Magazine article Women in Action

Disabled? Sorry We Can't Afford It: Australia's Position on Refugees and Migrants with Disabilities. (Women with Disabilities)

Magazine article Women in Action

Disabled? Sorry We Can't Afford It: Australia's Position on Refugees and Migrants with Disabilities. (Women with Disabilities)

Article excerpt

The recent case of Sharaz Kayani and his family has highlighted the discriminatory nature of Australia's migration policy.

A former Pakistani asylum seeker, now Australian citizen, Sharaz Kayani set himself alight outside Parliament House in Canberra as a protest at the rejection of his application to have his family join him in Australia.

Mr. Kayani came to Australia in 1996 as an asylum seeker fleeing persecution in Pakistan, where he feared for his family's safety because of his friendship with members of Pakistan's Ahmedi religious minority.

Two applications for his family to join him in Australia under the "split family" provisions of the humanitarian programme have been rejected on the ground that one of his daughters has a disability, cerebral palsy.

      "The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirmed that all human rights
   and fundamental freedoms are universal and thus unreservedly include
   persons with disabilities. Every person is born equal and has the same
   rights to life and welfare, education and work, living independently and
   active participation in all aspects of society. Any direct discrimination
   or other negative discriminatory treatment of a disabled person is
   therefore a violation of his or her rights. The Conference called on
   Governments where necessary to adopt or adjust legislation to ensure access
   to these and other rights for disabled persons." (1)

The Australian Disability Discrimination Act aims to ensure that people are not discriminated against on the grounds of disability. However, the Social Security Act and the Migration Act are exempt from incorporating these guidelines into their policies and practices. This exemption allows the government to legally discriminate against people with a disability who wish to migrate or seek asylum in the country. This is despite the Australian Government being signatory to many of the United Nations Conventions which all aim to provide protection for people with disabilities.

As part of its humanitarian programme, the Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has policies designed to reunite families where one or more family members have already migrated to Australia, and to provide asylum to those who need it.

However regardless of family relationship or individual circumstance applicants must also undergo comprehensive and stringent health checks to assess their suitability as migrants or asylum seekers. These regulations are designed in such a way that often, people with disabilities are rejected on health grounds. According to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, these requirements ensure that risks to public health are minimised and that public expenditure on health and community services is contained. (2)

Any person wishing to enter Australia whether as a migrant or refugee seeking asylum must undergo an examination by a Medical Officer of the Commonwealth who carries out medical and radiological examinations.

These stringent tests categorise people according to their health status without taking into consideration many of the reasons why they seek to come to Australia. People are not seen within the context of their experience, and no attention is paid to the uniqueness and the contribution each one can make to a society. Instead they are judged on the grounds of cost and perceived burden on our health systems.

The Australian Government ensures that people continue to be discriminated against and have their human rights abused under the guise of protecting Australia. The Government is therefore failing in their humanitarian obligations to provide asylum to those who require it.

By continuing to be medicalised these people are treated as different from the norm, and therefore do not enjoy the same rights as others. They are divided into various diagnostic groups, in effect locating the disability "problem" within the individual. …

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