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Newsletter: MORE REFUGEES LEAVE FOR THE USA and other local RAR news

Letter from the Asylum Seekers Centre

We were pleased to receive a thank you letter last week from Frances Rush, the CEO of the ASC, following the receipt of our $2,000 donation.  Frances writes: “Thank you for your generous donation of $2,000 to the Asylum Seekers Centre. The COVID-19 pandemic is creating new challenges for everyone. Your donation will help people seeking asylum who live in our community in Sydney access the vital support they need in this challenging time.
I know that you care about people seeking asylum and will want to continue your support. Now, more than ever, we need to work together to bring everyone with us through this crisis. I would appreciate you staying in touch via our website, Facebook and Twitter to see what’s happening every day and promoting the idea that kindness is viral.”

Notwithstanding the virtual shutdown of international travel in recent times, a group of seven refugees brought to Australia from PNG on medical grounds, together with a group of 35 refugees from Port Moresby, PNG, were flown to the US last week. This brings the total number of refugees resettled in the US to more than 700. A further 65 refugees have been approved for resettlement and are awaiting transfer. There are still approximately 350 asylum seekers and refugees languishing on Nauru and in PNG, more than seven years after seeking asylum in Australia.
Once they arrive in the US, refugees receive support for three months, after which they are expected to fend for themselves. Given that more than 30 million Americans have lost their jobs in recent weeks, and that the country is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the death toll rapidly heading towards 100,000, the prospects for these refugees is less than rosy. All the indications are that their suffering is set to continue, but in a different form.
They should, of course, have been transferred to Australia, where they would have been so much safer.


The present lockdown across Australia has brought into sharp focus the huge importance of the voluntary sector. So many organisations depend on the work of armies of volunteers across the country, and the present crisis has had a significant impact on their ability to deliver vital services.
 The refugee support sector, like so many others, has been severely impacted, both as a result of volunteers being forced to stay at home, and the inability of fundraising groups like ours to raise vital funds to support the sector. The Refugee Advice and Casework Services (RACS) is a good example. They write in their most recent newsletter:

“We miss our bustling office full of legal student volunteers, who take calls from vulnerable people desperate for help from RACS. They provide almost 700 hours of critical front-end support each month!
 We miss the weekly evening “clinics” with our many pro bono lawyers. They generously give over 10,000 hours of their time each year to help us support people fleeing persecution and violence.

And we miss our other incredible volunteers, who hold trivia nights, manage stalls at community fairs, run marathons, provide office support – and help spread the word that refugees and people seeking asylum must be treated with respect. Their tireless energy in advocating for people is incredible!”

Let us hope that, for everyone’s sake, we can get back to some kind of normality soon. We’ll write to you about our tentative plans in the next newsletter.
UNHCR response to the COVID-19 pandemic
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has responded swiftly to the growing crisis in refugee communities across the world. With coronavirus now present in every country, including those that host large refugee and displaced persons, the world’s 71 million refugees and forcibly displaced people are among the most exposed and vulnerable to the threat of the virus. 
Over eighty per cent of the world’s refugees and nearly all of the world’s internally displaced people are hosted in low-to- middle- income countries, some of them hit hard by conflict, hunger, poverty and disease. Many of the forcibly displaced are in camps or densely populated urban areas, often living in inadequate conditions with limited, fragile public health, sanitation facilities and social protection systems.
In a very short space of time, UNHCR has procured and delivered to field operations more than 6.4 million face masks, 850,000 gowns, 3,600 oxygen concentrators, 640 ventilators, over 1,600 housing units and 50 hospital tents. In addition, six tonnes of personal protection equipment (PPE) and medical supplies have been airlifted and US$30 million COVID-19-related cash assistance has been distributed in 65 countries.
We are fortunate indeed to have such an effective international humanitarian body with the expertise and passion to response quickly to crises whenever and wherever they emerge.
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Update from our national RAR committee

Please see below an update from National RAR, which offers a detailed insight into the situation facing refugees and asylum seekers in PNG, together with a human rights update.
11 May 2020
Hello to all RAR Members and Supporters – Welcome to this RAR Update.

I understand many members have a great interest in the situation of refugees detained offshore. We start with an edited version of an April 30 report from Port Moresby by Jason Siwat from Caritas PNG.
Ex-Manus Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Port Moresby

227 persons remain in PNG from the closed Manus Regional Processing Centre. The Government of PNG has given 160 refugee status by while 67 are non-refugees. These 227 men are at different stages on different settlement pathways. Some are being assisted by international agencies, others by Australian groups such as AdsUp Australia (working on Canadian settlement) and the Independent Doctors Network (seeking heath care in Australia).
The Australian government contracts service providers for general support to the men, but the specific and specialist needs of individuals remain. Most live in Port Moresby, housed in several hotels and apartments: one is in Bomana prison. Three are still in Manus.


