Saturday, October 1, 2022

Australia’s special visa program for Ukrainians will end, even though the war continues

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited Ukraine this month and pledged an additional A$100 million in military aid and vowed to help the country “for as long as it takes.”

So when it was announced that the humanitarian visa program allowing Ukrainians to live and work in Australia would end on July 14, it took many by surprise.

Such short-notice visa changes are an impossible challenge for Ukrainians facing the many complexities and stress of fleeing war. In response to these concerns, the deadline has since been extended, but only for an additional two weeks.

The decision to end the visa program is disappointing as heavy fighting continues and the humanitarian crisis worsens.

While we understand that there may be economic and other reasons for changing the visa program, we hope that the government will consider waivers and other alternatives to continue supporting displaced Ukrainians.

Worsening humanitarian crisis

Russian forces continue to kill and injure civilians.

Homes, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure are constantly being damaged or destroyed.

Food production has been disrupted as there is evidence that Russian forces have laid landmines to contaminate agricultural areas and stolen and burned Ukraine’s grain crops.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, around a third of Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes.

More than nine million people – about a quarter of the country’s population – have had to seek refuge abroad. This has created the largest current refugee crisis in the world.

Several countries in Europe and other parts of the world opened their doors to welcome displaced Ukrainians. Poland remains in the lead, hosting more than 1.2 million refugees, while other popular destinations include Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, as well as the United States, Canada and Australia.

Why do Ukrainians choose Australia?

Australia is one of the farthest destinations offering refuge to displaced Ukrainians.

I (Olga) have researched and written a book on Eastern European migration to Australia, and am currently leading a project with the University of Technology Sydney on Ukrainian migration to Australia.

I am conducting a pilot follow-up study on pathways to humanitarian protection for newly arrived Ukrainians fleeing war.

Preliminary unpublished results from my interviews reveal four main reasons why some Ukrainians choose Australia over highly attractive humanitarian programs in countries like Poland, Germany and Norway.

These reasons are:

  • family and friends in Australia

  • distant location of war-torn Europe

  • attractive three-year humanitarian program (Europe offers one year)

  • job opportunities.

Anna Kolieda, one of the participants, escaped from the Ukraine and went to Germany before coming to Australia. She said:

I didn’t know much about the country. Except that it is safe, far from another world, has beautiful scenery and English as a first language. It is also more difficult in Europe with jobs. But the very important factor was that I had the support of friends here. They invited me and supported me on my way. [Settlement Services International] and the government also does a great job of providing help, so it creates a good start – I feel very comfortable in my second month here.

the australian response

Despite very few direct interests in the region, Australia has shown extraordinary support for Ukraine.

The Australian government has contributed more than A$385 million in aid to date.

Support for Ukrainians in Australia is also strong on the ground. For example, the NSW government has generously donated over 350 Opal travel cards to newly arrived Ukrainians, pre-loaded with money.

Settlement Services International, the Red Cross, other services and the local Ukrainian community have organized airport pickups, hotel accommodation, food vouchers and phone cards.

The English for Migrant Adults Program and community groups have provided language instruction locally and free of charge. Such initiatives play a crucial role in their rapid integration into Australia.

The impact of the cut of the visa program

Since February, Australia has granted more than 8,500 visas to Ukrainians. According to The Australian newspaper, around 4,100 of these people have accepted the offer and are now in the country.

Under the visa program, displaced Ukrainians can work, study and access Medicare.

Because Ukrainians have to be physically in Australia to accept the visa offer, many people have had to quickly alter their travel plans to arrive before the deadline, creating a wave of disappointment, fear and pressure among those who had made plans for the coming months.

According to a survey conducted by the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations (AFUO) with over 530 responses, the key issues facing Ukrainians due to changes to Australia’s humanitarian visa program include:

  • have purchased tickets for a later date

  • delays trying to escape from the territories occupied by the Russian armed forces

  • waiting for passports or other key travel documents to be issued or updated

  • caring for sick relatives

  • men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country due to martial law.

AAP reports that there are concerns that displaced Ukrainians who miss the deadline will have to reside in Australia on tourist visas, with no ability to work and no access to Medicare.

The gendered impacts of war are another concern. Since the majority of people fleeing Ukraine are women and children, there are numerous additional issues affecting them, including: fear of sexual violence, concern for husbands and children left behind, lack of access to sexual health and reproductive health, vulnerability to trafficking and loss of livelihoods.

It is crucial that support for Ukraine from Australia and other countries is not phased out as the war drags on.

Read more: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is slowly approaching a turning point. Is the West ready to step forward?

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
Nation World News is the fastest emerging news website covering all the latest news, world’s top stories, science news entertainment sports cricket’s latest discoveries, new technology gadgets, politics news, and more.
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