September 2020 newsletter

We hope this email finds you well.

Thank you for continuing to stand with refugees and people seeking asylum at a time when many in the community are doing it tough due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19. 

It was heartening to see photos of all those school students who participated in the National Week of Solidarity last month, calling for people seeking asylum to have the support they need during COVID-19. At a time of so much uncertainty and hardship, your solidarity is an important and meaningful gesture.

  [Picture courtesy of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia Facebook]

As you know, there are currently around 16,000 children and young people seeking asylum in Australia. Many of their families have experienced job losses and are ineligible for Federal Government income support or Medicare. This has severely impacted basic needs such as access to housing, health care and food.

We will continue to call on the Federal and State governments to extend a vital safety net (financial support, Medicare, and adequate shelter) to everyone in need within the Australian community, regardless of their visa status, as the impact of this health and economic crisis continues. 

Prohibiting items bill

A concerning Federal Government bill that would provide new search and seizure powers for Australian Border Force officers in immigration detention passed the House of Representatives in early September, and is now scheduled to be debated in the Senate, which convenes again on October 6. The bill would enable officers to seize items such as mobile phones and sim cards. 

In positive news, it appears the bill is unlikely to have sufficient numbers to pass through the Senate after Senator Jacqui Lambie, who holds one of the key deciding votes on the issue (and had not previously publicly disclosed her position) recently announcedshe opposes the bill.

We also believe this legislation is overly broad, restrictive and should not be passed. Our friend and colleague Andy Hamilton wrote a perceptive recent article on the bill for Eureka Street. Here’s an excerpt: 

The confiscation of phones, searching of personal belongings and strip searches are highly intrusive and humiliating actions with potential to injure the mental health of those exposed to them. The reasons offered in justification are sketchy and general — to respond to criminal behaviour and prevent plans to escape and create disorder. They also point out that detention centres house both people seeking protection and people subject to deportation after serving sentences for crimes.

None of these reasons are convincing. There are already adequate powers to respond to disorder and criminal acts by individuals. Nor, in the case of a captive population, is there the urgent need to act without seeking a warrant for the action. A general power to confiscate phones, strip search people and search their possessions would be regarded as an overreach of power and an invitation to abuse when directed against any other group in society. In a detention centre where people are locked up with officers, the powers create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that increases tension and harm to mental health.

World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2020

Sunday, September 27th marked the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, a day on which Catholics gather together to pray and act in solidarity with fellow migrant and refugee brothers and sisters. The theme chosen by the Holy Father is “Forced like Jesus Christ to flee” to focus on the pastoral care of internally displaced people (IDPs). To read more about Pope Francis’ message, read the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACRMO)’s toolkit here.

To commemorate this day, the Justice and Peace Office (JPO) of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia, and Nangami, the peace and justice group at Our Lady of the Way Jesuit parish in North Sydney, co-hosted a public webinar where a panel of experts discussed: Is this a Time for Grace within our public policy, our theology and our own actions towards migrants and refugees? Is there reason to have hope for all of us.

Speakers included Bishop of Parramatta, Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv; Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO, Australian Jesuit Priest, Human Rights Lawyer, and Academic; Nishadh Rego, Policy, Advocacy and Communication Manager, JRS Australia; and Julie Macken, Research and Projects Officer, Justice and Peace Office, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

To watch the webinar, please click on the following link.

Some good news!

As you may already have read, Huyen Thu Thi Tran and her two-year-old daughter Isabella were finally released from immigration detention in Melbourne in late August. This was such good news. Isabella had spent her whole life in immigration detention. They should never have been locked up in the first place. 

Rights group Human Rights for All also stated that several more people were released from immigration detention in late August, some after many years. 

More refugees left without support

According to the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), the Federal Government has abruptly begun moving scores of people out of community detention and onto Bridging Visas in the community. The difficulty is that many are now left without any financial support, nowhere to live and few community contacts. Although they now have the right to work, finding a job – difficult at the best of times – is even more so at a time of economic upheaval due to COVID-19. 

Those affected by this decision are refugees and people seeking asylum previously transferred by the Australian Government from Papua New Guinea and Nauru to receive medical treatment in Australia, or their accompanying family members. Their ongoing visa status is uncertain. According to RCOA, as at 23 September 2020, 188 people have been moved from community detention in QLD, NSW, SA and WA, with consideration in train to move more than 300 more people onto the same arrangements. 

Read RCOA’s brief on the issue here

Stats: Onshore immigration detention

According to the latest statistics on onshore immigration detention released by the Department of Home Affairs, as at 30 June 2020:

  • 1,523 people were in immigration detention across Australia
  • 42.5% of people were detained for more than one year
  • 25.5% of people were detained for more than two years
  • The average period of time people are detained is 551 days

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