People power prevails in release of Medevac refugees
27 January 2021 at 5:37 pm
Advocates believe the groundswell of community support was a key driver behind the release of 46 men from hotel detention
In November last year, a campaign calling on the federal government to release and resettle 192 Medevac refugees sent to Australia for emergency medical treatment was launched with the signatures of 60 legal, community, and human rights organisations.
The refugees had been transferred under the now-repealed Medevac laws in 2019 to access doctor recommended medical care for complex health conditions due to long-term detention and medical neglect. They were immediately detained upon arrival, largely in alternative places of detention (APOD) such as hotels.
The Time for a Home campaign quickly attracted high profile support, with protesters regularly gathering outside the hotel detention facilities, and the number of organisations signed onto the campaign more than doubling in just two months.
Last week, 46 men were released from Melbourne’s Park Hotel, a listed APOD, on six month bridging visas after seven years in onshore and offshore detention facilities.
There are still 150 men that remain in APOD facilities in Darwin, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
So far, the only reasoning Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton has given around the release was during a 2GB interview, where he said it was “cheaper for people to be in the community” than it was to be at a hotel.
Paul Power, the CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia, told Pro Bono News this was a “pretty significant acknowledgement from the government”. He said it was clear that the detention of the Medevac refugees was not necessary.
“What we saw was people who were being locked up, not on the basis of any threat they posed to the Australian community, but basically as a political punishment,” Power said.
He said while there were various theories as to the timing of the release, he believed public pressure played a big part in the decision to release the men into the community.
Working away in the background
It’s important to recognise that the Time for a Home campaign isn’t a standalone effort. For the past seven years, there have been a number of successful advocacy efforts fighting for the rights of refugees in offshore detention, including the #LetThemStay, Bring Back Asha, Kids off Nauru, and Back the Bill campaigns.
Jana Favero, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) director of advocacy and campaigns, told Pro Bono News one of the reasons this particular campaign worked so well was because it channelled the work many individuals had been doing for years under the one umbrella.
“Often what is needed is just a coordinated, unbranded campaign to help galvanise everyone towards the one goal,” Favero said.
“Time for a Home was an umbrella campaign to capture all the goodwill and activism from so many groups and individuals across the country to call for the immediate and urgent release of those being detained.”
A non-controversial ask
She said the campaign attracted such a wide range of supporters because it was working towards one very practical, non-controversial goal.
“All the campaign was saying is that people who have been trying to get into Australia, particularly for medical treatment from Manus and Nauru, should be living in the community with support and that they should have permanent safe options rather than continuing to live in limbo,” she said.
“It’s actually really hard to disagree with that.”
A bittersweet win
While Favero said the release of the men into the community is a step in the right direction, she noted the fight was far from over.
“It’s incredible that men have been released, but they’ve been released with minimal support which will run out in a couple of weeks and then it will be up to incredible individuals and unfunded agencies and organisations who have to then pick up all of that support,” she said.
But she said that this win, no matter how small it was, had re-energised people across the country to keep going.
“There’s still a long way to go and we won’t stop fighting until everyone is free and safe and has a permanent home,” she said.