Australia

Australia has never felt like home for Mustafa. He hopes Labor’s visa promise will change that

Mustafa Nazari was 16 when his mother received a letter from the Taliban that would change the course of his life.
After his dad was killed in 2006, Mustafa worked as an interpreter with his mum, who sold embroidery at refugee camps supervised by United Sates forces in the Afghanistan capital Kabul, following the Taliban’s downfall.
But when the Taliban sent a death threat addressed to himself and his mother for “working with infidels”, he fled to Australia from Indonesia by boat in 2013.

“It was so dangerous, travelling the sea by boat … but there was no option. Staying in Afghanistan and getting killed? This was basically for survival,” he said.

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It’s been almost a decade since Mustafa came to Australia, but he says there hasn’t been a day where he was made to feel like it was his home.
“I’ve never had one day where I felt that I belong to this country.”

He says it all has to do with his visas status, which he says has limited him to accessing his “basic human rights”.

Feeling temporary permanently

Mustafa is one of 19,000 people in Australia on a temporary visa.
(TPVs) were first introduced in 1999 by former Liberal prime minister John Howard. They were abolished under the Rudd Labor government in 2008 but later reintroduced under the Abbott Liberal government in 2013.
They are part of Operation Sovereign Borders, a plan by then-immigration minister Scott Morrison to stop asylum seekers from arriving in Australia by boat “illegally” under the Migration Act.
TPVs are issued to asylum seekers who arrive in Australia without a visa and are subsequently found to be owed protection. They can last for up to three years, and the holders of these visas are allowed to work and have access to Medicare.
The Abbott government also introduced a second type of temporary visa, called the safe haven enterprise visa (SHEV), allowing asylum seekers and refugees to stay for five years if they intend on working or studying in regional Australia.

People on these visas live a life in limbo while carrying a fear of being forced to return to their country after their visa expires, according to Sangeetha Pillai, senior research associate at the UNSW Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.

A metal block shaped as a boat carrying the words 'I stopped these' sits on a desk

In 2018, the New York Times published an interview with Prime Minister Scott Morrison with an image of a trophy in his office of a boat that had “I stopped these” printed on it. Source: AAP / Lukas Coch

Dr Pillai described it as a “radical policy shift” strategically executed by the Coalition to send a clear message to people seeking asylum.

“The government was committed to maintaining the very hardline policy that nobody that came to Australia – by what the government deems to be improper channels – would be able to permanently resettle here, even if they were genuine refugees,” Dr Pillai said.

“The idea of there being a right way to seek asylum and a wrong way to seek asylum is a creature of Australian legislation and policy.”

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‘Treated like a second-class citizen’

The TPV and SHEV scheme meant people like Mustafa who were granted refugee status would never be granted permanent protection because they came to Australia by boat.
Both major parties support a policy of not allowing .
TPV and SHEV holders are able to work and study in Australia, but their opportunities are limited — they can’t bring their family members to Australia and they can’t leave the country unless they have written government consent.
Since Mustafa fled Afghanistan, his family escaped to New Zealand where they are now citizens. He hasn’t seen them for almost ten years; his travel requests were refused by the former government.
But most shattering of all for Mustafa, TPV and SHEV holders are unable to access government support to pay for university fees.
“I felt so disadvantaged [sic], treated like a second-class citizen, discriminated, not being able to access my very basic human rights of education. The government did that to me on purpose,” he said.
The Coalition has repeatedly said the policy was highly successful, preventing people smugglers from entering the country and stopping thousands of deaths at sea.

The Liberal Party’s campaign website said the use of TPVs “deny people smugglers a product to sell.”

Four men stand next to each other. Mustafa, second from right, makes a peace sign with his fingers.

Mustafa (second from right) says he feels like a second-class citizen after being refused permanent residency in Australia because he arrived by boat in 2013. Source: Supplied / Mustafa Nazari

Despite the roadblocks, Mustafa secured a scholarship at the University of Sydney while he was on a bridging visa.

But three years into his course in 2020, he was granted his SHEV — a visa not recognised under the scholarship’s criteria.
He had to abandon his dream of becoming a lawyer, unable to afford the annual $60,000 student fee he was billed with after the scholarship was revoked.
TPV and SHEV holders must also reapply for their visas after they expire.

“I’ve tried my best to get connected to people, but deep down psychologically, it’s impacting me. I’m uncertain that I might stay there to bond friendships,” Mustafa said.

Mustafa is on a video call with his partner and mother and two sisters.

Mustafa hasn’t seen his partner Somaya (top right) or his mother and sisters (bottom) since 2013. Source: Supplied / Mustafa Nazari

“I feel so alienated from society.”

Dr Pillai said refugees also face an enormous “mental load”, having to “prove all over again” why they fled persecution from their home country in their subsequent applications.
“Having to reopen the traumas that you have to confront in order to establish that you’re like a refugee has an incredibly negative impact on people’s mental health,” she said.

“Levels of depression and suicidal ideation in people that are on temporary protection visas are significantly higher than for other refugees that are on permanent visas.”

The Labor promise

One of Labor’s and provide TPV and SHEV holders pathways to permanent visas.
During the election campaign, Labor’s home affairs spokesperson Kristina Keneally said temporary visa holders worked and contributed to Australian society, and deserved to be treated fairly.
Ms Andrews said TPVs and SHEVs were and needed to remain to ensure more boats with asylum seekers would not reach Australia.
“They are there to be a very, very strong deterrent,” she said during the election campaign last month.
“We need to make it very very clear that you will never settle here in Australia.”
Then prime minister Scott Morrison said during the campaign Labor’s promise to abolish TPVs and SHEVs meant they had learned “nothing when it comes to border protection”.
Beyond the promise to abolish TPVs and SHEVs, Labor’s immigration policy remains largely identical to the Coalition’s, supporting third-country resettlement of asylum seekers and boat turnbacks “where safe to do so”.
Labor says TPVs are redundant because no asylum seeker who has arrived by boat since 2013 has been issued one and they won’t be issued to those arriving by boat in the future.
The incoming government has committed $39 million in the 2022-23 financial year to abolishing the visas and replacing them with a new permanent visa, and $191 million over the next four years.
Incoming finance minister Katy Gallagher released the costing details last week, and said the funding will cover Medicare access, income support, English language tuition and trauma and torture counselling services.
She said it would also remove the need for people to constantly reapply for their visas.
“It would remove the need to reapply and go through that process every three to five years, which is currently what’s happening, and that’s for people that have met that security and character requirements test under that current visa arrangements,” she said.

Dr Pillai said “both parties have been in lockstep” with staunch border policies but she is hopeful the abolition of temporary protection visas is a small step forward.

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“That’s a start at bringing some of the things that are really out of line with international law more in line with the standards that countries across the world have signed up to as a matter of international law.”
also acts as a positive indication that new prime minister Anthony Albanese will follow through with his promise, she said.
“It’s kind of an encouraging sign that things might move quite quickly, but it’ll take time.”
Mustafa and thousands of others are eagerly awaiting to see whether Mr Albanese will live up to the pledge he made during the election campaign.
“I’m very hopeful, everyone can feel it … I really hope that [Labor] keep their promise and deliver their commitment,” Mustafa said.

“Hopefully we get permanent residency, so finally we can call this country home and do our best to contribute back.”

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