The Liberal Nationals government tortured and imprisoned thousands of the planet’s most desperate people in facilities built on the soil of poorer nations for years because they arrived in Australian waters by boat seeking asylum, which is completely legal under international law.
And this mandatory offshore detention policy for boat arrivals only was put in place by a Labor government in July 2013.
As Donald Trump once infamously summed it up, both majors have been singling out boat arrivals because these people “come from certain regions”. Although the then US president, could have just as easily said “from certain nonwhite countries”.
Some of the last asylum seekers detained offshore were those now known as the Medevac refugees, as they came to Australia under laws briefly activated in early 2019, which allowed passage for medical treatment.
On arrival, however, the LNP locked them up in hotels for years on end with next to no treatment.
These people commenced being released from these accommodation facilities-turned-prisons in December 2020, with the final Medevac detainees set free only last April. And they now all live amongst us, with none of the fearmongering issues politicians had propagated.
However, federal home affairs minister Clare O’Neil has been nice enough to send a letter out to many of the Medevac refugees now living in the community to inform them that her government is kicking them out of the country after close to a decade of torture and trauma in Australian custody.
“Labor will be judged by their deeds not their rhetoric,” said long-term refugee rights advocate Jane Salmon. “Their actions to date have not significantly separated them from racist, bigoted thug leaders like Dutton, Abbott, Morrison or Molan.”
“The culture of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force, Immigration and their contractors is unacceptable,” the member of the Australian Refugee Rights Network told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “There seems to be no capacity for change. Pezzullo should not still be there.”
The letter written on behalf of O’Neil tells Medevac refugees living in Australia, who have not engaged with US or NZ resettlement programs, that “the announced temporary visa changes do not relate to you, as you are not eligible for a temporary or permanent visa”.
Mind you, “the announced… changes” that are supposed to see O’Neil’s department revoke the temporary visas of thousands of refugees who’ve been living in the community for years now and place them on permanent ones, continue to remain a preelection promise unfulfilled.
O’Neil then goes on to advise that the Medevac refugees could send her a text by 4 October if they’re interested in going to New Zealand, but if they’d “prefer to voluntarily return home” to the nation that years of Australian detention was an improvement on, then that can be facilitated too.
Time to fight
Kurdish man Farhad Bandesh, who fled Iran back in 2013, was one of the Medevac refugees who received the letter two weeks ago, which gave him until Tuesday last week to decide what he was going to do.
The 41-year-old musician and artist has, over the last two years, established a life in Australia. And he now works in a factory and a winery.
Indeed, the Kurdish man has also released a range of wines he produced, of which Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst wore a t-shirt emblazoned with his label’s brand – Time to Fly – during the legendary band’s last ever gig.
Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese was at the concert, which was held the night prior to the deadline for Bandesh and other Medevac refugees to text message his home affairs minister as to whether they wanted to ship out to NZ, because they’re obviously going to be turfed out of here.
So, Bandesh is currently seeking legal options, as he doesn’t want to leave, like a great deal of other Medevac refugees, now living amongst us, after having actually been a part of our community since around 2013, when they entered into Australian custody, with its accompanying duty of care.
“Going to NZ is brutal for people such as Farhad, who has longstanding friendships, business partnerships and started to build a life here,” said Salmon, who’s long known Bandesh. She added that she knows of many such refugees, who are now established and trusted community members.
“His cohort has already been bullied with iron bars on Manus at Australia’s behest, made sick, been held in hotel detention and pushed from pillar to post by Australia,” she continued. “We have yet to heal or compensate them adequately.”
In our name
According to Salmon, who’s a member of multiple asylum seeker rights groups, the refugee sector is judging the current government on its actions, not its promises. And current Labor MPs will all be dropping like Keneallys if “they further harm our refugee friends”.
“I can promise Albanese that if he behaves like Morrison, he will be treated like Morrison,” she underscored. And the same might be said for O’Neil chucking a Dutton.
As it appears right now, Salmon further asserted, we might be in for future greenslides, as more voters turn to the Greens and teal independents. And she finds it “remarkable” that these refugees “can tolerate Australians after the abuse they’ve suffered at our hands”.
The Medevac detainees served around seven years in detention for no crimes in prison camps, where suicide and self-harm were rife. Children on Nauru developed a rare condition, which involves a slow withdrawal from reality. They stopped speaking, eating and became catatonic.
Determined crossbenchers saw those suffering serious illness sent here under Medevac, only to then witness the government lock them in hotels, without treatment.
And when COVID-19 hit, no protections were provided. These men were left to catch a virus that’s potentially fatal, especially for those with underlying health conditions.
“These people are as much victims of Labor’s moral cowardice as of the bogan racist security nuts on the conservative side of politics: the LNP,” Salmon eloquently put it.
“As someone who has spent years trying to provide 24/7 mental health support to traumatised victims of sovereign borders policies, these letters seem incredibly destructive of any hard-won equanimity,” she concluded. “It is violent to maintain this abuse.”