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Letter re refugees held in hotels during Corvid-19 pandemic

Dear Minister Tudge,

These are difficult times for the Australian people, and the government deserves credit for the actions that it has taken to date – notwithstanding the Ruby Princess debacle – to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

There remain, however, a number of vulnerable groups who are at
serious risk of contracting the virus and spreading it in the community. I am particularly concerned about the plight of asylum seekers, many of whom are living in crowded detention centres and APODs  where social distancing is well-nigh impossible. The Mantra hotel in Melbourne is a case in point, and was discussed recently in a RN interview with Dr David Isaacs. He explained that these places are inherently unsafe and that the inmates face the real danger of contracting COVID-19. Many of the men in the Mantra hotel have been held there for up to nine months, awaiting, but largely not receiving, the medical care for which they had been evacuated from PNG. This is plainly unacceptable. Dr. Isaacs described the situation as “unforgivable”, and I agree with him.

Could you please explain why the government will not release these people into community detention, where many of them have family, friends and other community members who can help to support them?

Could you please explain why the government chooses to spend up to $350,000 per annum keeping a single person in detention, when they could spend their time in community detention at a fraction of the cost? This is surely a serious and negligent waste of taxpayers’ money. Money which could be used elsewhere to support our communities in these uncertain times.

I urge you to take the necessary and urgent steps to release all asylum seekers currently awaiting medical attention or the determination of their claims for protection into community detention.

Yours sincerely,
Valla Beach, NSW


Bello Nambucca RAR Newsletter 28th April 2020

 Detention Centres are Not Safe Places for Refugees
There is little doubt that pressure is now growing to persuade the government to release the people currently held in onshore detention in Australia. There are more than 1,400 of them, and it is surely now time for the government to take action, in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure that these people are safe from harm. Other countries have taken action to release asylum seekers from locked detention into the community, in recognition of the fact that crowded detention centres, where social distancing is impossible, are dangerous places at this point in time.

The Mantra hotel in Melbourne, which is being used as an Alternative Place of Detention (APOD), is a case in point, and it has attracted a lot of publicity in the past two weeks.  A group of refugee advocates staged a drive-by peaceful protest, with placards in their car windows advocating an end to the detention of the asylum seekers, who mostly comprise men who have been transferred from PNG for urgent medical treatment.

The organiser of the peaceful protest was arrested at his home before the protest, had his house searched, his computer and other devices confiscated, and was held at the local police station for a number of hours. He, and all those who participated in the protest, were handed hefty fines on the basis that they were contravening the COVID-19 legislation relating to gatherings.

One of the refugees, Fahad Bandesh, appeared recently on Q and A to plead with the government to allow them to be placed in safe, community detention. He has also been vocal in representing the needs of the refugees staying at the hotel. His reward was to be moved from the Mantra hotel last week, against his will and without his possessions, and is now detained at the Melbourne detention centre (MITA).
Dr David Isaacs spoke out in recent days about the plight of the refugees in the Mantra hotel and other places of detention. He explained to Radio National listeners that these crowded places are inherently unsafe and that there is a real danger that the inmates will contract the COVID virus. He reminded us that many of these men have been cooped up in the hotel for up to nine months, awaiting, but largely not receiving, the medical care for which they had been evacuated from PNG.  He described the situation as “unforgivable”, and a form of torture.  He explained clearly that the men should be released and that they should be in community detention. Many of them have friends and family in the community who could help to take care of them. He also reminded us that this cruel policy is incredibly expensive, costing some $350,000 a year for each refugee!

Could you please consider writing to the acting Minister for Immigration, Alan Tudge, and to your local Federal MP, who for most of us is Pat Conaghan?

Point out to them that crowded detention centres and hotels are not safe places, during this pandemic, to hold asylum seekers and refugees.
Remind them that these people have been held for long periods of time, which is both unnecessary and hugely expensive.
Ask that they be released into community detention as a matter of urgency.
Ask them to reply to the points that you have raised.
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Australians want to open their homes to locked-down refugees. The government should let them : The Guardian

"by Craig Foster

I’ll take them.

At a time when real decisions are being made about social worth, of who will be left out or left behind, it is refugees and asylum seekers along with international students and migrant workers who capture the ugliness of “us and them”.
Working every day in essential services to feed the vulnerable exposes the true nature of our response. Students who prop up our universities, kids whose parents entrusted us with their academic futures and immediate wellbeing, left destitute and hungry. A million migrant workers, who toil to keep the country operating, going without. You’re only good for what you provide to us, after all, we’re not real friends.

But it is not only they who suffer, it’s our own concept of self. A virus that reduces humanity to one, that penetrates all artificial barriers, brutally exposes the differences that we refuse to overcome.

Similarly, the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is not an abstraction that relates to a group of humans here and offshore, it’s central to the very concept of Australia. It’s the true test.

Everything we have done to the thousands of people on Manus and Nauru, in Villawood and Mantra, speaks directly to me, you, us. Do we protect their rights, see ourselves in them, recognise the commonalities between all races, minorities and human beings?
Treating each other well, our families and children, friends and colleagues, doesn’t validate our humanity, that’s easy. Child’s play. There’s social pressure to conform, workplace legislation and anti-discrimination laws to force compliance, our own social and economic interests directly impacted.

