Home » Piume hardly remembers her life in Sri Lanka, but lives in daily fear she will be sent back

Piume hardly remembers her life in Sri Lanka, but lives in daily fear she will be sent back

Key Points
  • Thousands of asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat before 2014 have been kept in limbo since then.
  • A group of crossbenchers is demanding the immigration minister resolve the cases and provide permanent pathways.
  • Almost 9,000 asylum seekers are on bridging visas that have been renewed every six months for more than a decade.
Piume Kaneshan's childhood memories of life back in Sri Lanka are vague, but her perilous voyage to venture beyond its shores is without doubt the clearest.
As a seven-year-old, she, her mother, and sister boarded a boat to flee her country of birth, fearing persecution in the years after its civil war in 2009.
It was an 18-day journey and on day six they ran out of food.
"We were terrified … I really didn't think we were going to make it. We thought we were going to die and no one's going to know about it," she told SBS News.

Piume is one of about 9,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Australia a decade ago and are stuck in a system originally designed to 'fast track' their refugee claims.

The trauma from that trip is still there, but now at 20 years old she only sees herself as Australian.
"I came here as a child, I lived in Australia more than I've lived in Sri Lanka, my home country," she said.
"I grew up in Australian culture. I forgot how to speak my language properly."
The was set up by the then Coalition government in 2014 for 31,000 people who arrived by boat before 2014, with those impacted put on temporary visas while the process played out.
While in opposition,, but since coming to power, has not provided a resolution for the thousands waiting for their situation to be settled.

About 19,000 people were recognised as refugees but there remains a backlog in the program.

'It's scary'

As a child, Piume was able to start a new life in Australia.
She went to primary and high school in Canberra and has gone on to study nursing at university.
But while Piume is trying to stay focused on her studies, she lives in constant fear her dream of becoming a nurse could be taken away at any moment.
"It's scary because I don't know what I will do if I go up or go back because I don't know anything that's got anything to do with Sri Lanka," Piume said.
"The only thing we're asking for is safety. The only things we're asking for is just permanent residency."

Piume and her family are on bridging visas which allow asylum seekers to remain in the community while their protection claims are being tested or challenged.

A young woman sitting with a dog in front of her.

Piume Kaneshan has lived most of her life in Australia after arriving by boat as a seven-year-old. Source: SBS News

The visas are renewed every six months and not all in this category are able to work or study.
Refugee advocates have long argued the system is cruel, arbitrary and ineffective.
Jana Favero from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said those impacted have tried to start new lives in Australia by working, paying taxes and contributing to the community.
"What we're asking for … [is] for there to be a pathway to permanency for all of those 9,000 people who have been failed by fast track," Favero said.
"So people can move on with their lives after a decade; they've been in our community, they can rebuild their lives with a sense of permanency."

A group of crossbenchers in parliament – led by independent senator David Pocock and independent MP Allegra Spender – are now demanding Immigration Minister Andrew Giles expedite the process and provide a permanent pathway for people like Piume.

A woman and a man sitting down in an office together, smiling at the camera.

Independent senator David Pocock and independent MP Allegra Spender are calling on Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to resolve the asylum cases of people like Piume and provide paths to more certain futures. Source: SBS News

"A lot of these people have made a big contribution … a lot of them came as young seven, eight, nine or 10-year-olds, they see themselves as Australian," Spender told SBS News.
"I think it's time to get them out of the slow lane. Let's make decisions and let everybody get on with their lives."
Pocock said it was devastating when he heard those stories from young people who feel Australian.
"It's unfair on those young people, it's devastating for those young people who feel Australian; they want to live here, they love living here, they're grateful for the opportunity," he said.

"We're forcing them just to live in limbo, there's no end in sight."

SBS News requested an interview with Immigration Minister Andrew Giles.
A government spokesperson told SBS News last year $58 million was invested in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia to help deal with "migration-related backlogs".
"The government is committed to efficiently assessing each protection claim on its individual merits," the spokesperson said.

"Our protection system and the backlogs will take time to fix. But as a result of these investments, those in need of Australia's protection will be provided certainty about their future sooner, allowing them to focus on building their lives in Australia."

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