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Sydney family's 'constant fear' as dual citizenship row blocks their asylum bid

Source: supplied

Noor Alhuda Al Khazna and her family settled in Australia in 2015 after fleeing persecution in Lebanon. But five years on, they are still living under the cloud of a bridging visa that requires renewal every three months.

For many asylum seekers, their experiences of hardship do not end after they arrive in a safe country.

For some asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia by boat during the past decade, the ensuing years are difficult and unstable as they grapple with the immigration process, which decides whether they can remain in safety or return to danger.

Noor Alhuda Al Khazna arrived in Australia by boat with her two sons, three sisters, and their parents in 2013 after fleeing Lebanon.

She told SBS Arabic24 that living in Lebanon became extremely dangerous and untenable for her and her family after she decided to change sects from Sunni to Shia Islam.

Noor with her son
Noor with her son.

Furthermore, her sister, a Sunni Muslim, deciding to marry a Shia man, a move that is socially forbidden for some communities in Lebanon.

“It was due to personal circumstances that we faced as a family after I decided to change my sect and my sister got married to a man from a different sect as well," Noor said.

“We had to leave Lebanon overnight and we took the sea because we had no other way to save our lives and stay safe."

The family left Lebanon by plane to Indonesia, where they boarded a vessel with 74 others. They were intercepted by Australian authorities, and the passengers were taken into detention on Christmas Island. The family remained in detention for 18 months.

Noor said their time in detention was not easy: "Everyone who’s been there knows the difficult conditions and circumstances."

Determined to make the most of her situation, she decided to learn English to communicate with others in the facility, as she could only speak in Arabic and French.

The family was released from detention and settled in Sydney in 2015. Soon after, Noor decided to apply for a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV), which is granted to anyone who has been recognised as a refugee fleeing persecution.

Nour's two sons
Noor's two sons at school in Sydney.

However, she was informed by immigration authorities that she could only access a Bridging Visa 050, requiring renewal every three months.

Noor said the reason given for her inability to access a TPV was that she held dual citizenship of Lebanon and Syria, a claim she denies.

“I do not have Syrian citizenship, although my grandparents are Syrians, I was born in Lebanon and lived there, and I only have Lebanese citizenship.” 

Despite the setback, Noor said she refuses to accuse the Australian government of injustice even though, after seven years, her visa status has not improved. 

“The Australian government has the full right to protect the borders of the country. I came across the sea myself, they didn’t ask me to come.

"But at the same time, I hope that the government will look humanly at our situation for we have not committed any violations and we definitely don’t intend to do so, we came to live in safety and stability and this is our only request." 

Regarding the family's situation, a spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs told SBS Arabic24: “Section 91P of the Migration Act 1958 provides that a non-citizen who is a citizen of two or more countries, or has a right of re-entry to a third country is barred from lodging a protection visa application.”

“The section 91P application bar was introduced in 1999 to prevent the misuse of Australia’s asylum process by ‘forum shoppers’.” 

Nour with her 2 sons
Noor with her two sons.

‘Who will give me a job?’ 

Noor said being on a three-month visa since 2017 has heightened her anxiety due to the uncertainty of her family's future.

She asserts that returning to Lebanon is not a viable option for her family, but she fears it ever being mentioned.

"The years are passing, and I still have no job and no safety. I am living under enormous pressure and constant fear [that I’ll be] forced to go back and I keep asking myself, what If I return to Lebanon and my family gets killed there? what do I do and where do I go? I even told the lawyer, if they don’t want me here, let them leave me in the sea, I prefer to die there.” 

She said her circumstances have also affected her employment prospects.

“With a 3 months visa, who will give me a job?”

Despite her circumstances, she refuses to give up and decided to raise her employment prospects by completing a Pathology Collection course at TAFE, hoping to secure a job at a hospital or clinic.

“Even with these credentials, I couldn’t have a job because any new position needed a training period of at least six months and the question was always, what if you are deported in three months?” 

She also completed a Disability Work course at the National College, Bankstown.

“I just finished this course and I am trying now to find a job in this field.” 

Despite her setbacks, she’s thankful for her parents, and mainly her father, who is assisting her by providing her sons with their basic needs.

“I live with my parents who provide me with support and protection. My father was a hairdresser in Lebanon, so he is able to work as a barber here," Noor said.

“Although he cannot work much because of his health conditions, he is able to help us with the essentials. We are not asking to be rich but to live with dignity only and I do not want more than that."

She said Australia has helped her, and she is determined to return the favour.

"I would like to return a small portion of what they gave me after they welcomed me and embraced me with my children, even though they did not give me a visa yet I still feel grateful and want to return this favour by working and building a productive future in this country."

She confirmed that an immigration lawyer is following up with the Home Affairs department regarding her case.

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