An Afghan family is suing the Australian government for taking too long to process their visa application.
- More than 145,000 Afghans have applied for humanitarian visas in Australia since last year.
- Processing partner visas for Afghans takes an average of 44 months.
- The Australian Government says the time it takes to process family visa applications depends on the “complexity and completeness of the applications”.
If the case is successful, it could speed up thousands of similar requests from other asylum seekers trying to settle in Australia.
Abdullah and his wife Fatima fled Afghanistan with their four children after one of their daughters was killed in a rocket attack in 2012.
Abdullah was able to obtain permanent refugee status in Australia.
Fatima and their children applied for a family visa to join in 2017, but years later they remain stateless in Pakistan while waiting for a visa.
“The situation in Afghanistan is very difficult because of the Taliban. They threatened us, got into our house [missile]” said Fatima.
The family is represented by the Human Rights Law Center, which told the Federal Court that the Minister of Immigration “unreasonably delayed” their visa application.
“Abdullah, his wife and children are eligible for a family visa,” said their lawyer, Josephine Langbien.
“Unfortunately, the delays that Abdullah and Fatema face are all too common.
“They are one of thousands of families who have spent years apart because the Australian government has not made a decision on their visa application.”
Ten years of limbo in Pakistan
Before the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan last August, more than 60,000 partner visas such as Fatema and Abdullah were still outstanding.
“Over the past six months, the situation has become even more tense after the Taliban seized power,” Ms. Langbyen said.
“The Morrison government has done nothing to improve family reunification opportunities… it has not expedited the processing of visa applications.”
Since the return of the Taliban, more than 145,000 Afghans have applied for humanitarian visas in Australia.
The 19-year-old son of Abdullah and Fatima Zamen and his three siblings cannot go to school in Pakistan because they are not recognized as refugees in the country.
“Our application [is] processed very slowly. We did not expect this from the Australian community. It has been a long time since it was completed,” Zamen said.
“This is affecting our family so much that we are now facing a very difficult situation.”
“We’re in an intolerable situation”
The Human Rights Law Center reported that partner visas for Afghans take an average of 44 months, more than double the processing time for the same applications from other countries.
“Delays of this magnitude are not due to bureaucratic inefficiencies,” Ms Langbyen said.
“The government is using our family migration system as a tool to punish and deter people from seeking safety in Australia.”
She said that if the family was successful in the lawsuit, it could set a deadline for visa applications to be processed, leading to thousands of Afghans settling in Australia.
“If the court agrees that this family has waited too long, then it will send a signal to the government that the way it has reacted to this statement is unacceptable,” she said.
“The silence, the lack of explanation, the refusal to give the family any answers about how this is taking too long, we hope this sends a really clear signal that the government needs to really reform our family migration system so people don’t have to wait years no replies for the delay.”
Zamen begged the Australian government to accept his family.
“We do not leave our country voluntarily, it is because we are faced with an intolerable situation,” he said.
“I want to tell the Australian government why are you torturing us like this? I hope they do something about it so we can achieve some life goals there.”
A statement from a Home Office spokesperson said that the time it takes to process family visa applications can vary.
“Processing time is affected by the complexity and completeness of applications, including a thorough evaluation of relationships, character, personality, health, and safety criteria,” he said.
“The Department continues to give priority to Afghan citizens applying for a family visa.
“In the first quarter of 2021-2022, the department created a dedicated team to address this challenge.”
The spokesman said that more than 900 family visas were issued to the Afghan people last year.
“The department is on track to issue about 1,500 family visas to Afghan citizens in 2021-2022, of which a minimum of 5,000 grants will be awarded over the next four years.”