• image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
Wednesday, 12 November 2014 12:33

ACRATH tackles visa issue

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

Sr Anne tormey rsm150Australian Catholic Religious Against Human Trafficking (ACRATH) is lobbying the Federal Government to overhaul prejudicial visa titles currently preventing victims of human trafficking in Australia from accessing accommodation, education and employment.

“These visas issued to victims of human trafficking are discriminatory and make life tougher for very vulnerable people, and they need to be changed,” said Christine Carolan, national executive officer for ACRATH.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship issues temporary Criminal Justice Stay Visas to trafficked people assisting Australian Federal Police (AFP) in criminal proceedings against traffickers. This visa is also issued to criminal suspects extradited to Australia and visa holders facing criminal charges or called as witnesses to criminal proceedings.

Trafficked people can then be issued a Witness Protection (Trafficking) (Permanent) Visa following the completion of AFP investigations or criminal proceedings.

ACRATH president Sister Anne Tormey rsm (pictured), based in Adelaide, said the Government needed to de-link the financial assistance provided through visas issued to people trafficked to Australia from their participation in criminal proceedings.

“Many of the victims of human trafficking are too traumatised to participate in criminal justice proceedings and many fear retribution to their families back home from traffickers.”

Sr Tormey was among 15 ACRATH delegates from across Australia who visited 79 members of parliament and their advisers in Canberra in September on a number of issues relating to human trafficking.

Last month Ms Carolan told The Southern Cross there were multiple cases of trafficked people assisting AFP investigations who have found great difficulty in gaining employment and finding accommodation following presentation of their visa, often their only form of official identification.

“The visas really are an extra hurdle for somebody who is a victim of crime.”

Ms Carolan said ACRATH believed new visas for trafficked people should include the entitlement of access to good quality English language lessons, an increase in financial assistance to enable renting in Melbourne and Sydney, and access to support services well before the current 104-week wait period under the Witness Protection (Trafficking) (Permanent) Visa.

Australian Red Cross national program director for the Support Program for Trafficked People Ann Clark said some of the program’s clients had reported feeling stigmatised by the name of the Witness Protection (Trafficking) (Permanent) Visa.

“We fully support the work of ACRATH,” she said.

About 100 people were issued the Witness Protection (Trafficking) (Permanent) Visa from 2009 to 2012. They were part of the Red Cross’ Commonwealth-funded Support Program for Trafficked People, which currently involves about 50 people suspected of being trafficked to Australia who have 45 days on the program to consider whether they will assist the AFP with their investigations. The Red Cross program provides support with housing, health, education, counselling and legal and immigration assistance.

Since the program started in 2009, there have been almost 150 clients. Eighty per cent of them have been women and 61 per cent were trafficked for sexual exploitation. The countries of origin include: Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, China, South Korea, India, Taiwan and Indonesia.

A spokesman for West Australian Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister assisting the Prime Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, said ACRATH’s visa change proposals were being considered and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection was liaising with other agencies on the issues raised by ARCRATH and other NGOs, including the Australian Red Cross Australia, Anti-Slavery Australia and the Salvation Army.

This article by Rebecca DiGirolamo was first published in the November 2014 edition of The Southern Cross, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Adelaide.

Read more about the work of Australian Catholic Religious Against Human Trafficking (ACRATH), endorsed by Catholic Religious Australia (CRA).