The coronavirus situation and the government-declared state of emergency (SOE) hugely impacted on the wellbeing of the men and the families four have, particularly for the sick and vulnerable. They have heightened stress and anxiety, especially because most processes became slower and made less progress. This is compounded by the movement restrictions, and the news from home. Nonetheless we continued to reach them as best as we could both in person and by phone.

We supplied hand sanitizers to the city accommodation, and to Bomana prison where one refugee is kept. We have also disseminated information on COVID19 prevention via WhatsApp. We have ordered 240 pieces of reusable masks, which will be distributed from next week.

Though the men’s movements have been restricted, many still access health attention at the Pacific International Hospital, the contracted medical provider. The movement restriction has been lifted temporarily and things are slowly returning to normal.

There was only one reported incident during the SOE period. One man, who is known to have serious mental illness, attempted to attack security guards when they prevented him from leaving the hotel he is staying in.

We support the families of four refugees by providing monthly food vouchers to supplement the allowance they receive from the Australian government. Despite the coronavirus affecting our funding for this, we will try to continue it. Two of the refugee fathers have been accepted for US resettlement, the other two not. We continue to encourage them to take the opportunity to go to the States and settle down and later bring their family members to reunite. We assisted one of the two fathers rejected by the US with startup capital when he started a small business, in partnership with a local businessman, which is now venturing into masks production.


We maintain our advocacy for the men with domestic and international stakeholders. We have written letters to PNG Immigration and the PNG Prime Minister urging regional solutions be explored. We have voiced concerns on several pertinent issues in the media and in other fora. We press the local service providers to ensure adequate support is available.

We engage with the UNHCR, IOM and Independent Doctors Network, among others, plus a good number of individuals in Australia who are working together for these men. Our sharing of information and delivering information to the men has helped on many fronts: we are the only independent source on the ground who work to promote their dignity and wellbeing.


We have been supporting refugees applying for third country resettlement by liaising with UNHCR Canberra office, AdsUp Australia, IOM, PNG Immigration, Independent Doctors Network and several individuals working on this project. Mainly we collect and pass on information from the refugees and message information and updates from UNHCR and others to the refugees and asylum seekers. As needed, we assist in soliciting documents, photos, signatures and contact details from the refugees for AdsUp Australia, which completes Canada refugee applications on their behalf. For people with serious illnesses, we assist in retrieving medical files and sending them to Australia, previously for Medevac and now to the Independent Doctors Network.


Four refugees are in different stages of legal proceedings: two are convicted prisoners, and two are in court processes. Of them, three are in Manus Island, separated from the rest of their friends who are in Port Moresby, while one is being held at the Bomana prison. We barely know about the situations of those in Manus, except for occasional phone calls we have with them, or communications from second party sources. One of them has a chronic kidney issue, while the other two are suffering from severe stress and anxiety, with deteriorating ability to care for their wellbeing. We supplied toiletries to the refugee in Bomana prison.

We have also supported a migrant from Bangladesh whose case is now ongoing at the Supreme Court of PNG. We housed him for two weeks after he was temporarily released following a favourable National Court decision on 16th April 2020.


We know nine men suffer from serious medical and mental illnesses. Some of their conditions are chronic, compounded by the prolonged detention and various stressful experiences that they have gone through. We informed the UNHCR and the Independent Doctors Network about the nine: we are trying to have some or all of them transferred to Australia to receive proper health care.

At least three of these men are in a serious state of mental instability. One was supposed to fly to the US, but was refused because of his mental condition. We tried to have one transferred to Australia on medical grounds, but made little progress despite his medical files being sent to Australia. He is suffering from serious mental health conditions along with issues in his upper body. He is at risk of self-harm.

Generally, most of these men suffer from varying levels of stress, anxiety and other lifestyle diseases that require specialist medical attention outside of PNG. Our one-on-one visits to some of them help them go through this very difficult time of their lives.


Through seven long years, the plight of the ex-Manus refugees and non-refugees has seen little to no improvements. 320 of them have left for the US and a few to other countries, a handful have found jobs in Port Moresby, and one has settled into village life on Manus Island. But many of those who are left in PNG continue to suffer from ongoing detention and serious health problems, particularly the non-refugees. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, through Caritas PNG, has been providing much needed hope and care to those devastated by this Australian offshore policy. We will continue to act with faith for justice and dignity so that they too can one day enjoy the fullness of life that every human person deserves.

