Supporters 'rally' online for refugees

Showing support for refugees in a COVID-19 lock-down. Photo: Refugee Action Collective (Victoria)

More 230 people participated in an online rally organised by the Refugee Action Collective, Victoria on July 19 to mark the seventh anniversary of former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd's reintroduction of offshore detention of refugees arriving by boat. The event was held online because of COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Moz, a refugee formerly detained on Manus Island, but brought to Australia under the Medevac legislation and who is now detained in the Mantra Hotel in Preston said that refugees who had fled to escape torture in their home country are still being tortured. He said they are being treated “worse than criminals”, since people in jail can walk and have access to sunlight for part of the day, but refugees detained in the Mantra Hotel cannot do so.

Moz said that the government wants to confiscate refugees' mobile phones, that they need to communicate with family members, friends and lawyers. “Phones are a lifeline. We need them to stay sane,” he said.

Shamindan, a refugee who was detained on Manus and is now living in Papua New Guinea, sent a statement that was read out by RAC's Mitch Both.

Shamindan said that when the federal Rudd-led Labor government changed the law to reintroduce offshore detention, it ignored the Refugee Convention. Thirteen refugees died in offshore detention—through murder, suicide or medical neglect.

The government was being deliberately cruel, Shamindan said, causing refugees to become sick, mentally and physically. “Your compassion gives us hope,” he said about refugee rights campaigners.

RAC's Lucy Honan called for refugees to be released from the hotel prisons, saying the risk of COVID-19 infection, because of contact with guards and detainees' inability to adequately distance in crowded conditions, was high.

Taqi Khan Azra, a refugee from Afghanistan now working as an organiser for the United Workers Union, said that the union supports the campaign for refugee rights. Many refugees living in the community have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis, but are ineligible for either JobKeeper or JobSeeker payments.

Speaking for the Tamil Refugee Council Aran Mylvaganam said that the major parties had turned “deaf ears” to demands for refugee rights. The federal government's barbaric treatment continues, due to the support of the Labor Party, he said.

Mylvaganam spoke about the mistreatment of Priya, a Tamil woman who was taken from her home in Biloela and sent to Christmas Island along with her husband and two young children. Priya has been in pain for about a month, but it was only when she slipped into unconsciousness that she was allowed to go to hospital in Perth.

Another example of cruel treatment, Mylvaganam cited, was a Tamil refugee, held in the Broadmeadows Detention Centre for 11 years and who has now developed leukaemia: he has been denied urgent medical treatment.

Mylvaganam also spoke about the desperate situation for many refugees living in the community in constant fear of deportation. He said many are going hungry.

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