Advocates urge Australia to welcome Ukrainian refugees as minister meets with community

By Melissa Coade

March 1, 2022

Alex Hawke
Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Immigration minister Alex Hawke has hosted a roundtable with leaders from Australia’s Ukrainian community as local lawyers call for the federal government to offer asylum to citizens fleeing the conflict zone. 

On Monday, the Law Council of Australia called on the federal government to support international efforts to accommodate refugees leaving Ukraine. 

The peak group representing lawyers in Australia said it had grave concerns for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in violation of international law, and that there were clearly no exceptions that applied in this case.

“Under international law, a state is prohibited from the use or threat of force against another state,” the group said in a statement.

“The only exceptions to this principle apply where a state is acting in self-defence or acting pursuant to a United Nations Security Council resolution. Neither of these exceptions apply to the actions taken by Russia against Ukraine.”

The White House has called Putin’s attack on Ukraine as an assault on fundamental international rules and norms that had prevailed since World War II. In a statement at the weekend, US president Jo Biden said his country was committed to defending these international rules and norms. 

“We will hold Russia to account and collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for Putin,” a joint statement from US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and the European Commission read. 

“As Russian forces unleash their assault on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, we are resolved to continue imposing costs on Russia that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies.”

At a special UN Security Council meeting convened on Monday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said some 520,000 Ukrainian refugees have already escaped to neighbouring countries in Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and even Russia. 

“Unless there is an immediate halt to conflict, Ukrainians will simply continue to flee. “We are currently planning…for up to four million refugees in the coming days and weeks,” Grandi said. 

“We encourage host countries to avail themselves of our support and expert advice as they address the situation and uphold their international obligations.”

The LCA wants Australia to extend assistance beyond those Ukrainians who are at risk and need to evacuate, appealing for the government to send more aid and open more places to asylum to citizens seeking to leave the country.

“The council calls on the government to implement pathways to permanent protection visas for Ukrainian asylum seekers and refugees currently in Australia; prioritise family reunification when processing humanitarian visa applications from Ukrainian nationals; and immediately increase the ceiling of 13,750 places allocated under the Humanitarian Program for the 2021-22 financial year,” the statement said. 

Last Friday, one day after Russian troops began a full-scale invasion on Ukraine, Alex Hawke told the ​​Department of Home Affairs to fast-track Ukrainian visa applications to Australia. The immigration minister added that he was considering options for support through Australia’s humanitarian, skilled, student, and other visa programs.

“During the course of these discussions I received valuable feedback, particularly about the types of support community leaders believe is most necessary and relevant, and this will be considered during our ongoing planning,” Hawke said.

Hawke thanked the Ukrainian community leaders for their ‘valuable feedback’ and said he would consult further with stakeholders in the days and weeks ahead.

“All of Australia stands with the Ukrainian community in Australia and around the world at this distressing time,” the minister said.

On Tuesday the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison told a press conference he believed the economic, diplomatic and defence response from the international community to Vladimir Putin’s actions were stronger than even the Russian government anticipated. He said Australia has committed USD $50 million to provide lethal and non-lethal defensive support to Ukraine.

“We’re talking missiles, we’re talking ammunition, we’re talking supporting them in their defence of their own homeland in Ukraine, and we’ll be doing that in partnership with NATO.  

“Our goal is to impose the most significant costs on the Russian government that we possibly can as a clear warning to anyone else who would seek to engage in such unlawful acts of aggression and violence through an invasion of that nature,” the pm said. 

Australia will send another USD $25 million as part of an initial humanitarian aid contribution for international organisations providing shelter, food, medical care, water and education support to Ukraine’s displaced population. 

Morrison said all outstanding visa applications from Ukrainian nationals in Australia had been processed and the government was processing as a top priority about 100 applications from Ukrainians daily.

“They’re visa applications across the entire migration program – for temporary visas on skills, education visas and family reunion visas. They’re getting the stamp, and they’ll be able to come to Australia. 

“For some of those who are on temporary visas, their intention will be different. They will want to come to Australia for a period of time, and I have no doubt they will want to return to their home country. [Ukraine is] where their family is, that’s where their lives are, and we want to ensure that those things are not taken from them. And so where we are able to provide that temporary refuge, then we will be seeking to do just that with many other countries around the world,” Morrison said.


READ MORE:

More than a pipe dream – What could have been done to stop Putin’s bloody attack on Ukraine?

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