The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today said it is alarmed by a separation of a Sri Lankan refugee family in Sydney by the Government of Australia.
In a statement it said the deportation overnight of the Sri Lankan father leaves his Sri Lankan partner, who is a recognized refugee, alone in Australia with their 11-month-old daughter.
“This contravenes the basic right of family unity, as well as the fundamental principle of the best interests of the child. UNHCR sought assurances from the Australian Government that the man would not be removed from Australia and be allowed to remain with his family.
Private legal representatives had also lodged multiple requests for intervention with the Home Affairs Minister. We regret that those collective representations were unsuccessful,” it said.
Australia’s current policy of “offshore processing and deterrence” has led to the ongoing separation of refugee families since 2013.
Asylum-seekers who arrive to Australia by sea have been prevented from reuniting with their loved ones in Australia, including spouses, parents and children.
UNHCR is aware of several other parents currently held under Australian “offshore processing” in Nauru, whose spouses were transferred to Australia for medical reasons, including in order to give birth.
The Government of Australia has refused to allow them to be reunited in Australia, despite the fact that neither Nauru nor Papua New Guinea are considered suitable places of settlement for the vast majority of refugees.
In more than one instance, children have also remained in Nauru separated from an adult parent sent to Australia for medical care. This has had a particularly devastating effect on their deteriorating mental health.
This latest incident goes beyond a refusal to reunite families, to instead actively and indefinitely separate them. Current legislation prevents the Sri Lankan mother in this case from ever sponsoring her spouse to join her and their child in Australia.
The husband and father is likewise prevented from ever obtaining even a short-term visa to visit his family. Sadly, the family members expect to be kept apart indefinitely.
The UNHCR urged Australia to uphold the fundamental principle of family unity, and allow family members to be together.