August 2020 newsletter

We hope you are managing the best you can through a period that is challenging in so many ways. It’s particularly tough in Melbourne at present, as we go through a second lockdown. We hope you and your loved ones are keeping safe.

The economic fallout from this crisis is predicted to be severe, and it will hit hardest among marginalised communities, including people seeking asylum. New research by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) estimates that nearly 19,000 refugees and asylum seekers on temporary visas will lose their jobs in this recession, with unemployment rates projected to double among this group.

This magnifies the importance of continuing to advocate for the Federal Government to extend emergency financial support measures, work rights and access to Medicare for all refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia who are currently excluded from the Government’s COVID-19 related support.

On this note, thank you to all CAPSA supporters who recently signed on to the No Child Left Behind campaign. You can still do so here if you haven’t already.

Christmas Island detention plans

Earlier this month, the Australian Border Force announced plans to move some people from immigration detention on the Australian mainland to detention on Christmas Island. This concerning decision ignores recent calls by health professionals, advocates, academics and many others for people in immigration detention to be released into the community where it is safe to do so. A number of people have already been moved to the island.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has voiced its opposition to the announcement.

“We do not support the removal of detainees to Christmas Island as a solution to overcrowding in immigration detention,” said Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow.

“The human rights risks of immigration detention at Christmas Island are even greater in the current pandemic as there is only limited medical care available on the Island. An outbreak of COVID-19 could be catastrophic for the people in detention, staff and the community there.”

Refugee groups launch @homesafelywithus initiative

A coalition of refugee support groups, including the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project, Grandmothers for Refugees, and others, have launched an initiative to open their homes to refugees and asylum seekers currently held in immigration detention.

The @homesafelywithus initiative comes in response to the risk of COVID-19 in immigration detention, and follows the Government’s Christmas Island announcement (detailed above).

“The safe, sensible and cost-effective thing to do is to release people who came here seeking asylum into the safe keeping of their families, friends and supporters,” said the coalition’s spokesperson Pamela Curr.

“There are more than enough family and friends ready to welcome refugees into their homes and communities.”

The costs of detention

Last month marked seven years since the Australian Government announced (on 19 July 2013) that no asylum seeker arriving by boat would be settled in Australia, including people found to be refugees. The human costs of offshore processing have been awful – 12 people have died.

In a new report, RCOA has also documented some of the economic costs. They estimate that the Government has spent $7.6 billion on offshore processing – and that’s a conservative figure. This equates to $2.44 million per person detained.

Petition: prohibiting items bill

In a recent CAPSA newsletter, we noted a concerning Federal Government bill that would provide new search and seizure powers for Australian Border Force officers in immigration detention, including enabling officers to seize mobile phones and sim cards. The bill is currently before the House of Representatives which, at this stage, is due to sit again on 24 August 2020.

A range of advocacy groups are calling for this bill to be scrapped, including Love Makes a Way, through a letter campaign, and the National Justice Project, who have a petition up and running here.

Stats: Onshore immigration detention

The latest statistics on onshore immigration detention were recently released by the Department of Home Affairs. As at 31 May 2020:

  • 1,458 people were in immigration detention across Australia
  • 42% of people were detained for more than one year
  • 25.8% of people were detained for more than two years
  • The average period of time people are detained is 553 days

Recommended reading/listening:

Also, in case you missed this from July, we really recommend reading this piece by Rebekah Holt for SBS about two-year-old Isabella, who has lived her whole life in immigration detention with her mother. There are currently three children in Australian immigration detention (Isabella, and two young sisters held on Christmas Island).

No child should be in immigration detention.