Abdurezak Nurhussien has been waiting to be reunited with his brother for almost two decades.
The last time the Melbourne father-of-five saw his older brother Mohammedali was in their home country of Eritrea in 2003.
He had hoped that would change when his brother’s family obtained humanitarian visas in March of last year.
“He was so happy back then,” Nurhussien, 46, told ABC.
“He thought he would come [to Australia] maybe in three or four months. “
But more than a year later, the brothers are still waiting.
After fleeing political persecution, Mohammedali, his wife and five young children remain stranded in the town of Kassala in eastern Sudan, where they have lived in a one-bedroom house for three years.
The family is one of 8,000 refugees on offshore humanitarian visas currently excluded from Australia due to federal government border restrictions.
Unlike Australian citizens and permanent residents, humanitarian visa holders may be effectively barred from entering the country under the travel ban.
This is because they are not yet permanent residents – they have to enter the country first.
Without any chance of resettlement, Mohammedali said his family was struggling to survive.
In addition, he fears for the health of his seven-year-old son, who has type 1 diabetes.
“Sometimes he can’t find the insulin. We go to the hospital and they have no medicine.
Mr. Nurhussien requested a travel exemption on his brother’s behalf on three occasions, but all were rejected without explanation.
“If you give someone a humanitarian visa, you have to take care of it.”
Before the pandemic, thousands of refugees arrived in Australia every year to start a new life after fleeing war or persecution.
But since border restrictions went into effect in March last year, only 708 refugees have been allowed to enter Australia, according to the Australian Border Force.
This is just 1% of the 53,143 people with travel exemptions as of June 30 of this year.
“It is of great concern that people who have been deemed by the Australian government to be in greatest need of a humanitarian settlement have been stuck under very difficult circumstances in countries of asylum for over a year,” said Paul Power, chief executive of the Australian Refugee Council.
The Australian Border Force said most of the exemptions were for those who provide “critical competence”.
Lawyers argue that it is not fair that Hollywood actors, pop stars and international athletes were also allowed into the country.
“Common sense test for Australians would suggest that a refugee who has been selected to resettle in Australia because of his humanitarian needs is probably more in need of entering Australia than a movie star coming on vacation or a star tennis coming for a tournament, ”said Pouvoir.
The Refugee Council calls on the federal government to grant more exemptions to refugees.
“We believe this can be done without having a great impact on citizens and others returning to Australia,” said Mr Power.
“If 50 or 100 refugees a week had the opportunity to come to Australia it would make a big difference.”
For Salah Sultan, it has been an agonizing few months as his older brother Khlel remains stranded in Jordan.
In March last year, Khlel, who fled political persecution and the war in Iraq, learned that the Australian government had granted him and his family humanitarian visas.
But when the pandemic struck, plans to start a new life in Australia were canceled.
As refugees, Sultan said the family was not allowed to work in Jordan.
“They live in terrible conditions. The money they have is very low and there is hardly any,” Sultan said from his home in Green Valley, southwest Sydney.
The family, who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, pleaded with the Australian government to let them in.
“Our lives are miserable,” said Khlel, 72, from her home in Jordan.
Home Secretary Karen Andrews said she was not available for an interview.
In a statement, the department said: “Australia’s travel restrictions must be balanced against the government’s intention to protect the health of the Australian community.
“Travel exemption requests made by or on behalf of an offshore humanitarian visa holder are carefully reviewed by a senior manager from a humanitarian program perspective before finally being determined by the Commissioner. “
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