9 January 2021

Dear Mr Morrison,

I am a friend of the Centre for a Compassionate Society, which is based in the electorate of Melbourne. I live in the electorate of ***. I will be adding my voice to the voices of many others who value compassion, by writing a letter to your government every week until all refugees and asylum-seekers who remain on Nauru and in PNG under Operation Sovereign Borders are appropriately re-settled. We also seek humane treatment for refugees and asylum seekers on-shore. We are copying this letter to the Ministers and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, and to our local members of parliament.

We were grateful to receive a reply (Ref No: MC20-035515) from a representative of the Minister for Home Affairs, with information about the number of refugees and asylum seekers in various kinds of detention in Australia, and off-shore under regional processing arrangements. In the light of this information, we have 3 specific questions to which re request answers.
1. As of 30 November 2020 there were 491 so-called ‘Illegal Maritime Arrivals’ held in various kinds of immigration detention in Australia, 186 of these in “Alternative Places of Detention”. Prime Minister, we are not reassured by your statements about these people that “the Government has contracted appropriately trained and experienced service providers to ensure the needs of transitory persons are adequately met, including provision of health and welfare services”. It is not possible to meet these people’s needs when the fundamental cause of their distress, i.e. prolonged detention, continues. They have already been detained for more than seven years. How long are you prepared to continue to lock these men up?

 2. In the information about children in detention, we do not see specific mention of the twp children from Biloela held with their parents on Christmas Island. We note that a grim milestone was reached this week in that this family has now been in immigration detention for more than 1000 days, and their detention on Christmas Island has now cost the Australian people $6million. While this family has perhaps been ignored in the statistics that the Department of Home Affairs has compiled, they are very much on our minds.  Will you instruct your Minister for Home Affairs to use his discretionary powers to allow this family to return to a community where they are fully integrated and where they will be able to make a contribution to our society?

3. Regarding the statement that “Australia appreciates the offer from the New Zealand Government to resettle refugees, however, we are focused on completing the much larger arrangement with the US”: We are pleased to see that 876 people from Nauru and PNG have been resettled in the USA so far, but we also note that 291 remain. Can you assure us that all of these will be settled in the USA this year, and if not, will you consider accepting the New Zealand offer for the remainder?

Yours faithfully,

2 January 2021

Dear Mr Morrison,

I am a friend of the Centre for a Compassionate Society, which is based in the electorate of Melbourne. I live in the electorate of ***. I will be adding my voice to the voices of many others who value compassion, by writing a letter to your government every week until all refugees and asylum-seekers who remain on Nauru and in PNG under Operation Sovereign Borders are appropriately re-settled. We also seek humane treatment for refugees and asylum seekers on-shore. We are copying this letter to the Ministers and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, and to our local members of parliament.

We wish you and your family a happy and safe new year. As we all contemplate the year ahead, and make our new year’s resolutions to improve our lives, please spare a thought for those who are not in control of their own lives because of your government’s policies. We respectfully request that:
* the asylum claims off the so-called ‘legacy caseload’ be processed efficiently and fairly, and that you allow those found to be refugees to settle on permanent visas
* you release into the community all people brought here under the Medevac legislation and currently detained in APODs
* you accept the New Zealand offer of resettlement for those who remain on Nauru and Manus, and who are in various forms of on-shore detention, and allow the remainder to settle permanently in our community.
Yours sincerely

26 December 2020

Dear Mr Morrison,

I am a friend of the Centre for a Compassionate Society, which is based in the electorate of Melbourne. I live in the electorate of ***. I will be adding my voice to the voices of many others who value compassion, by writing a letter to your government every week until all refugees and asylum-seekers who have been detained on Nauru and in PNG under Operation Sovereign Borders are appropriately re-settled. We also seek humane treatment for refugees and asylum seekers on-shore. We are copying this letter to the Ministers and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, and to our local members of parliament.

As we move into the new year, Australians are hoping that 2021 will allow them to resume the full pursuit of their vocations, connections, and dreams. In this context, would you spare a thought for those refugees and asylum seekers whose lives continue to be on hold as they languish in detention on- and off-shore, or who live with the insecurity of a temporary visa. People like Zaki Haidari, a 25-year-old Afghan refugee, who exists in our community on a TPV – part off the so-called ‘legacy caseload’.https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/dec/20/we-are-the-forgotten-people-in-australia-refugee-runs-for-charity
Haidari has set himself the task of running 500km, to raise money to support asylum seekers with their legal challenges, and to draw attention to the plight of so many people trapped in limbo. This young man, 2015 international’s student of the year, feels like one of the “forgotten people”. Fleeing from his homeland after the disappearance of his brother and the kidnapping of his father, this young man still does not feel safe, because your government has not given him permanency.
Prime Minister, how much longer do we have to torture people like Haidari? We urge you to make 2021 a fresh start for your government’s policies on refugees and asylum seekers, such that people like him can settle among us and get on with their lives.
Yours faithfully,

