‘Tough but broken’: Maryam’s long road to family reunion

29 April 2023

Family reunion - stock image
Stock image

For Maryam, family is everything. She is a dedicated mother who has worked hard to raise her son, 13-year- old Mazyar (not his real name), who enjoys going to school and playing sports.

There are few other joys in life for Maryam and Mazyar, whose family has not always been this small. Maryam embarked on a life-changing journey 10 years ago, seeking the safety of Australian shores and looking to give Mazyar a better life.

‘You have a life and a family, but one day you pack your life in a suitcase and go,’ she recalls her journey to Australia.

Maryam and her son spent three months in immigration detention on Christmas Island before the government deemed them eligible for a protection visa. But instead of being granted permanent protection, they received temporary protection visas. Her visa excluded the right to apply for her family to join her in the safety of Australia.

‘In my worst nightmares I would not have imagined that I would go through all of this alone, but I have,’ Maryam recalls the past decade of her life raising Mazyar.

In all this time, Maryam had difficulty applying for permanent jobs, getting a mortgage, or doing anything that requires the certainty of permanent life in Australia. ‘You can’t feel that you’re part of the community. You feel you’re being discriminated if you don’t have a permanent residency or citizenship because you can’t even apply for the job.’

Maryam and her son were amongst the more than 19,000 people who were granted Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) or Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEV) that

denied people family reunion. The result was mental anguish and psychological harm to thousands who had to live in uncertainty and isolation. It was not any easier on their families, who have had to live in danger overseas.

Middle-aged people grew old without watching their children grow into adolescence and adulthood, and children grew up without their parents or other family members. On separate sides of the world, families lived in danger, uncertainty, and anguish.

It’s been uncertainty...not knowing if you can see your family, when you can see your family. This entire decade, I’ve been thinking about my family every day. It has affected almost every aspect of people’s lives who are in this situation...work, study, people who have been separated from their immediate family members like kids, wives, partners, parents and siblings. My son and I have been alone, with no support from any of my family members. My parents, my siblings.

Mazyar missed out on playing with his cousins and being around his aunts, uncles and grandparents. A decade of separation in time and space is just too long for a 13-year- old to hold onto whatever memories he had or sustain affectionate relationships.

‘Sometimes he’s shy to talk to them,’ Maryam describes Mazyar’s relationship with his family in Iran. ‘He doesn’t even know who his family are…he can’t even remember any face.’

But good news came last February when the government announced that TPV and SHEV visa holders like Maryam will be granted permanent visas and allowed to apply for family reunion. It was welcome news for Maryam and thousands of others who had lived in uncertainty. They could now plan their lives, apply for permanent jobs, and think about mortgages.

All of it was good – it was the start of healing decade- long scars. But it left unaddressed an important source of pain for people on temporary visas: they are still a long time away from reunion with their loved ones because the Government did not provide for expedited pathways for family reunion.

The complication is both related to cost and time. TPV and SHEV holders who become permanent residents cannot apply for family reunion using the humanitarian pathway, which is free. The regular family pathway is not just costly – visa applications for a partner are $8,085 and for each adult child $4,045 – they can also take years to process.

As a result, families like Maryam’s must pay thousands of dollars in visa application fees and could still wait for years before seeing their loved ones. Some will struggle to pay the fees, others will suffer through the

additional years of separation – many will struggle with both.

JRS Australia has been advocating for expedited and affordable family reunion pathways in light of the decade of separation that Australia has forced TPV and SHEV holders to endure.

‘I tried to put all the pressure on me so that Mazyar doesn’t feel like he’s being discriminated, that we cannot have things that others can,’ Maryam said. ‘We never went on a holiday. All I did was to try to pay the bills.’

Maryam and Mazyar have shown extraordinary strength and resilience despite many difficult years. ‘Even though it has been a very challenging journey, it made me a different person: tough but broken.’

Expedited and affordable family reunion pathways can help heal past scars, make families whole again and give them a fair start as new Australian permanent residents. And JRS will continue to fight for fairness and justice for these families.