylum seekers.
But often the journey to get educational qualifications can be a difficult one.
When Ali arrived in Australia, he was placed in one of Perth’s most prestigious high schools, were he spoke Urdu with his friends. They were all in English Language program, there to help students from around the world learn English.
‘If we get English classes with our own people we wouldn’t learn anything, we would be speaking in our own language,’ says Ali.
It was at this same high school where his teacher smiled at the students and accused members of the class of lying. ‘You are 22, you are 23 but you’re just pretending that your age is like 15, 16,’ Ali recalls. He remembers the class would get into depressive moods after their teacher would sporadically try to convert the Muslim students to Christianity.
Ali, who is now 23, said he would put kid’s learning English in the same classes as the mainstream students. ‘So, from there you would try to get the action, try to understand more words, because everyone is speaking more English in the class’.
Section 501 gives the Department of Home Affairs the power to cancel a person’s visa based on their character.
The section of the law has come back into public attention with moves being made by the Morrison government to tighten the character test in September last year.
Prominent people who have their visas cancelled based on this law range from whistle-blower Chelsea Manning to alt-commentator Milo Yiannopoulos.
Such laws were created to ensure those who are a risk to the community or pose a national security threat, could have their visa cancelled.
Fleay says such changes to the law are worrying.
‘The Department of Home Affairs incredible oversight and power, to be able to re-detain people, even when they are granted a temporary or protection visa if they think’.
‘What is particularly worrying is people being put back into detention because under law, the minister can do it’.