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Letter to MPs on ongoing detention

Novak Djokovic’s detention in January 2022 resulted in increased international focus on Australia’s cruel immigration system, drawing attention to the 60 people detained for more than eight years.

We are now urging you to write to your local Member of Parliament or Senator and ask them to help release these people who were medically transferred from PNG and Nauru – most of whom have been found to be refugees.   RCOA recently did the same, highlighting the ongoing detention as harmful and contributing to a deterioration of detainees’ mental health. A copy of our letter is below. You can amend with the name of your MP/Senators and personalise it.

20 January 2022 


Seeking your support for release of recognised refugees from long-term detention  

Dear Member of Parliament/Senator, 

I am writing to seek your assistance in requesting that the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Immigration approve the release from closed immigration facilities of around 60 people transferred from Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru. Most of the people involved were granted refugee status in PNG or Nauru and have spent much of the past 8½ years in some form of closed detention.   

The recent detention of tennis player Novak Djokovic has drawn international attention to the situation of around 30 refugees detained in the Park Hotel in Melbourne. A similar number of members of this group are held in immigration detention facilities in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. We urge you as members of Government to push for their release into community detention or on to bridging visas whilst long term solutions are found.  

The Minister of Home Affairs Karen Andrews and her predecessor Peter Dutton have released around 130 members of this group over the past year. They have joined more than 1,100 people who were medically transferred to Australia from PNG and Nauru and previously into the community. We welcome their release and have appealed to the Minister on numerous occasions to finalise the release of those remaining in closed detention facilities.  

From all of the investigation that the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has done, there is no apparent difference between the 60 or so people who remain detained and the 1100 people released into the community. We struggle to understand why these people remain detained. We understand, from our discussions with Government, that the majority have not been found to pose any risk to the Australian community and can be safely managed in the community, where they have support networks. The continued detention of this group cannot be justified.  

As noted, the majority of people detained in these conditions have been found to be refugees in PNG and Nauru under the refugee status determination processes which the Australian Government helped to establish and financially support. While it might be permissible under current Australian legislation, the continued detention of recognised refugees is in breach of Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.  

The ongoing detention of this group is harmful and is contributing to a deterioration of detainees’ mental health. It undermines their capacity to actively engage in discussions about longer term options. We understand that many of the refugees in detention have applications for resettlement in the USA or Canada. Mental health services continue to raise concerns with us about the refugees’ deteriorating mental health and this being a barrier to them making clear decisions about their options. Under the current policy of the Australian Government, third country resettlement in USA or Canada is the only chance this group has for a durable solution. It is distressing to see that is being jeopardised because of their ongoing detention.  

The Refugee Council of Australia is working with Canadian organisations MOSAIC and Ads Up Canada Refugee Network on the private sponsorship of refugees affected by offshore processing who are ineligible for US resettlement. Since 2019, we have raised $4.3 million from Australian donors and through our partners in Canada have lodged sponsorship applications for 173 refugees in PNG, Nauru and medically transferred to Australia. Applications have also been lodged for 135 separated family members in other parts of the world – 308 sponsorship places in total. Over the past six weeks, the first 10 refugees we have sponsored have arrived in Canada. We are determined to make this pathway a success for as many people as possible. 

Our partner organisations in Canada are now telling us that the decline in mental health among those being detained in Australia has reached a point of crisis. It is becoming almost impossible to proceed with sponsorship applications. They are now unable to advance some applications because the mental health of applicants is so poor that they cannot engage at the level required to complete detailed applications. Even though our partner organisations have worked with refugees from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia living in difficult urban and camp situations, they tell us that they have never seen refugees as mentally unwell as those in locked detention in Australia.   

The issues of mental health are even more acute for the refugees held in the Park Hotel in Melbourne, including the 10 men with active applications for Canadian sponsorship. Detention in a location which is not designed for people to be held indefinitely, where there are no open areas for people to walk, is clearly having even greater impacts than detention in other locations, based on observations of individuals’ mental health.  

We have repeatedly raised our concerns with the Minister for Home Affairs. While we welcome the releases over the past year, the pace of those releases is too slow, and the damage is too great. There is no justification for the continued detention of this group. It is counterproductive and against the interests of all, including the Government.  

I implore you to please raise this issue with the Minister as a matter of urgency, and ask her to release from detention all refugees and people seeking asylum transferred to Australia from PNG and Nauru. I would very much welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with you, to ensure that we are able to continue to maximise the possibility of practical solutions for refugees affected by the offshore processing policy.  

Yours faithfully, 
Paul Power 
Chief Executive Officer 

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