The real test is when there’s no social capital, no personal gains to make. When speaking up for marginalised people will cost friends, business, social influence, will we stand by and let people die? Will we pen them for seven years and continue to turn a blind eye?
Now as we, like they, are detained, will we acknowledge the hypocrisy of what we’ve done? While they fled for their lives and we said “that’s not right, they should get in line”. When threatened, we punched on for a bog roll. How exactly did we go with “lines” and “queues” when our loved ones were at risk?

While they sit in small rooms for 23 hours a day, locked up for seven years for no crime, in fact for asserting their human rights, we talk about our mental health and how suffocating it is to be caged. Will we still look away as they rot, day after day, from the inside out?

We talk about using our time to learn, reconnect with family, educate ourselves and prepare for our next assault on the economic dream, when they scream just to walk free, without guards at their door.

And when we assess worth in a stimulus package and talk about keeping others safe by staying home, we’re not talking about everyone, are we? We’ve let prisoners out into the community because they’re us gone wrong, but refugees, who are at the most severe risk with chronic health conditions and compromised immune systems, well, they’re different. Like the students. And migrant workers.

But no, they are us. The truest version. Australia is not Sydney 2000, America’s Cup, our bushfire response, or our togetherness against Covid. We are asylum seekers and refugees, we are the damned because we’ve damned them, we are the medicated because we’ve ruined them. We cannot take pride in the way we help those who reflect us, if at the same time we ruin those who are condemned by the concept of who we purport to be.

Refugees in Port Moresby told me that they imperilled their loved ones’ lives because they believed Australia to be a place of democracy, human rights and of people who care. An El Dorado of egalitarianism. Where people struck out in pursuit of humanitarian gold, and died in the attempt.

I still believe passionately in who we are, and what we sell. I’ll never give up on that dream. But we’ve proved them wrong for seven years. It’s time we proved them right.

Like the 9,900 members of I Have a Room who have offered to house all those detained in immigration centres around the country at severe risk of infection, I will give my house to people that have become our national conscience.

I will fly Mostafa Azimitabar and Farhad Bandesh, two Kurds who’ve endured hell for seven years that we have turned into husks of people and who are my friends, to Sydney at my own expense, house, feed, clothe and take responsibility for them during Covid-19 and recently made this offer to the Australian government.

I’ll pay a bond if necessary, and they’ll live exactly as they should. As my brothers. Family members. As equals.

And I call on the Australian government to release the 1,440 immigration detainees into the care of fellow Australians who feel the same way.

Because that was the vision that you and I inherited for Australia, and for which they risked their lives.


5 questions about temporary protection visas in the age of COVID-19: UNSW Newsroom

COVID-19 is having an impact on everyone around the world, but particularly the most vulnerable.

temporary protection visas and covid-19

 Image: Shutterstock

In Australia, government responses so far have been directed toward protecting public health, and supporting businesses and employees. We asked Sarah Dale, the Centre Director and Principal Solicitor at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), about how this public health crisis is affecting refugees and people seeking asylum who are on temporary visas.

Q1. Who are the refugees and asylum seekers on temporary visas in Australia?


'It’s a place where they try to destroy you': why concentration camps are still with us : The Guardian

"Mass internment camps did not begin or end with the Nazis – today they are everywhere from China to Europe to the US. How can we stop their spread?

One evening in February this year, I watched the Kurdish author Behrouz Boochani give a talk by video link to an audience at Birkbeck, University of London. Boochani, who currently lives in New Zealand, spent four years in Australia’s “regional offshore processing centre” for asylum-seekers on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Australia has pioneered a type of long-term detention for unwanted migrants that is now becoming more common elsewhere in the world. Boochani and his fellow detainees were not merely being held for “processing”, but in harsh conditions intended to act as a deterrent to future travellers. The Australian government forbade journalists to report on the full extent of these conditions, which included the beating and abuse of detainees, and introduced a law threatening doctors and social workers with up to two years in prison if they spoke in public about what they had witnessed.

Boochani, however, smuggled out accounts of life in detention, via text messages sent to his translator by WhatsApp, that were turned into articles for the Guardian and other outlets – as well as a memoir, No Friend But the Mountains. Boochani explained to us how he saw his detention as part of Australia’s – and Britain’s – longer history of treating non-white people as disposable. “It’s worse than a prison,” he said of the Manus camp. “It’s a place where they take your identity and freedom from you, and try to destroy you.” Detainees were given numbers, he said, which the guards used instead of their names; his was MEG45.

The camp on Manus Island was eventually shut down by the Australian government, after widespread public criticism, although its broader asylum policies remain largely the same. For Boochani, writing was not simply a way to expose his conditions and link up with campaigners against detention on the outside, but to challenge the very basis on which the treatment of people like him was justified. “I never use the language and the words that the [Australian] government use,” he said. “I say ‘systematic torture’, I say ‘political prisoner.’” One of the things that gave him hope in confinement, he said, was the fact that animals could wander in and out of the spaces where human freedom was limited – a reminder that the structure which held him was built by people, and could therefore also be dismantled. “Nature,” he said, “always tried to reimpose itself on the prison.”

Read the original The Guardian article