A group of academics is urging the Federal Government to grant humanitarian protection visas to a small cohort of gifted students from Myanmar who have been left stranded in Australia since completing their studies in 2020. The students have not been able to return to their home country following the military coup in February 2021. The students had received funds to study at Australian universities under the Australia Awards program. However, a condition of the program requires them to return to Myanmar on completion of their degree, or pay the cost of the degree if they do not return.
The Department of Home Affairs previously intervened, putting the students on temporary three-month visas. The academics say that because it is not safe for the students to go back to Myanmar, they should be allowed to remain in Australia indefinitely. Director of the Myanmar Research Centre at The Australian National University (ANU) Associate Professor Nick Cheesman said he and other academics, who research Myanmar and have instructed or worked with the students, will submit a letter to the new Minister of Home Affairs, Clare O’Neil, this week.
The signatories are calling on the government to grant the students humanitarian protection visas and waive the requirement to repay the cost of their scholarship. The letter notes that some of the students have actively participated in efforts to oppose military dictatorship, including civil servants who have gone on strike or quit their jobs. Other students have been employees of international organisations working in Myanmar.
“This is a great opportunity for the new government to act compassionately and sensibly, in everyone’s best interests,” Associate Professor Cheesman said.
“These are exceptionally gifted students who have a lot to contribute to Australia, and to a future democratic Myanmar. We are optimistic that the incoming minister will make the right decision.”
The letter, signed by 24 academics from ANU, the University of NSW and six other Australian universities , argues that any attempts to repatriate the students to Myanmar may also violate international law.
“We call on you as incoming Minister for Home Affairs to prioritise the situation of these alumni so they do not have to endure any more uncertainty and precariousness, and so that they might make a full and lasting contribution to Australia,” it says.
FOR INTERVIEW: Associate Professor Nick Cheesman Director, ANU Myanmar Research Centre, [email protected]
FOR MEDIA ASSISTANCE: Michael Weaver on +61 459 852 243 or ANU Media on +61 2 6125 7979 or at [email protected]