Sarah Dale at the Justice for Refugees rally.

 

My name is Sarah Dale, Centre Director of the RACS. We are a Community Legal Centre.
I have been a lawyer at RACS for 6 years, working with asylum seekers and refugees for almost 10 years. And its fair to say this point in our history is particularly grim.

 

I remember sitting in our offices in 2014, the night we were waiting to see if the Temporary Protection Visa (TPV)/Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) legislation would pass. It wasn’t until late that evening that it did pass and I still have such vivid memories of myself and a few lawyers sitting on the floor, wondering how we were going to tell the thousands of people waiting for our assistance – after your long wait – all Australia was going to offer was temporary protection.

Slowly after that announcement, the Government started to invite people to apply. There was this sense that this was positive, things were moving, people would be assessed, get their refugee status – despite the uphill battle. There was the feeling of hope in the air.

It was then the 1 October deadline was announced, which meant we were all scrounging around, trying to figure out how we were going to support the thousands and thousands of people that still hadn’t made an application for protection, hadn’t responded to that invitation through no fault of their own.

Here we are in 2019 – still with thousands to be processed. People will likely have waited seven years, only to be afforded a three year visa.

Since 2012, we as the community that support people seeking asylum have been scrambling.
Scrambling to prevent people being sent to Nauru and Manus.
Scrambling to prevent Sri Lankan nationals from being put on planes before they even had a chance to apply.
Scrambling to get kids out of detention.
Scrambling to try and block the many changes the Government have made to change how we assess people’s refugee case.
Scrambling to have people heard.
Scrambling to get applications in.
Scrambling to get people supported at Interviews.

I am tired.

I am tired of telling people that under International Law you would be recognised as a refugee, but under Australian law you are not.
I am tired of telling people that your case is likely refused because you left your identity documents behind as you fled for your life.
I am tired of telling young men that despite that they arrived as unaccompanied children – there is no ongoing support for you.
I am tired of telling people who have already been assessed as refugees that they have to go through to process again and again and again. With paper forms and evidence trails, again and again and again.

I am tired of telling mothers that there is nothing we can do for their children left behind, that you have no right to family reunion.
I am tired of telling husbands that they do not have the right to make an application for their wives and that they do not have permission to leave Australia to visit their family over and over again.
I am tired of telling sick people on Nauru and Manus that they have to wait.

I am tired of telling people there is nothing they can do but hope that the Minister personally considers and looks into their case, and that we have no power to compel the Minister to do this.
I am tired of telling people that they only have one interview to explain their case, that if you are refused you are assessed by the Immigration Assessment Authority – that you can’t provide new information, that you can’t provide more evidence, that you can’t have another interview with this decision maker.
I am tired of trying to keep people alive.
I am tired of explaining the Courts can not give you a visa, that the Courts cannot decide if you a refugee or not – that the Courts can only examine the process that occurred.

I am tired of explaining that you’re not eligible for financial assistance whilst you exercise your right to have you case heard in the Court.
I am tired of telling you that the Government has stripped away funding from welfare and legal services.
I am tired of telling people that I’m sorry that as lawyers there is nothing we can do, but assist people through a bad policy.
I am tired of explaining that Australians are good people, they just don’t understand the realities and complexities of Australia’s refugee policy.
I am tired of apologising for the cruel, inhuman, arbitrary policy that our country has created and stood by.

I am tired and yet I don’t have to live it.

I can go home to my husband, I can send my son to school. I know where my parents are. I know I can work. I can study. I can get financial assistance if I need. I know if I am sick, I can get treatment. If I want to travel overseas I can grab my passport and I can go.

I know I can be heard.

And so today I stand here today as an ally. Not knowing what its like to be a holder of a TPV/SHEV holder. But knowing I am a witness of this cruelty. A witness that knows this is not about deaths at sea, or deterrence – but this a policy of punishment.

I stand here as a person who works with a team of dedicated human rights defenders whose doors will always be open to you. RACS will always be there to stand with you and keep you as safe as can be. We will fight with you and we will cry with you. We can have our federal government funding taken away from us, but we cannot have our voice silenced.

And we will be there until this policy changes. We will be there when we have permanent, not temporary visas. We will be there when we reinstate fair assessment, not fast track. We will be there to assist you with family reunion. We will be there when people are brought here from Nauru and Manus.

We will see this day, it will come. And it will not be because of Government.
It will be here, because we, the people – have demanded fairness, justice and dignity for refugees.

– Sarah Dale, RACS Centre Director and Principal Solicitor at RACS gave this speech at the Justice for Refugees rally on Saturday 14 September in Sydney.