Launceston advocates concerned about refugee visa cuts

HOPE: Juma Piri Piri, who is based in Launceston and immigrated as a refugee himself, hopes the visa number will increase after COVID-19. Picture: Phillip Biggs.
HOPE: Juma Piri Piri, who is based in Launceston and immigrated as a refugee himself, hopes the visa number will increase after COVID-19. Picture: Phillip Biggs.

Refugee advocates are concerned about the cuts in Australia's humanitarian visa program, as they believe refugees could help the economy.

It was announced in the federal government's budget on Tuesday night humanitarian intake would be reduced by 5000 places a year, by capping it at 13,750 visas.

The Tasmania Opportunity, that promotes the settlement of refugees, president Jeff McKinnon said any cut was not in Australia's best long term interest.

"I can understand in a time of needing to find savings that's the sort of thing that's easy for governments to do. It's in a sense, a lazy political thing to do, because they know it's not going to be argued too strongly by too many people," he said.

"Tasmanian agriculture would really struggle if they weren't allowed to utilise the former refugees that are now settled here in Northern Tasmania ... they provide a huge amount of seasonal picking labour force.

"Australia is still not taking anywhere near as many as we should be. Since the 1970s refugees have long proven to be economic winners for Australia."

In other news:

Since 2018/19 Australia has offered 18,750 visas per annum under the Humanitarian Program for refugees and asylum seekers.

For several years the visa number remained around 13,750, until it increased to 16,250 visas per annum in 2017/18 and later 18,750 visas in 2018/19.

Refugee Communities Association of Australia chairperson Juma Piri Piri, who is based in Launceston and immigrated as a refugee himself, said he hoped the number would increase after COVID-19.

He said refugees were hard workers and wanted to contribute any way they could.

"[If] there's no justification whether this number is going to go back to the same intake, I think this is where it raises a lot of concern," he said.

"People feel so privileged in being here and also happy that they have an opportunity, they want to contribute. They want to be good law abiding citizens who are working and contributing."

The government claims it will save $911.3 million in four years from the reduction, but it will mean 20,000 less refugee visas.

National refugee organisations claim the savings are a lie, with the government attempting to recover the cost of offshore detention as $55.6 million is spent on reopening Christmas Island detention centre.

The Department of Home Affairs budgeted $525.6 million for offshore detention in 2019/20, but spent $961.6 million.

Offshore detention costs will rise to $1.18 billion in 2020/21, but the government claimed in budget papers this was predominantly due to COVID-19 forcing released non-citizen prisoners to remain in Australia and be placed in offshore detention.

This story Refugee advocates raise concerns about visa cuts first appeared on The Examiner.