Chris Bowen Interview/ Sandra Kaltoum

Recently, I interviewed the Honourable Chris Bowen, Minister for Immigration and Member for McMahon. We spoke about immigration policy decisions and his recent trip to Lebanon.
I asked about the recent comment by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, that called conditions in Nauru unbearable. Minister Bowen said that the Commissioner’s comments did not reflect the true circumstances in Nauru. He emphasised that the overwhelming moral obligation on the current government is to save lives and that is what current policies strive to achieve.
There was a recent government decision to allow refugees to settle in Australia on bridging visas as they waited for the processing of their Australian residency applications. Mr Bowen believed that the Malaysian Arrangement would have prevented this outcome. He also said that the people on these bridging visas would not jump the queue and would have to wait up to five years for their application to be heard in accordance with international waiting times. These refugees will not be granted temporary working visas. “People smugglers are selling the right to work in Australia and granting temporary working visas would further encourage them to continue this practice,” he said.
I also mentioned the recent reopening of the detention centre in Tasmania. Mr Bowen said that it would relieve some of the pressure in other detention centres and that it was a positive decision, supported by the Tasmanian Government who wanted it reopen because of the financial wealth it generates for the local economy.
Mr Bowen said that he had a fantastic time in Lebanon and met with the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker and various other officials. He said he was glad he made the decision to go despite the assassination of the late Mr Wissam Al-Hassa right before his departure. “Friends are there in times of need. I was glad to go to Lebanon, express my condolences and offer my support,” he said.
Mr Bowen met with religious leaders from the Shiite and Sunni faiths and, although the Maronite Patriach and Melkite Bishop were not in Lebanon at the time, he enjoyed his visit to Our Lady of Lebanon Church. He payed respects at the grave of the late Mr Rafiq Al-Harriri and was one of the first Western officials to visit the grave of the late Mr Wissam Al-Hassa.
The Minister visited a Palestinian refugee camp just outside Beirut. He said that the conditions were very devastating and that the refugee situation in Lebanon was very difficult. “Almost 30,000 people in half a kilometre is clearly indicative of the difficult situation Lebanese authorities are facing,” he said. When asked what could be done to assist he replied, “The Australian Government, and other western countries, need to assist to resettle Lebanon’s refugees in Western countries.”
“I was pleased to have an opportunity to express to the Lebanese President the positive contribution Lebanese Australians have made to Australia”, Mr Bowen said. He was also grateful to have had the opportunity to express his thanks to Lebanon for supporting Australia’s bid for a United Nations Security Council seat from the very beginning.
Mr Bowen also visited Lebanese villages. “During my stay I was fortunate enough to visit Becharre, Hadshit, Al-Minia and Kfersghab. The villages were very beautiful and I enjoyed my time in Lebanon very much,” he said.



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