It’s been 10 years since Shahram Foladpour arrived in Australia after fleeing persecution in Iran, yet he still does not hold a permanent visa.
Despite the Department of Home Affairs saying in February it would transition over 19,000 refugees on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs) to a permanent visa, his status remains in limbo.
“I’m fighting for freedom, for my visa. It’s like a jail for us,” Foladpour told Central News.
The 36-year-old was among protesters who held a peaceful vigil outside Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s office in October, and both refugees and supporters will be back there tomorrow, gathered along busy Marrickville Road, demanding action.
Rally organiser the Refugee Action Coalition is urging the federal government to reconsider the situation of these refugees, who do not have access to Medicare, tertiary education and often employment.
Foladpour originally had no idea he was coming to Australia. He started his journey with just a plane ticket his father had bought him from Iran to Malaysia, then Indonesia, and a phone number to contact when he arrived.
From there he spent five days packed on a small fishing boat to Christmas Island, the last two without food and water. After being detained he was moved to a detention camp for a month, before eventually settling in Melbourne with a Temporary Bridging Visa. Despite the difficulty of not knowing what will happen next, Foladpour remains hopeful.
“I was happy because I ran away from that situation, that bad situation, so I was looking for freedom to stay here and have a free life, not like my previous life,” he said.
According to the Refugee Council of Australia, as of September 2023, only 35 per cent of eligible refugees have been granted a permanent visa since the Federal Government’s announcement. A further 10,000 people who were rejected under the previous fast track system are also excluded.
Don’t look at us like a political plan. We are human. We came here to live life.
One of the biggest struggles Foladpour says he has found under this system is being unable to see his family for years. He hopes a permanent visa will allow him to reunite with his father, who is not in good health.
“My father, he had a heart attack about a few years ago and I couldn’t do nothing,” Foladpour said. “It was so hard for me. I couldn’t see him. And if I lost him, I wouldn’t see him again.”
Refugee Mohammad Poorbabaiyan is in a similar situation, desperate to visit his family, who still live in Iran, but is stuck without a permanent visa. He was unable to see his father before he passed away, and now fears the same of his mother.
“Really somebody needs to hear us because enough is enough. It’s past 11 years now,” the 34-year-old pleaded.
“I need to see my mum before she [passes] away. I lost my dad four years ago. I couldn’t see him for six, seven years.”
On October 5, Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil and Minster for Immigration Andrew Giles announced a $160 million package to create a “fair go” system for “genuine asylum seekers”. Of this, $54 million will be sued to establish real time priority visa processing.
However, Mark Goudkamp from the Refugee Action Coalition believes this is sending the wrong message,
“[For] these people who have already been in limbo for over a decade, [it] means more waiting or perhaps they’re going to try and remove these people rather than settle the legacy caseload,” he said.
There are still 10,000 asylum seekers and refugees who the Albanese government is refusing to grant permanent visas after ten years of living in limbo in Australia.
Join us this Friday 1 Dec at 5:30 outside Albanese’s office to call for permanent visas for all refugees! pic.twitter.com/XQoVu2z39R
— RAC Sydney (@rac_sydney) November 29, 2023
For now, the fight continues. Foladpour is hopeful the demonstrations will lead to change.
“Don’t look at us like a political plan,” he said. “We are human. We came here to live life.
“I’m looking to Australia like my own country, like my own home. That’s the only thing we want is a permanent visa. Just let us go to overseas to see our family. Let us stay here and buy [a] house. Let us stay here and make our own family.”
Main photo by Caitlin Maloney