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Newsletter for 25 July 2017 Rural Australians for Refugees Bellingen and Nambucca Districts

Candlelit vigil report

Next Roadside Demo - Coffs Base Hospital Thursday July 27th 2:30pm
Next Market Stall - Valla Beach Sat 5th August
The costs of running Manus and Nauru

Candlelit vigil report

Notwithstanding the biting wind  last Wednesday evening, more than 40  people participated in our candlelit vigil by the Bellinger river to mark the four years since the then-prime minister Kevin Rudd announced that “any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia.” Since then, untold suffering has been inflicted on men, women and children who  fled oppression and violence in their homelands to seek safe haven on our shores. In spite of the consistent revelations of  physical, sexual and mental abuse , our government remains shamefully unmoved. People have died whilst in the care of the Australian government.
At the vigil, we held a minute’s silence to remember the six men who have died whilst in the care of our government, and we heard the moving accounts of four men on Manus Island – Imran, Amir, Madu and Naseem – all of whom have been locked away for the past four years.
Imran writes: “I have lived with fear and sadness for the last four years. But the worst part is being without hope. Wasting away without a glimpse of hope for the future.”
Madu writes: “ I came to Australia for safety- I came to seek safety. I suffered a lot when I was in Burma. I escaped but now I am here and still suffering. I still have hopes and dreams. I want to study.”
Naseem writes: “ The last four years.... Really I have no words to describe how we’ve suffered. Every minute, every second, every night, we die a little bit.”
Amir writes: “The worst part about being here is the disempowerment. You have no control over your life. The system is implemented this way to make you suffer. To take away your power and your hope.”
You can read their full accounts on our blog. To access the blog, just click on the link at the foot of this newsletter.

Roadside demonstration: Thursday  27th July : Coffs harbour, 2.30 to 4.00 pm

Our next roadside demonstration is this Thursday, 27th July in Coffs Harbour. You will find us by the Pacific Highway, opposite the Base hospital. It would be great to have a good turn out on what is forecast to be a sunny day. Please try to join us if you can, and remind the community that many Australians continue to oppose the government’s cruel asylum policies. We have lots of banners and placards to share, but we do need a few more willing hands to wave them aloft.

Next market stall: Valla Beach, Saturday 5th August from 9.00 am until 1.30 pm

A reminder that we have our next market stall coming up soon on 5th August.  If you can lend a helping hand for an hour or two, particularly from 10.00 am onwards, then please let Mike know by emailing him at :

The cost of running the two offshore detention centres

Figures released under recent Senate estimates questioning reveal that our government has spent a staggering $5 billion building and running the detention centres on Manus and Nauru over the past four years. It has cost the Australian taxpayer roughly $2 million for each of the asylum seekers who have languished in these hell holes for the past four years. This does not include the huge cost of the naval blockade to ensure that asylum seeker boats are turned back, usually to Indonesia. And there is no end in sight as yet for the 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers who are still awaiting their fate. It goes without saying that all these people could have been resettled in Australia long ago at a fraction of the cost. Instead, we have broken their spirits and destroyed their lives, simply to keep them out of sight for political ends. We must surely keep up our efforts to bring about change.

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UNHCR Statement - Australia must end harmful practice of offshore processing

From: UNHCR Broadcast
Sent: Monday, 24 July 2017 11:29:24 AM
To: All Staff at Headquarters and in the Field
Subject: UNHCR Statement - 24 July 2017 - Australia must end harmful practice of offshore processing

Geneva, 24 July 2017
Statement by Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Australia must end harmful practice of offshore processing

Australia’s policy of offshore processing in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, which denies access to asylum in Australia for refugees arriving by sea without a valid visa, has caused extensive, avoidable suffering for far too long.

Four years on, more than 2,000 people are still languishing in unacceptable circumstances. Families have been separated and many have suffered physical and psychological harm.

In light of this dire humanitarian situation, last November UNHCR exceptionally agreed to help with the relocation of refugees to the United States following a bilateral agreement between Australia and the US. We agreed to do so on the clear understanding that vulnerable refugees with close family ties in Australia would ultimately be allowed to settle there.

UNHCR has recently been informed by Australia that it refuses to accept even these refugees, and that they, along with the others on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, have been informed that their only option is to remain where they are or to be transferred to Cambodia or to the United States.

This means, for example, that some with serious medical conditions, or who have undergone traumatic experiences, including sexual violence, cannot receive the support of their close family members residing in Australia.

To avoid prolonging their ordeal, UNHCR has no other choice but to endorse the relocation of all refugees on Papua New Guinea and Nauru to the United States, even those with close family members in Australia. 

