Canberra is changing its approach to refugees after years of struggle
5 March 2021 at 3:48 pm
A petition calling for all refugees and people seeking asylum in detention to be released and resettled in a safe, permanent home by World Refugee Day has received cross-party support marking the culmination of years of hard work, writes Jana Favero.
Last Thursday was a good day.
Wins in the refugee space are few and far between and there have been many times that I have felt defeated and deflated after 12-14 hours days in Parliament House.
But the last week of February was not one of them. I left with a sense of joy, awe and hope.
I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ramsi and Thanush, two men recently released from Park Hotel detention after being locked up for nearly eight years, to deliver a petition, initiated by the Time for a Home alliance of organisations and community networks, to Parliament.
The petition called for the release of all refugees and people seeking asylum in detention and to resettle them in a safe, permanent home by World Refugee Day on 20 June 2021. This call received nationwide support with 37,000 signatures, commitment from 140 organisations and cross-party support but it also signified change.
Change that is possible because people power can shift politics.
The petition was received by 14 MPs and senators from the ALP, Greens, Liberal Party, Centre Alliance and Independents (and many more who hoped to be there but sent their apologies). The level of support from our elected representatives reinforces that this is not about right and left, but is about right and wrong.
Last week was the culmination of years of hard work by so many people which is why it felt so good. Good to see and feel change. The onus is now on the government to enact the obvious and humane solution (release and resettlement) to their policy failure.
Cross-party support wasn’t achieved overnight. It comes on the back of numerous petitions before today, thousands of phone calls and meetings with local MPs, countless lobbying trips to Parliament, submissions to parliamentary inquiries, and hundreds of grassroots actions across the country over decades.
When I started working at the ASRC nearly 11 years ago, there were many lonely visits to Canberra, battling to secure meetings with politicians.
But the power of last week wasn’t the tens of thousands of petition signatures, representatives from #TimeForAHome or the 14 politicians who received the petition. The power was in Thanush and Ramsi speaking their truth, sharing their pain and advocating for freedom for their brothers and sisters who remain locked up.
It was incredibly powerful to know that the very building where the decision makers who have decided their fate, directed their imprisonment for eight years sit, was the very same building Thanush and Ramsi are now free in fighting for the safety and freedom for others.
It’s hard to describe the awe I felt at standing next to two men who had been detained nearly eight years ago, transferred here for mental health reasons and only released a month ago, yet have such strength and resilience to go from prisoners to lobbyists in a heartbeat.
The Canberra bubble is exhausting, overwhelming and constant. Media. Photos. Interviews. Storytelling. The demands whilst in Parliament House are relentless. Yet Thanush and Ramsi approached each request with a smile and positivity.
I was asked by Patricia Karvelas on Afternoon Briefing whether silent lobbying was the best strategy. There sure is a time and place for silent lobbying, which we have tried over the past few years. But Peter Dutton himself has spoken publicly about the releases, saying that it’s cheaper for people to be in the community.
He’s right, and now the remaining medevac refugees, around 100, need to be released into the community. Now is the time to continue the public pressure to agitate, to provide an opportunity and place for the voices of those still locked up and those recently given freedom to be heard.
The release of medevac refugees wasn’t the only asylum policy issue on the agenda in Parliament last week. On Tuesday, the Senate voted on a disallowance motion that, if passed, would put a stop to the government increasing federal court fees for migration applicants by nearly 400 per cent. An increase that only applies to migration matters and is disproportionate to any other court fee. This is discrimination and denial of access to justice in plain sight.
Again we saw politicians from across the political divide vote to defeat the fee hike – ALP, Greens, Centre Alliance and Independents. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough as the support of Pauline Hanson and One Nation was also needed and they sided with the government and their discriminatory position.
But again, the unity shown in Parliament means there is hope. Hope that we can continue to mobilise, to protest, to agitate, to win. To achieve fairness, safety and freedom for people seeking asylum and refugees.
The campaign hasn’t ended with last week’s petition handover, in a way the next phase has just begun. Continuing to fight for the release of medevac refugees from detention while securing permanent safety, resettlement and freedom for those released.
As was stated by Sir Robert Menzies in 1940, “policy with respect to refugees must be applied by a sensible administration, neither rigid nor peremptory but wise, exercising judgement on individual cases, always remembering the basic principle but always understanding that harsh administration never yet improved any law but only impaired it, and that notoriously harsh administration raises up to any law hostilities that may someday destroy it”.
We will keep fighting the current harsh administration. We can win. It will take unity, strength and persistence but by continuing to work together we can and will make change.