The pain of family separation for refugees

Sanctuary Australia FoundationBlog, Sponsorship

Mya (in pink), her siblings, and younger brother (wearing a cap) before they all left Myanmar.

Isolation is not a novel experience for a refugee. Neither, usually, is family separation. All of my clients have fled conflict and persecution. Many wait anxiously every day for news of their loved one’s visa application. The anxiety is understandable; the partners, siblings and parents of resettled refugees are often in highly precarious situations abroad, and face poverty and discrimination. 

I have been working with Sanctuary Australia Foundation for the last year on a variety of family-stream and humanitarian visa applications. My clients, like Mya* and Aslan*, are resettled refugees in Australia.

Mya’s younger brother, 17, is a Chin refugee in Malaysia, where the UNHCR has temporarily stopped registering refugees fleeing Myanmar. Mya is the only relative who can care for him and he is wholly dependent on her for basic living expenses.

Aslan, a Yazidi refugee from Kurdistan, lives and works in Coffs Harbour. His parents and six younger siblings remain indefinitely in Khanke Refugee Camp in Duhok, Iraq, awaiting the outcome of their humanitarian visa application. Humanitarian visa applications, while free to lodge, are substantially complicated and rarely approved. Parent visas are costly and have a current wait time of approximately 30 years.

While family reunification is meant to be central to the refugee resettlement process in Australia, there is no doubt that refugees face monumental obstacles when trying to navigate the system. The process itself is complex, time-consuming and legalistic, even for those who do not come from a refugee background. A lack of access to lawyers or migration agents who can assist on a pro bono or reduced-fee basis means that many resettled refugees shoulder the burden of submitting their family’s application without assistance. COVID-19 has added yet another layer of uncertainty.

I am heartened by Sanctuary Australia Foundation’s commitment to reuniting refugee families and grateful for the support they provide to people like Mya and Aslan during the process. Whether it be through the referral of matters for legal advice, administrative assistance with documentation, or providing an interest-free loan for travel, Sanctuary’s work is a step towards reducing the emotional anguish that comes with family separation.

Everyday family members suffer the mental anguish, sadness and huge pressure of knowing that their loved ones are suffering and dependent on them both financially and to provide them with hope for the future. 

While Covid-19 has restricted travel, case work is a long process and interest-free airfare loans will be needed at the time of approval. Please consider supporting Sanctuary Australia Foundation’s work to bring more refugee families together.

*names changed to protect client identity.

Cate is a Sydney-based immigration lawyer and migration agent working with refugees and people seeking asylum. She is a Sanctuary volunteer and assists our clients with their humanitarian and family unity claims, as well as being a keen advocate for refugee policy reform.