There is no doubt these vulnerable people, already subject to four years of punishing conditions, should be reunited with their families in Australia.  This is the humane and reasonable thing to do.

The Australian government’s decision to deny them this possibility is contrary to the fundamental principles of family unity and refugee protection, and to common decency.
UNHCR fully endorses the need to save lives at sea and to provide alternatives to dangerous journeys and exploitation by smugglers. But the practice of offshore processing has had a hugely detrimental impact. There is a fundamental contradiction in saving people at sea, only to mistreat and neglect them on land. 

Australia has a proud humanitarian tradition, manifested in its support for overseas aid and its longstanding refugee resettlement programme. I urge Australia to bring an immediate end to the harmful practice of offshore processing, offer solutions to its victims, for whom it retains full responsibility, and work with us on future alternatives that save lives at sea and provide protection to people in need.
At a time of record levels of displacement globally, it is crucial that all States offer protection to survivors of war and persecution, and not outsource their responsibilities to others. Refugees, our fellow human beings, deserve as much.

Approximately 2,500 refugees and asylum-seekers have been forcibly transferred by Australia to ‘offshore processing’ facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru since the introduction of the current policy in 2013. Of these, some 1,100 remain in Nauru and 900 in Papua New Guinea.
Following the Australia-US bilateral agreement on relocation, UNHCR has referred more than 1,100 refugees to the US over the past eight months. Another 500 people are still waiting for the outcome of the refugee status determination processing being carried out by authorities in PNG and Nauru, under the Australian arrangement.

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{ The UNHCR Broadcast mailbox is used only to distribute UNHCR All-staff messages.This mailbox does not receive replies or messages. For any queries on internal communications please send your mail to: - La boîte e-mail UNHCR Broadcast sert uniquement à diffuser les messages destinés à l'ensemble du personnel de l'UNHCR. Vous ne recevrez aucune réponse de cette adresse. Pour toute demande de communication interne envoyer votre message à: }
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RACS - His Parents don't know he's in Nauru

“His parents don’t know he’s in Nauru” 
Sarah Dale, Principal Solicitor, RACS

This week marked four years since the detention regime of offshore processing was announced by the Federal government. Men, women and children have been in Nauru or on Manus Island for four years living in torturous limbo.

Sarah represents 24 teenage boys who are currently in Nauru. Initially, following their arrival on Christmas Island, the boys had been detained in the Australian detention centre, but then, suddenly, in the middle of the night, they were dragged from their beds and taken to Nauru by force. These boys have spent the most significant years of their lives languishing in tents, fearing for their safety.

In today's news from Manus Island, we have heard of cruel methods being used to force people from the regional processing centre and into the transit centre in town as the compound is being shut down in October. Power is being turned off. Drinking water is stored in direct sun, chairs are being removed. People are afraid to move to the transit centre in town because they feel it is unsafe. Refugees have already been violently attacked.  

There is so much uncertainty, they are defenceless and afraid.

We still don’t know what the future holds for these desperate men on Manus or for the 24 teenage boys we represent in Nauru, and all the others who wait to see if they can be moved to the US. To date, not one person has yet been resettled.

At the candlelight vigil this week, alongside so many other supporters, we mourned the destructive nature of this regime and called for the immediate evacuation of these men, women and children and for the government to bring them to safety on Australian shores. 

It is empowering to see so many Australian people turn up on a cold night to show they care about the people asking for our help.

Together, with the support of people like you, we are giving a stronger voice to those seeking asylum, not just in Australia, but in offshore detention.

Keep fighting alongside us, and please continue to show your support so we can make a difference.

Tanya Jackson-Vaughan
Executive Director


Letter to Editor Sydney Morning Herald - asylum seeker vigil in Bellingen 19 July 2017

Letter to the Editor: Sydney Morning Herald

Dear editor,

I was born during the second war in which my father died before my birth. As a child I remember stories of my idea of Australian values; mateship, bravery, humour in awful circumstances, looking out for each other. 

I also remember a story during the battles against the Japanese in PNG, towards the end of the war. Two young soldiers were carrying a wounded Japanese prisoner to safety. One gave the prisoner a puff of his cigarette. The Japanese was astounded at the compassionate treatment he was receiving at the hands of these Australians.

Last evening with my husband, I attended a candle lit vigil on the fourth anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s statement that no asylum seekers attempting to get to Australia by boat will ever be settled here. 

In the intervening four years, in the detention centres we are responsible for on impoverished island neighbour’s land, five men have died due to violence and lack of adequate medical treatment. 

There are some 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers still languishing on Nauru and Manus, including 169 children. $5 billion have been spent to keep these people fleeing persecution off our soil, and this equates to spending $500,000 per year on each asylum seeker in order to keep them out of our sight.

