The February 2019 passing of the Medevac laws meant that refugees and asylum seekers slowly being tortured under our government’s ongoing policy of mandatory offshore detention could be more easily transferred to the Australian mainland to seek much-needed medical treatment.
Prior to Morrison and Co revoking the laws the following December, 192 of the illegally detained foreigners were flown here, only to be, again, treated like prisoners, with the majority confined long-term in hotels and most never receiving the treatment they came here for.
But, in December, something strange happened. Without any official announcement, Home Affairs began releasing refugees into the community. And just this week, the releases continued with 25 refugees freed in Brisbane, a family of four released in Darwin, as well as 13 more let go in Sydney.
As of 3 March 2021, a total of 113 Medevac refugees had been released into the community on bridging visas.
And while the reason the government is doing this remains unclear, its attempt to do it without most of the public noticing reveals that it’s been forced to back down on its ”never to be settled here” policy.
“The government is backing down,” said Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) spokesperson Ian Rintoul, “but it’s backing down in a way that’s trying to save political face in order to maintain the integrity of its offshore detention policy.”
“It’s trying to avoid the obvious consequences of the implication that the detention of the Medevac people has been unlawful and, at least for some of them, this has been for a considerable period of time,” he told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.
A legal loophole identified and successfully argued by Human Rights for All director principal Alison Battisson in the Federal Court last year indicated that the Australian government has been detaining refugees and noncitizens illegally.
Although, the government hasn’t acknowledged that this ruling forced its hand. Indeed, the little that’s been said about the releases has seen home affairs minister Peter Dutton state its financial, which is rather absurd considering the billions the Coalition has spent on offshore detention.
Rintoul has labelled the way the government is handling the releases as “capricious and chaotic”.
“There is no consistency,” he explained. “There is no difference between the cases of the people who have been released from the Park Hotel, for example, to those who remain held there.”
Tortured to prove nothing
On 19 July 2013, the Rudd government made offshore detention for asylum seekers that arrive by boat mandatory, with the insistence that there would be no chance of resettlement in Australia. And the Abbott government took over this process and enhanced it later that year.
By December 2014, a total of 3,127 asylum seekers had been sent into indefinite offshore detention on either Nauru or Manus. And despite the threat of never making it to the mainland, the largest cohort of these people – over 1,000 of them – are now living within the Australian community.
“Offshore detention has always been questionable,” Rintoul made clear. “If you look, the majority of people who were taken to Manus and Nauru are now in Australia. It has taken us a number of years to see this happen. But that’s the reality.”
The long-term refugee rights campaigner said that despite government claims to the contrary, “this deterrence policy hasn’t worked”.
So, for many years, these people were subjected to brutal and unlawful treatment in offshore facilities to prove a point that’s completely fallen over.
The compassionate vote
To add further inhumanity to the long list crimes that our government officials have carried out in our collective name, whilst the Medevac detainees are slowly being released into the community, around 260 asylum seekers continue to be held on the soil of poorer nations.
PNG Catholic priest Giorgio Licini has stated that he believes Australia is planning to simply dump around 50 to 70 of the remaining asylum seekers in his country. While last month, some locals attempted to murder one of the 120-odd people the government continues to detain on Nauru.
Rallies are being held across the nation this week, calling for the release of the remaining Medevac detainees, as there are grave concerns for the mental health of those who continue to be locked up within hotels and facilities without any clear reasoning following the other releases.
With a potential federal election coming later this year, Rintoul asserts that the Australian public should be making this a priority election issue, especially as the recent releases indicate that the edifice the policy was built upon has crumpled.
“This is an indication of the government’s willingness to discriminate, especially against the most vulnerable, and not just refugees, but toward the rest of us,” he warned, adding that as Labor isn’t willing to challenge the policy, it’s up to the Australian people to take that stance.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.