10-year anniversary of offshore detention places spotlight on Australia’s treatment of refugees
20 July 2022 at 4:31 pm
As advocates mark the milestone, one refugee is bringing a case to the Federal Court to try and end the use of hotels as places of detention.
Australia’s offshore detention system has reached a grim new milestone, as refugees enter their tenth year of being locked up outside the country.
Since being reintroduced by the Labor government on 19 July 2013, more than 3000 people seeking asylum in Australia by boat have instead been detained offshore and prevented from resettling in Australia, according to the Refugee Council of Australia (RCA).
Offshore processing on Manus Island and Nauru resumed on 13 August 2012.
Currently, 216 people remain on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea, and are prevented from settling in Australia under the policy.
The anniversary of offshore detention was marked by refugees, advocates and parliamentarians, who used the occasion to continue to speak out against the policy.
Today is 9 years since Rudd restarted offshore detention centres for refugees. Today 216 men still remain detained on Nauru & PNG. We call on Albanese Government to immediately medically evacuate them all to Australia. Join the @racvictoria protest 530pm tonight at State Library pic.twitter.com/vmSlwmdIxW
— ASRC (@ASRC1) July 18, 2022
The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) slammed offshore detention as “failed, arbitrary and harmful”.
The organisation called for an immediate end to offshore processing and for permanent resettlement to be provided to all those who had been subject to the offshore detention policy.
The HRLC wants all those remaining in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to be brought to Australia pending their permanent resettlement either in Australia or another country.
“Right now in Nauru, refugees who turned to Australia for safety are instead struggling to access food and water as COVID-19 devastates the country,” said Scott Cosgriff, senior lawyer at HRLC.
“The Albanese government must end this dark chapter in our history by closing offshore detention once and for all and allow every person the chance to rebuild their lives in safety.”
Cosgriff also called on the Albanese government and G4S to provide compensation to the family of Reza Berati, one of 14 people who have died in offshore processing.
“Reza Berati was killed by the very people who were meant to be protecting him, on the Australian government and G4S’s watch,” Cosgriff said.
“His parents are traumatised by their son’s murder but have been ignored by previous Australian governments. No amount of money will ever bring the Beratis’ son back, but his parents should not be forced to suffer the added indignity of having to battle through the courts for some small measure of justice.”
According to the RCA, 1,056 people have been resettled in a third country, like the United States, since the introduction of offshore processing.
In a statement, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) noted that over 1000 refugees who were previously detained either in Australia or offshore, are now stuck on temporary visas in Australia.
Temporary visas do not afford holders the same rights as citizenship or permanent residency.
The ASRC said while there had been positive developments recently with more than 250 refugees released from detention since December 2021 and a resettlement agreement signed with New Zealand, there were not enough resettlement places available for all remaining detained refugees.
As part of the Time for a Home coalition of 140 organisations and community networks, the ASRC is calling for an immediate end to indefinite detention, permanent resettlement for all refugees and emergency evacuation of refugees on PNG and Nauru.
Betelhem Tebubu, human rights activist and survivor of offshore processing on Nauru said in a statement that the date was “a black day”.
“I lost all my dreams in those nine years,” he said.
“During those times, I saw many young people who did not get the help they needed when they were sick. I saw their pain, both mental and physical. I heard their cries for help. I too cried for help.”
He said he was shocked to find “how our cries went unheard and how our suffering went untreated”.
“The July 19 decision’s lack of care was due to the Australian government, to the politicians who had chosen to block their ears to our cries for help,” he said.
Thanush Selvarasa, human rights activist and refugee held on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea and in hotel detention, was released on 28 Jan 2021.
He said the offshore detention policy had “destroyed our lives” and continued to cause suffering even for those who had been released.
“I can’t see any humanity through this brutality put upon us. This is not good for people, it hurts us, for years we still have been fighting for freedoms and rights, and every human has a limited time to hold onto hope, but we have been in this for too long. We don’t know when the next step is coming,” he said.
He expressed his anger at the limitations of temporary visas.
“People like me have a six-month visa. This government could change one or two words in this visa, just to let us study, to travel, but there has been no change.
“Every morning I wake up and this is running through my mind. The solution is so clear. We can look after ourselves, we just need permanent resettlement.
“A permanent visa, that is it, that is all.”
Alternative places of detention in the spotlight
The policy’s anniversary also saw the beginning of a case in the Victorian Federal Court, challenging the legality of Australia’s use of hotels as Alternative Places of Detention (APODs).
Marque Lawyers is arguing that the detention of Mostafa (Moz) Azimitabar in the Mantra Hotel and then the notorious Park Hotel, for a total of almost two years, was unlawful under the Migration Act as the government does not have the legislative power to turn hotels into APODs.
The law firm has described the case as “potentially game-changing”.
We’re in the Federal Court right now arguing this potentially game-changing case. If we’re right, everyone who has ever been held in hotel detention was unlawfully imprisoned. https://t.co/x49FNOLvnD
— marquelawyers (@marquelawyers) July 19, 2022
Azimitabar was among those brought to mainland Australia Papua New Guinea in November 2019 for medical treatment. At the time he had already been recognised as a refugee.
During his time in the hotels, Azimitabar was placed under heavy guard and often locked in his room for up to 23 hours a day. This followed six years of detention in Papua New Guinea.
“I am working with Amnesty and Marque Lawyers to hold the government accountable for what they did to us in those hotel prisons. My treatment was immoral, unethical and illegal. I will not give up,” said Azimitabar.
Now released from detention, he is living in Sydney on a bridging visa and must reapply every six months. Although he can work, he is not allowed to study. Amnesty International said Azimitabar is among 31,000 refugees in Australia who are stuck in this limbo, with no permanent resettlement option.
“The Australian Government tries to limit my freedom, but they cannot limit my dreams. And so I will continue to fight for my freedom,” said Azimitabar.
Tim O’Connor, Amnesty International Impact Director, said Amnesty is supporting the case because the organisation believes Moz’s detention was unlawful, causing physical and psychological harm.
“While there now has been a change in approach for the vast majority of people who were detained in this way, we want to see permanent changes under the Migration Act that will ensure this never happens again,” O’Connor said.