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Set them free


“The immigration detention of tennis world number one Novak Djokovic leading up to the recent Australian Open brought the international spotlight onto the plight of people who have been detained for much, much longer than him,” says the Justice Unit’s Peter Branjerdporn

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The immigration detention of tennis world number one Novak Djokovic leading up to the recent Australian Open brought the international spotlight on the plight of people who have been detained for much, much longer than him. These people continue to suffer the mental anguish of not knowing what their future holds, separated from family and other loved ones. While the professional tennis player was only detained for a few days in Melbourne’s Park Hotel as his visa situation was being assessed, nearly all of the people indefinitely locked up there were recognised as refugees under the law nine years ago.

During Advent last year I joined David Fittell and Jon Eastgate from St Andrew’s Anglican Church, South Brisbane and The Rev’d Richard Browning from the Anglican Schools Commission at the ‘Carols for Compassion’ vigil outside the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation in Pinkenba. The vigil was hosted by Love Makes A Way, a non-violent ecumenical Christian refugee advocacy network. Many of the people currently held there were transferred from the infamous Kangaroo Point Central Hotel and Apartments in Brisbane where refugees were locked up, with no access to even their balconies for some periods.

They are among the same cohort of 32 men detained at the Park Hotel in Melbourne. They were medevacced to Australia from offshore detention camps where they suffered enormously, physical and psychologically.

One well-spoken young man, who gave many interviews to the international media in January, was first detained as a teenager nine years ago. His name is Mehdi Ali and he fled political persecution in Iran. He is a talented guitarist who taught himself to play while in detention. Detained in Carlton’s Park Hotel, he tells us that:

“I came to Australia asking for safety when I was just 15 years old. Now I am 24 and still in detention. While 15 year olds in Australia went to school and looked forward to hanging out with their friends I was fighting to survive.”

The #SetThemFree campaign is endorsed by 30 religious leaders, including Baptist minister The Rev’d Tim Costello and Anglican Bishop Philip Huggins. The leaders are asking the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader to work together for the release of all refugees and people seeking asylum indefinitely detained onshore and offshore.

The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce reports that there are over 60 people seeking asylum still held against their will in onshore detention centres in Brisbane, Darwin and Melbourne, after being transferred from offshore detention for medical treatment. Still, there are around 200 people who are refugees or seeking asylum remaining in detention on Nauru or in Papua New Guinea. These are people just like us, made in the image of God.

Bishop Huggins reminded us at the Melbourne campaign launch that because these people have exhausted all legal avenues, their fate lies in the hands of elected representatives who could keep them detained for 10 or even 20 years.

“We know the plight of these people, it would be far better, saner and give us dignity as a nation to look after them properly as refugees. [We should] allow them to have access to the health system, and health care, and employment, and to start to make a life, in the same way we’ve done with countless refugees in the whole period since World War II. Australia’s a much better country, and a much richer country, culturally and economically and socially, as a consequence of the success we’ve had resettling refugees,” Bishop Huggins said.

Our Christian faith calls us to welcome the stranger and care for the people who find themselves in need of protection. After World War II Australia had a compassionate and generous response to welcoming refugees and we can do it again.

The time to release these people is now.

Three things we can do to help

  1. Pray for the health of, and a sense of hope for, refugees and people seeking asylum held in indefinite detention around Australia and offshore.
  2. Write to or call your Federal elected representative and the Minister for Immigration and the Minister for Home Affairs to tell them that you want people immediately released from immigration detention.
  1. Keep up to date with the Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support (BRASS) Network, which is convened by the Justice Unit of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland, by liking the BRASS Facebook page or emailing the Justice Unit to receive the BRASS e-news for the latest news, campaign updates and volunteering opportunities.

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