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Bishop Grech says visa changes must go further

Australia's Catholic Bishops have said the government's decision to allow some refugees on Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) to apply for permanent residency does not go far enough.

Refugees on temporary visas who live in country areas and have been employed for a year will be eligible to apply for permanent residency under relaxed guidelines released on Tuesday. The changes, issued by Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, also ease restrictions for student visas and remove a ban preventing temporary visa holders married to Australians from gaining spouse visas.

With Sunday's World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees approaching, Bishop Joseph Grech has welcomed the Federal Government's movement on the issue, but stressed that it does not alter the fundamental lack of fairness in the TPV regime.

Bishop Grech of the Victorian Diocese of Sandhurst, is chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees. He expressed regret that the government's decision applies only to current TPV holders, and not to future arrivals.

"All people who are granted a TPV have been found to be genuine refugees, but they are denied permanent protection because of the method of their arrival in Australia," he said. "The Catholic Church has argued consistently that all genuine refugees are deserving of Australia's complete and ongoing protection.

In the most recent comment from church leaders on the issue, Cardinal George Pell last Friday spoke out on behalf of six Kosovar families from Albury-Wodonga whom local Catholics are backing in their fight against deportation to their homeland.

But Bishop Grech said the system discriminates against those in the capital cities. He argued that while many regional and rural communities had opened their arms to TPV holders and provided jobs and assistance, so too had communities within Australia's cities, often providing to these people the support which is denied them by the government.

"We will always welcome any changes to government policy which allow genuine refugees to apply for permanent protection, but will continue to press for ongoing protection for all refugees, no matter how they arrive."

Meanwhile national director of the Uniting Church's UnitingJustice, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said Tuesday's announcement should be followed up by policy changes that address the real problems facing Australia's refugee protection system.

"These changes prove that all that is required to treat people humanely is political will. But this attempt to address the needs of current TPV holding refugees ignores the fundamental flaws in our humanitarian program."

Visa changes need to go further - Catholic Church (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 25/8/04)
Stop Juggling Visas (National Assembly, Uniting Church in Australia 25/8/04)

Refugees lose home for a second time (The Advertiser 26/8/04)
Vanstone eases refugee restrictions (The Age 25/8/04)
Catholic bishops take issue with TPVs (SBS 26/8/04)
Canadian churches and government at odds over 'sanctuary' (Ecumenical News International 25/8/04)
Bishop appeals for rescue of refugees (Catholic Weekly 29/8/04)
Pell says let Kosovars stay in Australia (CathNews 23/8/04)
Local church backs business calls for Kosovars to stay (CathNews 5/8/04)
Church welcomes Govt change of heart on protection visas (CathNews 14/7/04)
SA priest travels to Canberra to plead TPV holders' case (CathNews 25/11/03)
Letter shatters Australian dream (The Age 25/11/03)
New Measures for Temporary Protection & Temporary Humanitarian Visa Holders (Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs 13/7/04)
Temporary Protection Visa Holders Applying for Further Protection (Department of Immigration & Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs fact sheet)
Tampering with asylum: confessions of a Jesuit priest (Sydney Morning Herald 14/11/03)
Michelle Grattan: Fighting to let refugees stay (The Age 12/11/03)
Study calls for abolition of Temporary Protection Visa policy (RMIT University 17/6/03)
Bishops Committee For Migrants And Refugees
Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office

26 Aug 2004