Human Rights Update

Internationally, human rights are enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and later United Nations declarations. But Australia has no constitutionally entrenched bill of rights or a national human rights act
The National RAR conference in Wodonga, April 2018, endorsed “The Wodonga Declaration”. Its specific concern was that the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees were not being respected by the Australian Government:
  • There is an urgent need for an Australian Charter of Human Rights which recognises that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
  • We call for the Parliament of Australia to meet, protect and uphold our legal and moral obligations under International Human Rights Conventions and laws. We commit to work together as one until this is achieved.
  • We also suggest a timeline and process and provide the background to the Declaration.
Since then, Marie Sellstrom, the previous National RAR president, has headed our lobbying and advocacy effort with political parties and non-government organisations. Successful forums have been run by some RAR groups around the country in an effort to raise awareness in the general population. An ‘toolkit’ is available for groups who want to run an event in their community.
The RAR Human Rights Subcommittee was formed early 2020. It has met twice with reps from Victoria and Queensland and now representatives from Pottsville in NSW have joined.  Being concerned about Australia’s failings in human rights is sufficient if you would like to join us. We can help you with building up your knowledge. Just email  to get started.
RAR Australia is one of the NGOs who have joined with The Human Rights Law Centre in a campaign for Charter of Human Rights. OR The success of this campaign depends on grassroots involvement which RAR groups are ideal for  so please sign up if you haven’t done so already .
(Thanks to Marie Bonne, Bendigo RAR, for providing the material for this item)

Jonathan Strauss
Rural Australians for Refugees Australia
Phone: 0437 790 306
Rural Australians for Refugees on Twitter and Facebook.
RAR is a member of the Australian Refugee Action Network
Our mailing address is:


Dozens of refugees flown from Australia and PNG to US despite coronavirus travel bans: SBS

Refugees celebrate their imminent resettlement in the US.
Siurce: Father Giorgio Licini
"Australians in the US have been fundraising to support the refugees' resettlement which has been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dozens of refugees who have spent years in Australia’s offshore processing regime have been flown to the United States for resettlement, despite COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

Transfers from Papua New Guinea and Australian immigration detention centres under the US resettlement program are continuing as the US struggles to contain the pandemic that has killed more than 93,000 people there. 

Thirty-five refugees departed Port Moresby on Thursday morning bound for the US via Singapore, and one refugee is due to fly to Finland, according to sources and documents obtained by SBS News.

A handful also departed Australia for the US this week, including several from the Kangaroo Point hotel being used as an “alternative place of detention” (APOD) in Brisbane and from community detention in Melbourne."

"Many of the refugees have underlying health conditions after years of detention and medical neglect on Manus Island and Nauru.
"Their condition puts them at higher risk from COVID-19," Mr Winsor said.

"We are in daily contact with two refugees in Texas who have contracted COVID-19."

On Tuesday, a number of refugees in Port Moresby celebrated their imminent resettlement under the Australian-US scheme with priest Giorgio Licini, the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands.

“They were relaxed but had mixed feelings, especially that there are still some left behind, many are those who were never given refugees status and could not go home,” Father Giorgio said."

Read more


Letter to P.M. Morrison re Bomana Prison


                                                                                           Valla Beach,
                                                                                            1st May 202

Dear Prime Minister,

Please find enclosed an open letter, addressed to you, and signed by 251 people at our Rural Australians for Refugees market stalls earlier in the year before restrictions on public gatherings were imposed. The letter reads:

“We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the plight of the refugees and asylum seekers who remain in PNG, and in particular about the fate of the men held until recently in Bomana prison. This facility, built at a cost of $20 million by the Australian government, was clearly designed to finally crush the spirits of those detained, with the specific aim of persuading them to return to their homelands. That the 52 detainees have finally signed agreements to be “voluntarily” returned to their countries of origin is a direct and intended consequence of their deliberately punitive treatment in Bomana prison. Forcing them to return home to danger is in clear contravention of our international obligations.

We call on the Australian government to ensure that these malnourished and mentally unwell men receive the medical treatment that they so urgently need. We further call on the government to undertake not to permit their repatriation to face imprisonment or worse in their home countries. The Australian government must find a safe country for their resettlement.”

It is clear from a number of reports that PNG is not a safe place for refugees. Locals have attempted on more than one occasion to break into the accommodation where some refugees are housed, and have threatened to kill them. They are fearful to venture out into the community, where they regularly face assaults and robbery at the hands of local people, who want them to leave their country.

These people are the responsibility of the Australian government, and we owe them a duty of care. We therefore call on the government to do two things. Firstly, to take all the necessary steps to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees in PNG are properly protected whilst they remain there. Secondly, once the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, and it becomes safe to travel, we ask that all these people are resettled in safe third countries, including Australia and New Zealand, so that they can begin to rebuild their shattered lives. We owe them nothing less.

Yours sincerely,


Bellingen and Nambucca District RAR