Just two weeks ago, Afaf Sinada was shopping around in Melbourne for curtains, paintings and presents to bring back home to her family in Sudan.
- Visitors from Sudan are stuck in Australia as conflict engulfs their home country
- Permanent visas can take up to five years to process and intake is capped at 12,000 a year
- The government has urged temporary visa holders to apply for extensions
But after the outbreak of violence and civil unrest in Sudan her flight home was cancelled, leaving her scrambling to find a way to stay in Australia.
She arrived in Australia four months ago to meet her granddaughter for the first time, while visiting her son and daughter-in-law, and was due to fly back home on Tuesday.
“There is no way to come back [to Sudan], I have no options,” Mrs Sinada said.
“[In Sudan] we are having a decent life and house, but now we can’t have the same life.”
Mrs Sinada’s daughter-in-law, Sara Sinada, is desperate for the Australian government to give more streamlined options to protect her family.
Ms Sinada’s mother is also visiting along with her mother-in-law, and she’s concerned her family will be stuck in limbo.
“It was meant to be a lovely visit, and now we’re in a very bad position where there is no airport that’s functioning in Sudan,” Ms Sinada said.
Sudanese Community Association of Victoria president Mohamed Salih said many Australians were in the same situation as Ms Sinada with visiting family.
“It’s difficult to estimate… [but] we know this impacts a lot of people,” he said.
“Those people came here on family visit visas with the intention to leave. However, now they don’t have anywhere else to go.”
The government has urged temporary visa holders to apply for an extension and apply to waive the “no further stay condition” where necessary.
Mr Salih said temporary visas didn’t give the community security or the right to work, and he wanted to see the government offer further support to Sudanese nationals and make the process easier for them to stay in Australia.
Since the violence began in Sudan, close to 600 people are estimated to have been killed and 4,500 have been injured.
Those who remain in the country fear for their lives in the power struggle between the army chief and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) head, who had shared control of government after a 2021 coup but fell out over a planned transition to civilian rule.
Tens of thousands of Sudanese have fled their homes, but those still in the country are struggling to access food, water, and medical supplies.
Calls for government to follow Ukraine model
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s principal solicitor Hannah Dickinson said the government needed to “provide security for people in the community now”.
Ms Dickinson said the option to apply for an extended temporary visa was not accessible to everyone due to eligibility and, even if approved, it left Sudanese people unable to work.
“The possibility of extension, as suggestion by the government, is legally complex and may not be open to many in the community. It’s not an adequate solution,” Ms Dickinson said.
She suggested people seek legal advice and said free legal services were available.
Ms Sinada said her mother-in-law had a business in Sudan, and she wanted the opportunity to continue her working life here too.
“We want everyone who’s stranded here to not just take from [Australia], but also contribute to its welfare,” Ms Sinada said.
When violence broke out in Ukraine, the Australian government offered numerous special conditions to Ukrainian refugees, as well as a rapid response and speeding up visa processing times.
Ms Dickinson said the Australian government needed to give Sudanese nationals special options too.
“We saw in situations like Afghanistan and Ukraine simple options that were straight forward to prevent return to severe harm,” Ms Dickinson said.
“We need to see a consistent effective response, no matter where a person is coming from.”
Ms Dickinson said the government could also create a dedicated team to help speed up processing of Sudanese visas.
“It can’t wait because it’s having an intense impact on the community now,” she said.
Visa applicants risk being stuck in limbo
Carina Ford Immigration Lawyer Leah Perkins said there are further options for Sudanese nationals who are currently residing in Australia, but they can be confusing and complicated to navigate.
Their options include applying for an extension to their temporary visitor visas or applying for a Permanent Protection Visa (PPV).
While applicants wait on a decision for a protection visa, they are usually able to work, and access Medicare and government support payments.
But Ms Perkins said the wait times are long and the government could consider speeding up processing times for applicants from specific countries.
“It can take up to 5 years to process a Permanent Protection Visa, so those people will really be living in Australia in limbo not really knowing their status,” Ms Perkins said.
She also said the intake for PPV’s was capped at around 12,000 for offshore applications and about 5,000 for on-shore.
Ms Perkins said in the past during overseas conflicts, the government had allocated some visas for people from specific countries or increased intake for some nationals based on special circumstances.
“It’s up to the government to decide its priorities in terms of specific allocations for specific crisis,” she said.
Sudanese community anxiously awaits response
Mr Salih and Ms Sinada said they had both been in meetings with government officials in recent days and felt hopeful there would be some resolutions soon.
But Mr Salih said the most important thing was for his community to receive support now.
“We would like to see internally within the Department of Home Affairs … that the visa extensions and the No Further Stay waiver is being processed on time,” he said.
The department did not respond to the ABC’s requests as to whether the government is considering any special visa options or priority processing for Sudanese nationals.
Ms Sinada, who arrived in Australia six years ago on a skilled migration visa with her husband, said she and her husband had both been contributing members of the Australian community and felt they deserved support.
She hopes the Australian government understands the crisis people in the Sudanese community are in.
“We’re hoping for a quick response, disasters require a quick response,” she said.
“This is not just a Sudan crisis, this is a human crisis, and every human deserves the right to a decent life.”