In the past we fought with mateship, and looking out for each other. How are these values displayed in our current policy: making prisoners of those who come to us for help?

Malcolm Turnbull, is this your idea of Australian values? Is this anybody’s idea of Australian values? If not, let’s get together and make change.

Patricia Abell



Letter to editor Bellingen Courier Sun - asylum seeker vigil - 19 July 2017

Dear Editor ,

Shining a Light in Bellingen

Last Wednesday 19th July marked 4 years since the Rudd Government declared that asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat would be held in offshore detention and would never be settled in Australia. To protest against the cruelty and inhumanity of this  policy more than 50 candle lit vigils were held all around Australia . The aim was to highlight  present government policy where innocent families are kept in desperate conditions on remote islands with no prospect of rebuilding their shattered lives.

We need to remember that Australia’s intervention in conflicts overseas has played a  major  part in creating the present refugee crisis and so the least we can do is to show humanity to those families affected , many of whom have fled their homelands in fear of their lives . The present policy costs two million dollars to keep one asylum seeker for 4 years on  Nauru or Manus . The Australian taxpayer has footed a bill of over $5 billion to keep a small group of asylum seekers in offshore detention for the past 4 years. Just imagine how much more productive it would have  been to bring these people to Australia . It would cost a small fraction of this to give them due care and assistance. Let’s also remember that many of them are professional people who would have much to offer our communities here in Australia. We have obligations under the International Treaty of Human Rights to assist these refugees as many other countries around the world are currently doing.

Our local refugee support group, RAR , held its own well-attended candle lit vigil to join with many hundreds of others  shining a light on this dark chapter of Australian history .   These unsustainable and cruel policies need to change.

Marlene Griffin.

Valla Beach .

The photo shows our local vigil held on Wed 19th July by the river in Bellingen.

Four years too many - Stories read out at the Bellingen Vigil on 19 July 2017

Story 1                               

 IMRAN    AGE 23
I love writing. I wasn’t a writer before I came here, in fact I didn’t really speak any English. But after about a week of being on Manus, I went to a class. There was a teacher there who told me to find something to do to help get through each day. So I started writing every single day. At the beginning I had no idea what I was writing. Writing was more about survival. But after a few months I realized I was writing my autobiography – a book about who I am, where I come from and why I am here. After four years, my book is almost finished. But I have not yet written the last chapter. The last chapter will be about the country where I go to in the future. I am saving the last chapter for that.

 In 2014, during the riots, I came very close to dying. I saw Reza Barati killed. My room was the first the locals attacked. I tried to escape the compound but as soon as we left our room, the local people ran for us. I hadn’t slept peacefully since arriving on Manus. But it got worse after that. I have lost many things in the last four years. I’ve also lost my father - who disappeared in Burma. The rest of my family escaped but he has been missing for over six months. It is the most devastating thing that has ever happened in my life. I have lived with fear and sadness for the last four years. But the worst part is being without hope. Wasting away without a glimpse of hope for the future. Our hope has been destroyed again and again. The Australian government has no proper plan. They have deliberately made us feel like this is the end of the world. For me, I would love to study and I would like to have a family. My father’s dream was for me to become a doctor. If I can, I would try to become a doctor. But right now, things are getting worse. They’re about to close the centre but we have nowhere to go. If Malcolm Turnbull was in front of me I would tell him that I am just a young person who left my country because I was persecuted. I came to your country with an open heart - I have been stateless for my whole life. I would give my sweat and blood for your country.. We deserve the right to safety. We should not be left in PNG. I’d like to thank many people in Australia for their support over the last four years. Because of their unconditional love and unwavering support, we have survived. They have never been to Manus  but they know we are just the same – people, like them .

Story 2
         AMIR  AGE 23
When I was a little kid – just five or six years old – I had my own bike. I loved it but one day the chain came off. I had a look and was able to fix it myself, I remember feeling so proud. Ever since, I have taken pride in being a bit of a repairman. By the time I was about 12 I was always carrying a little bag of tools with me wherever I went . Throughout my life there have been a lot of things I have had to teach myself. I was only 14 when I had to leave my country. I escaped and made it to Malaysia all by myself, leaving my family behind. I was on my own and for the first time I had to cook for myself. There I was at 15, just making it up.
 Many people would say that your early 20s are the best years of your life. But for me, I’ve been forced to spend these years in the Manus prison. The worst part about being here is the disempowerment. You have no control over your life. You don’t get to decide where you sleep, where you shower, what you eat or even the toilet that you use. The system is implemented this way to make you suffer. To take away your power and your hope. For me, the worst moment of the last four years was when we were all on hunger strike. We felt humiliated and like they were breaking us. So we went on hunger strike. They sent in the Wilson guards. They picked us up off the ground. They forced us to stand and they took us to solitary confinement in Chauka. That was the first time I found out about that secret place. So much has happened in his life in four years, but I thought to myself, “Where are you? What has happened in your life? You are just a piece of flesh in the corner of a cage. Not an identity, just a number.”

