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Red tape thwarts refugees' chances for tertiary study

Refugee students with aspirations to tertiary study are being held back by government red tape, according to a leading Catholic school principal in Adelaide.

The Southern Cross reports that Sr Judith Redden RSM of St Aloysius College is lobbying state and federal governments to introduce a fairer system so all refugee students - regardless of their visa status - can access tertiary education.

"It's a ridiculous situation," Sr Judith told the paper. "While students on temporary protection visas can apply for tertiary education under the Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) Access Scheme, effectively deferring payment of HECS fees, those students who have been granted Permanent Resident Visas cannot, and must therefore pay upfront fees - a virtual impossibility in their financial circumstances."

Sr Judith has written to Senator Amanda Vanstone, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, and a number of other political identities, seeking a change to the system.

"Our school opened its heart and doors to receive 20 Afghani refugees as scholarship holders," Sr Judith said. "These girls, who were previously denied access to education, have all endured hazardous journeys and detention. In spite of the incredible hardships of their recent young history, the girls have embraced the opportunity of education and through hard work are achieving well."

Sr Judith said two of the girls, Laila Jaghoori in Year 13 and Laila Azimi in Year 12, were now looking to continue their education at a tertiary level next year - but an unexpected windfall in the guise of permanent residency might thwart the young women's plans.

"While we rejoice that Laila Azimi and her family have recently been granted Permanent Resident Visas, thus ending years of stressful anxiety about their status in Australia, it also means that Laila is no longer able to apply for tertiary education under the TPV Access Scheme.

"As she is unable to apply for citizenship for a further two years, it means she is unable to enter university on the deferred payment of HECS fees.

Sr Judith called upon governments to address the situation as a priority.

"The Federal Government appears quite determined to continue to make life tough for asylum seekers," she said. "They let them out of detention, but then put up other barriers.

"We're not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment to other Australian students."

"It would be an absolute tragedy if these girls couldn't continue their education. They have overcome a language barrier and have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are. To stop them now would be cruel and unjust.

Red tape thwarts refugees' chances for tertiary study (Southern Cross, November 2004)

St Aloysius' College

5 Nov 2004