The Biloela family – Nades, Priya, and their daughters: 5-year-old Kopika and 3-year-old Tharunicaa – are about to spend their third Christmas locked up in immigration detention. And this is despite them having lived amongst the community in central Queensland for several years.
This year, Scott Morrison has got the Tamil refugees held on Christmas Island for the holiday season. And while detaining the two former adult Australian residents is abhorrent enough, it beggars belief how the Pentecostal PM has come to imprison two Australian-born infants as well.
Australian Border Force officers raided the family’s Biloela home early morning in March 2018. They were then detained in a Melbourne immigration facility, until the Liberal Nationals government attempted to covertly deport them via plane late night in August last year.
And it’s due to this travesty, and multiple other human rights violations of asylum seekers, that a group of refugee rights activists gathered across the road from the Sutherland Horizon Church last Sunday to remind parishioners that their fellow congregant – the PM – is complicit in these abuses.
Love thy neighbour
“We’re here today to point out the hypocrisy of Scott Morrison coming to this church, raising his arms up in the air and worshipping God, when the Bible clearly states that we need to love the foreigner, the refugee and all people as if they were our own family,” said Emma Comley.
“So, if Scott Morrison lives his life by the Bible, and comes to this church to proclaim so, then that’s in direct contradiction to the way that asylum seekers and refugees are treated in this country,” the We Are Better Than This spokesperson told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.
The protest involved around a dozen activists, some of whom are themselves refugees. These men have been accepted into the country and have been here for almost a decade, yet because of the way the laws have been set up, they’re unable to bring their children over to join them.
After NSW police approached the protesters several times suggesting they move on without any legal means to enforce this, the officers instead parked two police vans in front of the rally, in an attempt to block the gathering from the view of parishioners entering church.
Comley addressed those turning up to worship notifying them to the two “preschool aged” Australian-born girls held in the Christmas Island facility the PM reopened last year.
“Scott Morrison claims to love his God,” she said over the megaphone, “but God says we must love the Other.”
Drawn out torture
The other front and centre issue regarding the internationally condemned long-term detention of refugees by multiple Australian governments is that the close to 180 former offshore asylum-seeking detainees transferred under the now revoked Medevac laws continue to be held in Australian hotels.
That is most of them are, as in a rare glint of light shining through a crack in the Liberal-Labor mandatory detention of arrivals-by-boat edifice, five such Medevac detainees were granted visas and released into the community last week.
However, in another – now expected – cruel move by the Home Affairs Department, the remaining detainees being held at Melbourne’s Mantra Hotel – some for up to 17 months – were called to a meeting on Monday, only to be told that they were not to be released, but transferred.
And on Thursday this week, Victoria police turned up at the Mantra in Preston, placed the detainees in buses and then drove them over to Carlton’s Park Hotel, another now designated alternative place of detention (APOD) with no space for the men to go outside.
Officers also arrested demonstrators outside the Mantra calling for the men’s release.
Several tweets were posted by refugees advocates on 17 December alerting that Hoban Recruitment is currently advertising for detainee service officer (DSO) positions at Christmas Island, which obviously need to be filled as the government is transferring more detainees to that facility.
Jamal Daoud, another spokesperson for We Are Better Than This, explained to Horizon congregants arriving at church last Sunday that his group intends to be present out the front over the entire holiday season, drawing awareness to the injustices occurring in our nation’s name this Christmas.
“We are here to ask simple questions of the church leaders,” Daoud called out across the road from the Pentecostal establishment. “Does this church support refugee families? Does it support the 19 kids in detention centres?”
“We’re here to get some answers from the church leaders and ask that they come out and tell us what the church policy is regarding kids in detention,” he continued over the loudspeaker.
“We will not be silenced, not this Sunday or the Sunday after.”
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.