 I feel like everything the Australian government is doing is designed to force us to go home or go into PNG. They are squeezing us out of the camp, but not to the airport where they will take us to safety, they are squeezing us into the PNG community where we are not safe. It’s hard to have ambition and hopes and dreams right now. If I ever get out of here, I’ll need some time to get back to who I am. I will need to go to a peaceful place, a sanctuary. My dream has always been to be a useful person – to contribute to the world. Really I want to be a human rights lawyer because I believe in a world that is fair to everyone and where all people have rights.

story 3

MADU       AGE 21
I’ve always been a shy person. I’m friendly, but I am shy. Movies were always my escape. I was always watching movies as a kid. I saw my first movie when I was 7; it was Rambo. Since then I haven’t been able to stop. My mum and dad were always telling me off for spending too much time watching movies and not enough time studying. It’s hard to get movies here, so I listen to a lot of music instead. Music makes me happy. It’s my escape. I love pop music; right now my favourite song is “What Do You Mean?” by Justin Bieber.
 So much has happened in the time I’ve been stuck here. The hardest moment was when my father passed away. He was attacked and badly beaten. He was taken to hospital and was there for two months - I thought he would get better. He died at 12pm on 18 March 2015, but I couldn’t call my mum for a week. I couldn’t even see him. I couldn’t see his face or say goodbye, I couldn’t even hug my mother. I couldn’t do anything at all. It was the most painful moment of my life. When I was sent here I was only 17. I was a child. When I turned 21, my friends organised something to celebrate. But the truth is I have only had bad experiences in here. These are the years in my life when I’m meant to be going to university and building my future. But I’ve been here for four years and I can’t do anything .The situation here is getting worse and worse. They have shut down classrooms. Closed the gym. They tell us every day that we can’t stay here. They say go back to your country or go to the Transit Centre. But we aren’t safe out there in the community. That is the worst thing – they are trying to push us somewhere where we will not be safe. I don’t know why they are doing this to us.

 I think some people will get to go to America, but not everyone. I’m frightened that I won’t be picked to go to America. I don’t know what they will decide, but we can’t stay here. I came to Australia for safety - I came to seek safety. I suffered a lot when I was in Burma. I escaped but now I am here and still suffering. I still have hopes and dreams. I want to study. I would like to study civil engineering because I’m good at maths. On my first day in safety, I would call my mum. I would call my mum to tell her that I finally have my freedom. My mum has been waiting a long time for me to be free.

Story 4

NASEEM      AGE 23
My childhood dream was to be a famous cricketer. I was a pretty good medium pace bowler. In Pakistan I was studying a Bachelor of Economics before I had to flee. I also worked for an NGO. We worked in education, health and anti-drug programs. I was really passionate about our work on women’s education – helping young girls to go to school .There was a high rate of illiteracy and women did not go to school. I remember going to school and seeing the look in the eyes of my little sister and my cousin. I could see they wanted to go to school too but my community didn’t give girls that opportunity. I wanted to change that. My little sister has always been so brilliant – much smarter than me. Now that she is able to go to school she has been top of her class every year. That’s why I worked for this NGO, but our work started to cause problems with the Taliban and that is one of the reasons I was forced to flee.
The last four years… Really I have no words to describe how we’ve suffered. Every minute, every second, every night, we die a little bit. I have missed many Christmas celebrations, when we cook food and the whole family comes together. The worst moment of the last four years was when my friend Kamil died. I will never forget speaking to his wife and mother. They were just crying and crying. His little daughter came on the phone and said she to me that she needed her papa’s body. Her voice took my sleep away from me for a long time. From the beginning, they have tried to break us. When the Taliban tell you they will kill you - you know you are going to die. But here in this centre, you just wait with no hope, and get told to go back home.

 I have missed out on so many things over the last four years – good things and bad things. My cousin died in bomb blasts. My uncle was shot in front of my house. I didn’t get to say goodbye to them. Manus is always a hard situation. People are so stressed and depressed. There is always a lot of pressure. The Australian government wants to close the centre but we don’t know where we will go. There is the US deal but we don’t know what will happen. Personally, I have family and friends in Australia. I have cousins in Melbourne and Sydney who are Australian citizens. So I want to go to Australia. I would also go to America, but I have not heard anything yet. We  don't know when anything will happen. Or if anything will happen. We are just waiting.