Your Community Voice: Between the devil and the deep blue sea

Seeking dialogue: Afghan Australian Association of Victoria president Khaliq Fazal in Dandenong. Picture: Lucy Di Paolo

Your Community Voice is a monthly column celebrating Greater Dandenong’s diverse cultures
and lifestyles. This month, Afghan Australian Association of Victoria
president KHALIQ FAZAL 
shares his concerns about Australia’s
asylum-seeker policies.

IT’S obvious that the Papua New Guinea/Manus Island solution is not liked by the majority of Afghans living in Australia.

The condition of the camps they have in
PNG and Manus Island can be inhumane for holding people long-term while
their applications are processed.

With the introduction of the new
policy, I believe that conditions in detention centres should first be
improved dramatically so people there could be a bit happier.

Within the Afghan community, there are
two views. People who are trying to bring their relatives by boat to
Australia, and are paying smugglers a lot of money, are saddened by the
latest policy of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

People who want to bring relatives
using the legal process, by sponsoring them through migration programs,
are a bit more relaxed because they feel the places for their relatives
are being taken by the boat people.

So many people have made applications
for relatives to come via legal channels that it takes years. That’s not
acceptable to everyone.

When we make inquiries to the Immigration Department, they say it will take at least five years for an application to be finalised.

These people hope the new Rudd policy
will speed up the process. If that happens, the community would be
satisfied and not need to resort to people smugglers.

I’ve lodged a sponsorship application
with the department myself. It’s been eight months and I haven’t had any
update, just confirmation that they received it. You ask the department
why it takes so long and they say they are too short of personnel.

If Mr Rudd genuinely wants people to
use legal channels for refugee status, he should put more money into the
department to double staff numbers. They could then process the
applications faster.

The department’s goal of accepting and
processing 14,000 refugees a year – increasing this year to 20,000 –
cannot be done. It’s impossible to be processed given the staff levels
locally and in their overseas posts.

Since Mr Rudd released the latest
policy, a number of Afghans have asked me what they should do. Some have
relatives in Jakarta waiting to come to Australia. I have advised them
to tell their relatives, their friends and their kids to go back to
Afghanistan.

The problem is, most of those people don’t have travel documents so they can’t go back. It’s a horrible situation.

I’m surprised that the department and the Australian and Indonesian governments haven’t found these people smugglers.

For the past 10 years, I’ve been
advocating for an international conference for countries that have
asylum seekers leaving and arriving, such as Australia, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. They
should find a common solution they can all agree on.

Australia can then play its part, increasing its intake of refugees by making it easier to apply legally to come here.

Australia doesn’t have the dialogue
with these countries that it should have. Without a conference like
that, we’d always have the burden on our shoulders. The other countries
will be thinking “it’s not my problem’’.

I’m surprised the department can’t come
up with a solution. It seems that within the department, issues have
been handled by people without the right understanding. They are so
conservative that they don’t even ask for our opinion.

I would happily give a talk to them in Canberra if invited.

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