The safe haven visa policy: a compassionate intervention with cruel intentions
Additional Publication Information
Paper access via website Historians committed to policy revision need to unpack popular assumptions surrounding the history of Australia’s refugee policy. Further to my last contribution to Australian Policy and History, broadening the approach to histories on refugee policy involves interventions into government programs which have co-opted refugees into a broader debate about Australian national identity. This paper investigates the paradoxical implications of the Safe Haven Visa issued to Kosovar refugees in 1999. The Safe Haven program paved the way for the Howard Government’s Temporary Protection Visa, a policy abolished by the Rudd Government in 2008. The Safe Haven Visa went from being an indicator of the compassion of the Australian people in 1999 to an instrument used by the Federal Government in 2011 to warn refugees to ‘behave themselves’.
There have been three developmental stages in Australia’s refugee visa policy: permanent protection; temporary safe haven; and temporary protection. While the first and last of these three stages have been well documented by historians and other scholars, the second has not. This paper explores the implementation of the Safe Haven Visa policy, shedding light on the ‘turn’ from Permanent Protection Visas (which guaranteed the human rights of refugees) to Temporary Protection Visas (which did not). This ‘turn’ was highly publicised. It was presented to the Australian public as a compassionate response by the Howard Government to the plight of refugees from Kosovo in 1999. As James Jupp commented, the Kosovo refugee crisis not only mobilised the Australian community behind charitable undertakings, it ‘also marked an important shift in refugee policy towards temporary protection rather than permanent settlement’.