23 July 2018
For more than five years, Sophie* has been in Australia, having fled from her homeland in fear for her life. She has been here, in Australia, on a bridging visa waiting to have her request for asylum granted or denied for all those years. Sophie is one of the people who face an uncertain life of entrenched poverty because of the withdrawal of money from people seeking asylum here in Australia.
‘At first I was happy to be here,’ Sophie tells e-connect. ‘I was safe, and I survived the boat trip and the journey. I believe in God, and I survived my boat trip and was put on Christmas Island. I had known nothing about Jesus Christ at home, but then I was told about Jesus and I became a Christian.
‘I volunteer for The Salvation Army, helping other people, as I do not want to just sit at home. I was a teacher in my homeland, but my English is not good enough to work here in Australia. I left my country because my life was in danger. My government is not good, and if you speak up to call for justice – as I did – you end up being put and kept in jail, or worse.’
Sophie says that if she had stayed in her homeland she would have died. ‘I told myself, “I could die here slowly, or I could die on the way, on my dangerous journey, or die somewhere else.” I chose to flee for my life.
‘I was seen as a troublemaker because I taught my students about fairness. I was reported and called to the principal and criticised. I told them I would not teach propaganda, that “the government is good, the government cares for you” – there was no free speech.’
It followed, for Sophie, that she could choose to escape, or stay to face the lack of any freedom. She chose to escape the bleak prospects of incarceration, torture and execution. She sought, and still seeks, a place where she can belong; where she can think, worship and live freely.
Sophie survived a traumatic boat trip and offshore detention. She has been placed in communities in various Australian states and, when first released from immigration detention five years ago, on her ‘Bridging Visa E’, she was not allowed to work or to study English.
‘I have been greatly helped by The Salvation Army,’ Sophie says, ‘and I enjoy volunteering with The Salvation Army to help others. They have rescued me.
‘Here in Australia, I am treated cruelly. They tell me, when I first arrived, “You must not work, you must not study” for the first three years when I lived in the community. I could only volunteer, and I was not allowed to apply for a protection visa.
My problem is also that my husband, Jordan*, is not here. I have not seen him for more than five years, not have I seen my son, Ricky* for that time. It hurts my heart so much.
‘My husband is still hiding in our homeland, and the government will not allow my son – who has been granted asylum in [country], a visa so that he can come and see me.’
Our policies have punished people for risking their headlong rush for freedom. For surviving the ocean trip on leaky boats. The policies and procedures we have legislated have tried to break these people who came to us to seek asylum. Their lives have been put on an indefinite hold; a limbo of deliberate uncertainty designed to make them return to whatever fate awaits them.
In December 2014 laws changed. The migration act changed, and Sophie was able to apply for a Temporary Protection Visa. She was refused a TPV, and now is appealing the decision. The Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA) holds Sophie’s life in its hands; she is not allowed to represent herself to the authority, or to appear before it.
If Sophie had arrived by plane, it would be a different situation. She would be allowed to apply for a Permanent Protection Visa.
If the people with whom Sophie lives with also lose their income – they are also seeking asylum in this country – then she will be destitute and homeless. She cannot contribute to rent or food or utilities. She cannot purchase clothing or medicine or pay for transport. So, if her co-tenants lose funding, they will all be penniless.
‘The Salvation Army is seeing people who have lost all income and support, and if they say to me, “We do not believe you are in need of asylum, that you are a refugee, then they will try to make me leave Australia in 28 days,’ says Sophie.
‘I will either starve here in Australia, or go home and get tortured or executed. Over time, this life has damaged me. I am damaged,’ says Sophie. ‘My mental health is poor.
‘The people of Australia are very kind people. But it is cruel to treat us this way.’
* The names have been changed to protect Sophie.