Some welcome news has come out of Malcolm Turnbull’s attendance at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York this week. Australia has announced it will increase its humanitarian intake of refugees to 18,750.
However that was the limit of any good news. It was extremely disappointing that Prime Minister Turnbull did not mention the 2,000 asylum seekers stuck for months, even years, in limbo on Manus and Nauru. Phil Glendenning, President of Refugee Council of Australia, referred to the omission as the “elephant in the room in the form of our offshore detention system”. Most of these people have been assessed as refugees and need to be treated as such. And was I the only person horrified as our PM lectured the member nations of the United Nations about border security? Surely not.
The wonderful Tim Costello wrote a thoughtful blog recently published in the Huffington Post Australia called Looking the Other Way is no Longer an Option. It ends with these powerful words:
“Conscience doesn’t always win, and it rarely wins quickly. Most often those who stand up in the public square on matters of conscience face long and lonely battles, even if ultimately vindicated.
But it is nonetheless to be treasured and promoted because it remains one of the major engines of change for good in the world, and in our own country.
There has never been a better time for an earnest and honest national conversation about where our collective conscience is pointing.“
You can read the full blog here.
There was a great article in the Guardian Australia on Monday on the growing Sanctuary Movement. How interesting it is to hear of hundreds of people from different religions gathering at their churches to learn how to engage in civil disobedience in order to help protect asylum seekers from border force officials.
“We’re not here today to be arrested. We’re here today to demonstrate what respect looks like. This is about a respectful way to challenge the current policy framework”.
The policy framework that those gathered have come to challenge is the federal government’s hardline stance on asylum seekers, which has left 267 asylum seekers currently in Australia facing deportation to offshore processing centres on Nauru or Manus Island. They could be removed at any time and there are 37 babies among them.
As a result, hundreds of people gathered at churches around the country on Sunday, including at Wesley Uniting church, to learn how to engage in civil disobedience and protect asylum seekers should border force officials try to forcibly detain them and send them to offshore detention centres.
You can read the full article here.
Misha Coleman from the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce and Shen Narayanasamy from GetUp address the crowd at sanctuary training at Wesley Uniting Church, Melbourne. Photograph by Melissa Davey for the Guardian
There is a terrific article in the Monthly by Robert Manne that sums up the current situation on Australia’s asylum seeking policy and procedures. Robert Manne is an Emeritus Professor and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe University.
“Now that the High Court has decided that the offshore detention of asylum seekers is lawful, reports suggest that the Turnbull Government is considering returning 234 asylum seekers to Nauru along with the 33 babies of these asylum seekers born in Australia. Given what everyone knows about the spiritual, psychological and bodily ruin that accompanies indefinite detention on Nauru, if the reports turn out to be true this will be a genuinely monstrous act which will outrage millions of decent citizens.
Outrage and acts of protest, however, are not enough. If things are to change, if the decision is to be reversed, what we need is to try to get the prime minister to acknowledge and to reject the thinking that has brought us to a place where it is now possible that a decision of this kind can be taken by the responsible minister of an important department of the Australian Commonwealth Government.”
You can read the full article here.
Great article in the Guardian about Australia’s assessment before the universal periodic review, a quadrennial assessment of countries’ human rights record by the UN human rights council.
Human Rights Law Centre’s director of advocacy and litigation, Anna Brown, said Australia’s efforts to demonstrate leadership on topics such as the death penalty and the rights of older people had been overshadowed by the wave of condemnation on policies of mandatory detention, offshore processing and boat turnbacks. “Australia’s potential to be a human rights leader is being completely undercut by its tremendously harsh treatment of people seeking asylum,” she said. “Last night at the UN there were calls from nations in every region and political grouping in the world for Australia to change its policies.”
The Australian-run asylum seeker detention centre on Los Negros Island, in Manus province, Papua New Guinea
Long time human rights advocate Julian Burnside has written an excellent article in the Guardian Australia asking the question “why can’t we know what is happening on Nauru and Manus Island?”.
This article really resonated with me because two of the refugees featured in my book More to the story came to Australia as refugees seeking asylum and were locked in detention centres. I hope when you read John and Farid’s stories you will understand their difficult choices and the enormous struggles and trauma they faced.
Meanwhile Burnside continues to campaign about the appalling situation in detention centres as this article shows. I wondered why.
Thirteen years ago at the Maribyrnong Detention Centre, an eleven-year-old girl hanged herself with her bedsheet. Her family found her and cut down her strangling body, and she was taken to Austin Hospital in Melbourne, where she remained as a psychiatric inpatient for twelve months. When she was well enough to be discharged, she was taken back into detention.
This is the incident that taught Julian Burnside that his country had “betrayed the principles it once stood for” and since that time Burnside has campaigned continually for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers inspiring other lawyers to work pro bono to help people who have committed no crime.
I am honoured that Julian Burnside has written the foreword to my new book More to the story – conversations with refugees that will be released in November.