Asylum seekers in Australia anxious over election

Asylum seekers already in Australia on bridging visas - or in Australian detention - are anxiously awaiting the election outcome.

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An asylum seeker on a bridging visa in Sydney draws a map of Sri Lanka to show where they once lived. (AAP)

With Labor and the Coalition trying to outdo each other with tougher policies on asylum seekers, those already in Australia - or in Australian detention - are sweating it out.

They're wondering whether their already uncertain futures are about to become even more uncertain.

In this report by Naomi Selvaratnam, we hear from some of them.

At present, more than 3000 asylum seekers are being held in the detention centres on Christmas Island, Nauru, and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

A much bigger group - currently more than 21,000 - are living without work or study rights on bridging visas in the Australian community.

26 year-old Ali Syed, from Pakistan, is living on a bridging visa in Perth, waiting to find out whether he's able to be remain in Australia as a recognised refugee.

"I came by boat, it took me two years. I have left my home, I have been in prison in Indonesia. In 2012, November, I was on a boat and I reached Christmas Island after a five-day journey in the sea. That's how I came to Australia."

Ali Syed doesn't think any genuine asylum seeker, would be put off coming to Australia by the possibility of ending up in Papua New Guinea or Nauru.

"The life we were having there it's worse than death. Every day you are out, nobody knows what's going to happen. There's bomb blasts on the next road you are going to, so you never know what's going to happen. Fleeing from that hell, they are opening Nauru, or Papua or whatever they do. People coming, they will keep on coming. Send them anywhere, they will come. They have the right to save their life."

Ali Syed says he's been disappointed with what he's heard about asylum seekers in the election campaign.

And he's become disillusioned with his prospects.

"I just see that whoever politician it is or whatever party it is, they just want to make the harsh rules. More harsh rules. So I don't know whatever is going to happen. The conditions we have been through in Pakistan and I'm already fed up. Whatever happens, I don't care any more."

The Labor Party has said if it's re-elected people like Ali Syed could go from bridging visas to permanent visas, if their asylum claims are successful.

During the election campaign, Labor has instead been focusing on its new policy, introduced last month, of sending all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Papua New Guinea.

However, the Coalition has said people like Ali Syed should never be offered permanent residency.

It says if it comes to government, and if they are found to be genuine refugees, they would only be offered Temporary Protection Visas.

If their asylum claims were rejected, there would be no appeal.

Ali Syed says regardless of who wins the election, he is fearful for his future.

He says Australian politicians are losing sight of what makes people seek asylum.

"Everybody's coming with a law that's more harsh, more harsh, more harsh. I don't know, maybe people don't like people coming by boat so they are just making them happy with those policies, like we will handle them like that, we will handle them. At least, just go on and see the life we are having there."

Attaullah Mohammadi from Afghanistan arrived by boat in Australia to seek asylum in 2011, and is currently living on a bridging visa in Melbourne.

The 27-year-old left his wife and 15-month-old son behind in Pakistan, in the hope that they could join him after he was recognised as a refugee.

Now, he doesn't know when he'll see them again.

"It's depressing for us because the government should help us to give safety for our family. I'm here not because of myself, I'm here because of my family. Because I want to save not only myself."

Paul Power, from the Refugee Council of Australia, says the current asylum policies of both Labor and the Coalition are creating increased worry among asylum seekers.

"There's anxiety with the existing policies which are leaving people in a state of limbo for an indefinite period of time. and in as much as people are aware of the possible implications of a possible change of government after the election. There's anxiety about what that will mean as well. The largest group of asylum seekers in Australia at the moment are living in the community on bridging visas without the right to work, and with no real clear indication as to how long it's going to take for their refugee status to be determined. So you can imagine that in that situation people are quite anxious and really unsure as to what the implications of the election are going to be."

Attaullah Mohammadi says he's become depressed about the asylum seeker policy debate, and now he regrets his decision to seek asylum in Australia.

"It's very difficult, it's depressing, and always you are thinking things. I can't sleep, you know? Til about three o'clock, four o'clock in the night because I am always thinking things. Really it's depressing for me."

Anjali, not her real name, fled Sri Lanka in 2011, and is living on a bridging visa in Sydney.

She, too, says she sleeps very little these days.

"We are very troubled. We don't sleep or do anything. Sometimes we think death is better."

Bishop Phillip Huggins from the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne says politicians don't understand how their policies are affecting asylum seekers.

"If these folk who make these policies were actually to go and sit and listen to the kind of people that I listen to, you just couldn't possibly want to implement such policies, such cruel policies, such policies that strip hope from young lives. These are young people. They've got their life ahead of them. All they want to do is be equipped to be able to lead a decent life and make a contribution to a new society."

Anjali says while she is unhappy waiting for an answer to her asylum claim, she has greater fears of being returned to her home country.

"I am terrified I will be sent back to Sri Lanka or PNG. In Sri Lanka, maybe killed, I think."

Bishop Huggins says both Labor and the Coalition are implying in their policies that asylum seekers want to leave their countries of birth.

He says this is not the case.

"They're not here randomly. They're here because they couldn't live in their own country. No one wants to leave their own country. People want to stay in their own country, it's in their soul. It's a terrible thing to have to leave your own country. And these people just want to make a contribution here."

Attaullah Mohammadi says not having any working rights under the current government policy only provides him with more time to worry about his visa status.

"We have no rights you know? We can't study and we can't work and I searched for voluntary work and many time I told my case workers, just find me any voluntary work, I want to be busy. It's very depressing for me."

He says amid the political debate on asylum seekers, he can only be patient, and hope that his situation doesn't get worse after the election.

"It's making us worry but we have no other option. I don't know. It's not in our hands and we can't do anything, we are waiting. I don't have any other option. I just have to wait and I have to see what will happen with us."

And Attaullah Mohammadi says regardless of which policy is implemented after the election, he's sure of one thing: no-one will stop the boats.

"They are coming, they are not care, just they go to Papua New Guinea. They want safety, they want to be safe. They don't care where they are going. Just, they are searching safe place for them."

8 min read
Published 29 August 2013 at 12:30pm
By Naomi Selvaratnam
Source: SBS