Calls to change family reunion policy as refugees wait for years to see loved ones


Advocates want the government to provide an additional 5,000 visa places for refugees seeking family reunification.

Like thousands of Hazaras in central Afghanistan, Hafizullah Hazara fled for his life when his village was attacked by the Taliban.

Mr Hazara escaped to Quetta, Pakistan where he worked as a shopkeeper and raised his family, but they were no safer there.

One day he found his two Hazara neighbours had been killed. 

"When they started targeted killings in Pakistan, especially the Hazaras, then I decided we had to move somewhere else," Mr Hazara told SBS World News.

But it also meant making the heart-breaking decision to leave his family. 

The journey by boat to Australia was too expensive and dangerous for his wife and three young children.

After spending more than two years on Christmas Island and Curtin detention centres, Hafizullah was granted Australian permanent residency in 2011.

Hafizullah with his wife, daughter and two sons in Pakistan.
Hafizullah with his wife, daughter and two sons in Pakistan.

The 44-year-old now works as a truck driver in Sydney's west.

He applied to be reunited with his family in 2013, but is still waiting for approval from the Immigration Department.

It's been seven years since he last saw his family. 

"It is really hard. You can't sleep. You can't feel good. Sometimes my young kids say to just leave Australia and come back here and stay with us," he said from his home in Blacktown. 

His daughter, now 16, and two sons, aged 13 and 10, attend school in Pakistan, but they live in fear as Hazaras are still a persecuted minority in the area.

"Sometimes I feel like I've lost everything, sometimes I hope little bit that I can get them here."  

A further 5,000 family reunion places needed

A new ReachTEL poll, commissioned by the Refugee Council of Australia and Jesuit Social Services, found that most Australians support refugee family reunions.

When asked whether refugee families separated across the world should be reunited, 75 per cent of respondents answered "yes" or "yes - but only after appropriate background checks." 

Refugee Council spokesman Tim O'Connor is demanding a change in government policy.

"The current process is very complicated and very drawn-out. There are thousands of people in Australia who have come here as refugees who are recognised - and on their way to Australian citizenship - who are desperate to reunite with their families. They're separated because of the current Australian government policy," said Mr O’Connor. 

There are 13,750 visas available under the Special Humanitarian Program, which includes 5,000 for family reunions.

The Department of Immigration plans to increase that to 16,250 in 2017-18, however it's unclear how many of these visas will be allocated for family reunion.

The Refugee Council's Tim O'Connor believes a further 5,000 family reunion visas are required.

"There's a waiting list of one successful applicant for every seven other applicants. So people are waiting many, many years to be reunited and it’s causing great pain and making it extremely difficult for them to integrate into the Australian community." 

Hafizullah lives with fellow Hazara, Ghulam, (R) in Blacktown, in Sydney's west.
Hafizullah lives with fellow Hazara, Ghulam, (R) in Blacktown, in Sydney's west.


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