Quite a lot. The two meetings I had in Kilmore and Wallan helped me to understand what people go through to call Australia home.
Janette, a lovely lady at St Patrick’s in Kilmore told me how her and her husband came to settle in Australia to be with their daughter. They weren’t refugees, they just wanted to be together as a family.
“Our Visa cost $70,000 for both my husband and myself. The other large charges we faced were removals and insurances.”
Despite paying this, the process can take about three years. This info might be out of date now, the numbers might have risen, and it’s still pretty tough. If you have family here, they also have to pay a $10k bond which they get back after ten years if you haven’t had to receive money from Centrelink.
You can get a free Visa, if you’re willing to wait 19 years.
So what do you do if you’re fleeing your home because of fear, oppression and danger? This is what I learnt from Anwar Soma’s family in Wallan. This is an example from a Christian Syrian perspective and it’s a rough edit, I’m sure you can fill in the blanks as you read.
You have grown up in Syria, in your family’s home where you have lived for years and now you have to flee because if you don’t, you’ll be killed. You cross the border to Lebanon, leaving everything behind. If you’re lucky, you give Linda, Anwar’s daughter a call. She’s in Australia and she can help you begin the process to apply for an Australian Visa through the Special Humanitarian Program. This can take two, four or even more years.
Linda will tell you that you need to check in at a UN refugee camp and get a form to apply for refugee status. At the top of this form is a number. This is your application number. You need this number to apply for a humanitarian visa for Australia. It’s part of your ticket to freedom.
Now you’ve started the process of applying for refugee status and a visa to Australia. And now you wait. If you have a supportive community in Australia like Anwar’s family and community they can send you some money so that you can rent a place in Lebanon. It will be near impossible for you to find work yourself. Many Australians are sending money, lots of money overseas to help their loved ones live while they wait for a visa. Rentals start around USD$1400 per month in a “safe place”.
If you don’t have anyone who can send you money you stay in a UN camp. They are overcrowded and the conditions are bad. According to Anwar, they can be dangerous places for Christians.
Four years go by. If you have kids, you’d be lucky to send them to schools. Otherwise you are just waiting. Randomly the person who lives in the same room as you, who applied for a visa two years ago gets notice that they have advanced to the next stage! But you’ve been waiting four years! You try to talk to someone to find out why, but no one can give you an explanation. You can call Linda, but no one is giving her an explanation either so you have no choice but to continue waiting.
In the last couple of months it seems that the system here in Australia and overseas has been overwhelmed. People have been going to the UN for the form and serial number and they have been told to come back in a couple of weeks. Are there no more forms?? Here in Australia, you used to be able to call a number that would connect you to someone in the system who is waiting for a visa so that you could to talk to them and give them hope. In the last month that number is now answered by an automated machine saying it’s offline at the moment.
This is a largest movement of people fleeing their homes since WWII. This means that we need to step up, and this is why I want to walk all the way to Canberra to deliver a petition to ask the Government to be more welcoming and humane.
Anwar Soma telling his story. Linda is on his left.