Afghan refugees take legal action over Australian citizenship delays

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne (Takver/flickr)

Two refugees granted asylum in Australia have brought a case against the government over delays in their citizenship applications. The legal action against Australia’s Minister of Immigration Peter Dutton charges that the Afghan men have experienced remarkably long delays to achieving citizenship after passing the citizenship test. The Refugee Council of Australia is assisting the men and said that the actions by the government are unjust and may be a form of discrimination.

“We are assisting in the case of these two applicants, not only to help these individuals to obtain the citizenship that they are entitled to, but to show that the government has been acting unjustly, and potentially unlawfully, in their treatment of citizenship applications from refugee applicants as a whole,” said Paul Power, head of the Refugee Council of Australia, in a statement.

The two men are Hazara, an ethnic minority in Afghanistan. They fled the country and arrived in Australia in 2010 by boat. Both were granted asylum and permanent residence. After surpassing the four-year residency requirement, they took the Australian citizenship test in late 2014 and early 2015, respectively. They both passed and the process to finalize citizenship – a process the government said usually takes 80 days – has extended beyond one year.

Obtaining citizenship gives asylum seekers full rights, including the ability to vote in elections and to have family members legally join them. The Refugee Council of Australia interviewed other permanent resident refugees and found that they too experienced unusual delays that started in September 2013. Most of the problems are experienced by people who arrived by boat, a practice the Australian government has sought to end in recent years.

“What I want to say to prime minister: I’m working for five years for company. I pay tax, I’m not take Centrelink, I have a good record from police. You can find it. I don’t have any problem in Australia,” said one of the men in an interview on the television program Lateline, Wednesday night. “But I want to say to prime minister: Please give me visa for my family, please.”

Australia has come under criticism for the way it treats people arriving by boat. Rights groups say the practice of turning people away and sending them to camps in other countries violates their rights. Further accusations point out the conditions asylum seekers and migrants experience at the detainment centers, especially in Papua New Guinea. The issue has been one of national interest with strongly worded arguments made by all sides.

The Refugee Council recommends that the government clarify whether or not there has been a policy change regarding citizenship applications for refugees with permanent visas who arrived by boat. If there is no such change, then action should be taken to speed up the citizenship process for the two men, and all others affected. The group hopes that the legal action will force the government to uphold the rights of the people who are legally allowed in the country and using legal means to become citizens.

“This potentially discriminatory practice has important implications for refugee applicants, particularly given that they are unable to reunite with family members until they are granted citizenship,” said Power.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.