The psychological impact of extended temporary protection.

Author:Mansouri, Fethi


Against the background of the recent international trend of a greater reliance on deterrence measures in managing the flow of asylum seekers, this paper discusses the implementation of the temporary protection visa (TPV) in Australia. It focuses on the psychological impact of the TPV policy on individual asylum seekers and how this unlimited temporary status affects the overall process of settlement. This study is based on personal narratives constructed by individual asylum seekers during one-on-one interviews aimed at sketching the mental and psychological manifestations of stressful events in their lives as TPV holders. What is particularly revealing among many of these TPV holders is the fact that their pre-migration traumatic experiences are compounded by a post-migration condition of being in indefinite "temporary" protection. This is further exacerbated by a prevalence of racialized discourses and exclusionary policies advocated by the host government. Past trauma and persecution, combined with present family separation and social exclusion, and further compounded by uncertainty about the future, had resulted in almost chronic states of anxiety and depression among a significant number of TPV holders.


Prenant comme toile de fond la recente tendance internationale de se fier aux mesures de dissuasion pour gerer le flux de demandeurs d'asile, l'article discute de la mise en oevre du visa de protection temporaire (Temporary Protection Visa--TPV) en Australie. Le propos s'attarde aux repercussions psychologiques des politiques liees au TPV sur les demandeurs d'asile individuels et e la maniere dont ce statut temporaire illimite touche l'ensemble du processus d'installation. L'etude se base sur des anecdotes de demandeurs d'asile relatees au cours d'interviews individuelles. Celles-ci visent a jeter un eclairage sur les manifestations mentales et psychologiques a la suite d'evenements stressants qu'ils vivent en tant que detenteurs de TPV. Chez de nombreux detenteurs de TPV, il est particulierement revelateur que les experiences traumatiques pre-migratoires sont aggravees par une condition post-migratoire de protection > indefinie. Cette situation se trouve exacerbee par la predominance des discours a teneur raciste et par des politiques d'exclusion mises de l'avant par le gouvernement hote. Les traumatismes et la persecution anterieurs, combines a la separation familiale et a l'exclusion sociale actuelles, sans oublier rincertitude face a l'avenir, ont entraine des etats presque chroniques d'anxiete et de depression parmi un nombre significatif de detenteurs de TPV.

Introduction (1)

As Australia enters the third millennium, its multi-ethnic make up has emerged as a crucial dimension in the search for a national identity. Indeed, the 2001 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) census demonstrates clearly that Australia is a genuinely multicultural society with more than 20 per cent of its people being from a non-English-speaking background (NESB). The annual intake of migrants (now in excess of one hundred thousand new arrivals each year) means that a significant number of new members of Australian society embark each year on the settlement and acculturation journey, with its many emotional and practical challenges, which affect both the individual and the host society. Unless they are carefully managed and serviced, the problems associated with settlement, cultural adjustment, loss of community standing, and separation from family and friends can lead to physical and mental health problems. Australia is one of the few countries in the world with an organized resettlement program for migrants, which is also extended to offshore humanitarian entrants. However, Australia has also lead the world in the implementation of policies aimed at deterring asylum seekers. These policies include mandatory detention for all onshore arrivals without documents, a three-year temporary protection visa (TPV) for those found to be refugees, and the interception of asylum seekers arriving by sea and removing them to a third country for processing. (2)

The focus of this paper is on the TPV which was introduced in October 1999 for asylum seekers who arrive without valid documentation and who are subsequently found to be genuine refugees. TPV holders do not have the same entitlements as permanent visa holders. (3) They have limited access to Social Security, primary education, and English language classes, and are ineligible for most settlement support services. In practice, they are excluded from tertiary education, as they are not entitled to Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) places and must pay full fees, and although they have the right to work their ability to do so is limited by the temporary nature of their visa, poor English language skills, and limited access to employment services. They have no automatic right of return if they leave Australia, and no right to family reunion--perhaps the most damaging restriction of the visa. Initially, it was thought that a permanent visa would be granted once the TPV expired after three years. In September 2001, however, amendments to Australia's migration legislation included the introduction of the "seven day rule." This rule prevents an asylum seeker from ever receiving a permanent visa if they have spent more than seven days in a country where they could have applied for protection. Most TPV holders who arrived after September 2001 have been affected by this. (4)

Over the five-year period from 2000 to 2005, most asylum seekers affected by the TPV regime were from Afghanistan and Iraq. At the end of this period the great majority (7,803) of processed applicants for further protection had ultimately received a Permanent Protection Visa (PPV), with 105 receiving a further TPV. (5) Of the latter cohort, 92 TPVs were granted as a result of character reasons and 13 as a result of the application of the "seven day rule." It should be noted that most of the 7,803 would have arrived before September 2001 and were therefore not subject to the "seven day rule." (6) As at 4 November 2005, 766 applications for further protection were yet to receive a primary decision and some 1,560 persons remained on a TPV. (7) Between July 2005 and February 2006 a number of TPV holders appealed the decisions made upon their applications for further protection at the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT). This appeals tribunal recognized the need for further protection in 95 per cent of Afghan cases and 97 per cent of Iraqi cases. (8) What these statistics show is that the great majority of asylum seekers subsequently affected by the TPV policy were found to be Convention refugees whose cases for permanent protection were ultimately validated by Australia's own determination mechanisms. This situation raises serious questions about the efficacy of the TPV regime. The conditions attached to TPVs deliberately create obstacles to resettlement. Yet most of those affected by the TPV will subsequently settle permanently, attracting Australia's full resettlement services. Thus the TPV policy unnecessarily prolongs and exacerbates the difficulties and costs associated with the resettlement process.

On 13 July 2004, the government announced that all TPV holders would be given the opportunity to apply for permanent visas. TPV holders, however, would not automatically qualify for permanent visas, but would simply be given the right (if eligible) to apply onshore for other non-humanitarian visas--a right denied to them since the migration legislation changes of 2001. While the thirty-three visa categories available appear to be extensive, many, such as the "Media and Film Staff," "Visiting Academic," and "Foreign Government Agency" categories, will benefit few, if any, TPV holders, while other categories, such as "Close Ties," remain unavailable. (9) Some of the visas available are permanent; however others (such as student visas) are also temporary, and unlike humanitarian visas, do not engage the Australian government in any protection obligations once they have expired. Possibly of most benefit to TPV holders is the "Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme" (RSMS) visa which is available to people who have worked in regional Australia for at least twelve months. It has been amended so that employment does not need to be with one single employer and the level of functional English language required has been amended to make the category more accessible to TPV holders working in rural areas.

A "Return Pending" visa has been introduced for applicants whom the Australian government deems to be "no longer in need of protection." As at 4 November 2005, 75 such visas were in effect. (10) The visa allows eighteen months for rejected applicants to make arrangements to return home and carries the same rights and restrictions as the TPV. This is undoubtedly a more humane alternative for rejected asylum seekers than (often forcible) removal or detention, which were the extant responses, and will allow them time to examine other alternatives. A "Reintegration Assistance Package" to cover travel costs and resettlement has also been offered to encourage voluntary return. However, as the majority of TPV holders are Iraqi and Afghani, the security situation in their home countries raises concerns grave enough to question the appropriateness of such an offer.

For TPV holders wishing to remain in Australia and ineligible for alternative visas, the process of applying for a further protection visa prolongs uncertainty about the future and hinders individuals' and families' attempts to settle and build new lives. While the government's specious policy changes have neutralized critics of the TPV policy, in reality it benefits only a few existing TPV holders and, in effect, has further demoralized many of its supposed beneficiaries. As a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, Australia is not...

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