11 July 2010

Family values

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott plans to bring back the Temporary Protection Visa for asylum seekers who are found to have a valid claim to refugee status.

One of the striking cruelties of the Temporary Protection Visa was the fact that it specifically ruled out any right of family reunion. Remember the tragic case of the Iraqi TPV holder whose three beautiful little girls drowned when SIEV X went down, and whose wife was rescued and returned to Indonesia. In these tragic circumstances the then Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock maintained the position that the man would not be permitted to bring his wife to Australia, and cold-bloodedly explained that the while man was free to visit his wife in Indonesia, if he did so he would not be able to return to Australia.  

For a Government which so loudly campaigned on its adherence to “family values”, the Howard Government maintained a temporary protection regime which was strikingly at odds with the philosophy of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

The Final Act of the 1951 United Nations Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons, IV B, stated:

The Conference, … considering that the unity of the family, the natural and fundamental group unit of society, is an essential right of the refugee, and that such unity is constantly threatened, …. recommends Governments to take the necessary measures for the protection of the refugee family, especially with a view to:

(1) Ensuring that the unity of the refugee’s family is maintained particularly in cases where the head of the family has fulfilled the necessary conditions for admission to a particular country,

(2) The protection of refugees who are minors, in particular unaccompanied children and girls, with special reference to guardianship and adoption.

The handbook Refugee Protection: A Guide to International Refugee Law, a guide produced jointly by the International Parliamentary Union and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention, states (page 76):

Key to protecting refugee families is family reunification. UNHCR’s Executive
Committee has underscored the need to protect the unity of refugee families by:
-  Reuniting family members separated in flight
-  Considering liberal criteria when deciding which family members can be admitted
-  Recognizing all family members as refugees when the principal applicant is recognized and providing for each family member to submit any claim he/she may have
-  Establishing family unity as a priority in the early stages of all refugee operations
-  Promoting the self-sufficiency of adult family members to enhance their capacity to support their dependents

Family values indeed.  Denial of family reunion is inherent in the regime to which Tony Abbott is so keen to return.

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