How low can Australia go?

The government appears to be buying into racist scare campaigns, as it cancels the visas of Palestinians fleeing a humanitarian disaster

Callous. Heinous. Inhumane. These are just a few of the words being used to describe reports that multiple Palestinians have had their visas cancelled by the Australian government mid-transit, having passed security checks and made it out of Gaza, only to be told they could no longer board flights to Australia. At least two women with connections to Australia had their visitor visas retracted in recent days: one was in Cairo, the other had already been allowed to depart Egypt and was in the Middle East, about to board a flight to Australia (she was given the option of sending her four children on to Australia without supervision, which she declined). The women are now in limbo, unable to stay where they are – and others are in a similar boat. A Home Affairs spokesperson has refused to comment on individual cases, noting that “the Australian government reserves the right to cancel any issued visas if circumstances change”. How low can Australia go, first suspending funding to the main aid organisation in Gaza, and now cancelling visas of those fleeing a humanitarian disaster, simply because they are fleeing a humanitarian disaster?

That seems to be the argument being put forward by the department, with the cancellation letters claiming that the women “never intended” to stay temporarily and were therefore ineligible for the subclass 600 visa. Although the Coalition has sought to make this about national security, reigniting its campaign to demonise Palestinians and attack Labor over speedy visa approvals, that is not why these tourist visas were allegedly revoked. (The women, it’s worth remembering, had already passed security checks in Israel, Egypt and Australia.) The letters state that it had been determined that they were likely to overstay, considering “the situation in your home country, including the current conflict, the internal displacement of persons and the difficult circumstances facing ordinary citizens there”. Never mind that this is the visa class the government had encouraged them to use (and the same one Ukranians have been using), as Palestine Australia Relief and Action co-founder Rasha Abbas noted.

But as her co-founder Samah Sabawi argued in a must-listen RN Breakfast interview, it’s likely this did have something to do with the Coalition’s fearmongering. “There was a campaign to demonise Palestinians, calling them all security risks, raising the alarm,” she said, noting that the government’s response times slowed down after that, and the definition of who could apply was changed from extended family to immediate family. “We want to live in peace,” she added, noting that Palestinians are among those most surveilled and scrutinised on Earth. “To say that they are a security risk, when they are our relatives, our uncles, our mothers, our fathers. We are Australian citizens, what are you saying about us?”

Of course, we know full well what the Opposition has been trying to say about Palestinians, with shadow home affairs minister James Paterson reigniting his dog-whistling about “social cohesion” just last month. The government has refused to comment on these cases. But in callously cancelling visas mid-transit, it has legitimised the Coalition’s racist scare campaign, while causing additional hardship to people who are fleeing the most unimaginable horrors. Paterson has already come out today, implying that he was right to have raised concerns about a lack of “security checks”, and demanding that the Home Affairs and Immigration ministers front up and explain themselves. Indeed they must, and they must urgently rectify the situation, lest they find themselves complicit in far more than just a scare campaign.

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