The hardships of living on a temporary visa are known well by Iranian refugee Arad Nik, who hopes to continue to shed light on his struggles with the support of the Hobart community.
Forced to flee his home country ten years ago after facing imprisonment and torture for his advocacy on behalf of Iran’s much persecuted Awhazi minority, Nik tragically had to leave behind his young son and parents. Upon arriving to Australia by boat, he was then placed into detention on Christmas Island. What came next for Nik, was two years of transfers across three detention centres, which saw him then released on a bridging visa:
“When released from detention in 2014 on a bridging visa, I had to find a rental with no reference, no normal identification documents and I had no right to work. Centrelink gave me around $326.00 per fortnight and I was paying rent, bills, phone, food and medicine. I organised my budget for food on $4/day. I was in poverty and I couldn’t afford a heater in winter.”
After a further four years, Nik was finally granted a Safe Haven Enterprise visa (SHEV). Formerly a pathologist in Iran, he took advantage of his visa’s new conditions to begin a Persian cuisine business, which he continued upon moving to Tasmania to satisfy the visa’s regional requirement. While Nik’s enterprise was met with great success, the cruelty of his temporary visa arrangement was no less apparent:
“We are like third rate people in the country. We can’t use our qualifications and skills to get good jobs or access tertiary education for further study or English lessons as a citizen could, bank loans are hard to get or at higher rates, we can’t join in elections and have limited access to Medicare support.”
Crucially, Nik’s visa does not allow his family to join him in Australia, meaning he has not seen his son or parents since he fled Iran a decade ago. With no individual having transitioned from a SHEV to a permanent visa to date, temporary visas keep refugees like Nik in limbo – denying them the opportunity to reunite with those left behind and to truly call Australia home.
For Nik, the pandemic also brought into stark clarity the government’s lack of support for those on temporary visas. During lockdown, his business struggled due to the closure of the Salamanca Market and the economic hardships faced by cafes that traded his goods. In lieu of Jobseeker payments, Nik’s only reprieve was applying for the ‘special benefit’ payment – a measure that temporary visa holders can access in financial emergencies. With applications often taking months to be processed, if at all, the pandemic left Nik and other temporary visa holders yet more vulnerable.
In an effort to raise awareness of the hardships faced by him and other temporary visa holders, Nik has taken to protesting in front of the Department of Home Affairs office each Wednesday between 12 – 1:30pm, where he is joined by members of the public. Holding signs and offering informational pamphlets, Nik hopes that they are able to translate the pain of his story into smiles to share to those passing by.
Nik believes that the best way to progress the rights of refugees in Australia is to educate regular people through conversations and practices of truth sharing. It is with this spirit that he implores the Hobart community to join him at Parliament Lawns on July 25th for the Rally for Refugees.
Featuring live speakers and musical accompaniment, the message Nik hopes to send with the rally is a simple one:
“Seek alternative regional solutions to off shore processing. End the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Have limited time frames for processing asylum seekers and grant permanent visas to eligible refugees that allows them the security and rights of Australian citizens. Offer aid, diplomacy, capacity building and resettlement opportunities once in Australia. Stop breaking international law and give asylum seekers and refugees back their human rights.”
Rally for Refugee Rights takes place Sunday the 25th of July at Parliament Lawns from 12pm.