THE lives of 60 asylum seekers in Colac are in limbo as the incoming Coalition government decides what do with thousands of people across Australia waiting on bridging visas.
The families, most of them from Iran, have been living in Colac for more than six weeks while the government assesses their claims for permanent residency.
But the election of the Coalition government and the hardline policies announced over the campaign such as the introduction of temporary protection visas (TPVs) are causing angst for families who have been placed in the community by Geelong-based group Diversitat.
Diversitat chief executive Michael Martinez said there was a high level of uncertainty and he hoped the new government would quickly state its intentions.
“These people already have enough stress,” Mr Martinez said. “The situation in Colac is that we’ve got people who now have leases to homes and they are getting support in the community.
“The best scenario from my perspective is that we can get a clear direction so we know what is going to happen.”
Mr Martinez said Diversitat had considered rolling out a similar program in Warrnambool but had been forced to shelve the ideas because of government policy changes over the past 12 months.
“We have been looking at Warrnambool and we’re still keen to do something in Warrnambool in the longer term.”
Diversitat has another 450 asylum seekers on its books across Geelong.
The Coalition has signalled that it will reintroduce the Howard government policy of temporary protection visas for new arrivals but will also apply them to a 30,000 backlog of asylum seekers on bridging visas.
Critics of TPVs say it locks asylum seekers into poverty under rules that make them unable to work and dependent on handouts.
Colac Otway Shire mayor Lyn Russell said she had spoken with one family who feared for their safety if they were returned home — a possibility under TPVs.
“The potential is they could be sent back home or sent back to a detention centre,” Cr Russell said.
“Mr Abbott will be visiting Indonesia very shortly so once he has there might be some more certainty about what’s going to happen.”
Cr Russell said about 20 people wanted to remain in the community, while Diversitat had been looking to settle another 40 people to replace those who intended to join family in other parts of the country.
She said parts of the community had banded together to support the families.
“The CWA have been knitting jumpers and the schools have been providing uniforms. It’s not so much been the charities but the community groups and I congratulate Colac for doing a fantastic job,” she said.