On Saturday 20 November, the Uniting Church Social Justice Unit along with many other community organisations and individuals joined together for a Hike 4 Humanity around the Kent Street Weir Park in Wilson. They are deeply concerned for the ongoing struggles of refugees on temporary visas living in our community with little hope of permanency and family reunion.
People like Salem Askari, a stonemason who has been working in the Perth building industry for the last eight years after fleeing Afghanistan as a refugee.
Salem is one of about 200 refugees on temporary visas who live in the Federal electorate of Swan – one of the main areas of Perth where refugees on temporary visas reside. They are working and living in the WA community but are stuck on temporary visas and can’t get their families to safety.
Salem says it was particularly devastating to see Kabul fall back into the hands of the Taliban when the Allied forces, including Australia, withdrew earlier this year.
“I am so stressed. It is really difficult to feel so helpless when your family are in such danger.”
Salem’s wife remains in Kabul and was working for the Afghan Government as a civil engineer up until the country fell. She is now in hiding, fearing for her life. He wishes he could sponsor her to come to Australia but since the Australian Government will only grant him a temporary visa, he is not permitted to bring her to safety.
“It is immensely frustrating. Eight years ago, I fled the same Taliban that my wife is now in danger from, but we still can’t be together, we can’t both be safe.
“I love living in Perth. Most of us have been here nearly a decade – we work hard, we pay tax, but we still are not allowed to settle. We want to invest in the community, we want to reunite with our family, but we need help to convince the Government to give us a permanent visa,” said Salem
Salem along with other refugees in his situation, and supporters in the WA Refugee and People Seeking Asylum Network (WARPSAN) of which the Uniting Church in WA is a member, have been organising to raise awareness of the difficulties of life on a temporary visa in a campaign called We All Need Our Families. The Hike 4 Humanity was planned as a family-friendly event to help launch the campaign and was successfully attended by approximately 160 people on the sunny Saturday morning.
The hike began with a welcome to Country by Clive Smith and his son Donald, both proud Wadjak Ballardong men, and then Salem shared some of his story along with Dr Hessom Razavi, a former refugee from Iran, now a writer and ophthalmologist based in Perth. Wendy Hendry from the Social Justice Unit was the MC, and gave attendees an overview of the campaign, and encouraged people to get involved, learn more and take action. An enthusiastic group of volunteers helped make it a successful event, marshalling participants around the hike circuit, finishing at the CARAD Fare Go food truck.
Geoff Bice, Executive Officer: Social Justice says “The Uniting Church in Australia is a long-standing advocate of the just treatment of people seeking asylum. We All Need Our Families is a community campaign to help put a spotlight on the cruelty of keeping people on a treadmill of temporary visas. We continue to hear the heartache of refugees and people seeking asylum who have fled the likes of the Taliban but are now powerless to help their direct family escape the same persecution.”
Geoff encouraged people to find out more about the refugees caught in this cycle of uncertainty, and about how to get involved by going to the We All Need Our Families website.