19 December 2020

Dear Mr Morrison,

I am a friend of the Centre for a Compassionate Society, which is based in the electorate of Melbourne. I live in the electorate of ***. I will be adding my voice to the voices of many others who value compassion, by writing a letter to your government every week until all refugees and asylum-seekers who have been detained on Nauru and in PNG under Operation Sovereign Borders are appropriately re-settled. We also seek humane treatment for refugees and asylum seekers on-shore. We are copying this letter to the Ministers and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, and to our local members of parliament.

We would like to wish you and your family a safe and joyful Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of a child for whom a compassionate inn-keeper found room in his stable. We also wish a joyous Christmas for the refugees and asylum seekers moved this week from the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne to the Park Hotel. There is room at the inn – and in our community – for them, and the contribution they would make if they were allowed to live amongst us. There would have been room as well for Fazel Chegeni, who was described by those who knew him as a “generous, kind and deeply humble” man. Instead the Department that you headed as Immigration Minister drove this deeply traumatised man further into mental illness and despair, as the hard-hearted policies which you enforced saw him treated more like an enemy alien than a man who “asked for nothing but peace” and a place to call home. Now, 5 years after his death, I wonder if you will read this article  https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/dec/19/fazel-chegeni-wanted-nothing-but-peace-instead-he-died-alone-in-australias-island-prison and reflect upon those people who continue to languish in detention on- and off-shore. I wonder if your devotion to a child who embodied the love of God for the most marginalised and vulnerable, will bring you to fashion policies that treat people as human beings worthy of love and inclusion.
Yours faithfully,

12 December 2020

Dear Mr Morrison,

I am a friend of the Centre for a Compassionate Society, which is based in the electorate of Melbourne. I live in the electorate of ***. I will be adding my voice to the voices of many others who value compassion, by writing a letter to your government every week until all refugees and asylum-seekers who have been detained on Nauru and in PNG under Operation Sovereign Borders are appropriately re-settled. We also seek humane treatment for refugees and asylum seekers on-shore. We are copying this letter to the Ministers and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, and to our local members of parliament.

We were so pleased to hear that 5 refugees held in APODs were this week released into the community. This highlights for us that, with the stroke of a pen, your ministers can choose to end an intolerable situation. We seek your answers to the following questions:
  1. Why were these 5 chosen to be released? Was it to pre-empt the outcomes of their cases currently before the federal circuit court challenging the legality of their detention?
  2. Will you instruct your ministers to use their powerful pens to release the hundreds of other refugees and asylum seekers brought here under Medevac for medical treatment, whose ongoing detention is similarly likely to be found to be illegal?
  3. Will you instruct your ministers to use the power of their pens to allow the family detained on Christmas Island for over 1000 days to return to Biloela so they can begin to heal from the devastating treatment your government has handed out to them?

Yours sincerely

5 December 2020

Dear Mr Morrison,

I am a friend of the Centre for a Compassionate Society, which is based in the electorate of Melbourne. I live in the electorate of ***. I will be adding my voice to the voices of many others who value compassion, by writing a letter to your government every week until all refugees and asylum-seekers who have been detained on Nauru and in PNG under Operation Sovereign Borders are appropriately re-settled. We also seek humane treatment for refugees and asylum seekers on-shore. We are copying this letter to the Ministers and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, and to our local members of parliament.

In mid-November, some of us received a reply from the Acting Director of the Department of Home Affairs, stating that our concerns had been addressed in previous correspondence, and advising us not to expect further responses unless substantive new issues are raised. Since that time we have asked specific questions about a number of new issues not addressed in that letter, and we request that your ministers respond to these. These concerns include:
1. The increasingly prison-like conditions of immigration detention
2. Your plans for expediting the processing of asylum claims for the almost 5000 people who make up the so-called ‘Legacy’ caseload
3. The unacceptable and increasing length of time that people are spending in immigration detention – this was also highlighted by the Human Rights Commissioner this week. He revealed that the average time people spend in immigration detention is 581 days, a figure which is orders of magnitude greater than any comparable country.
Furthermore, we request your response to the issues highlighted by Karen Middleton’s article in the Saturday Paper this week https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2020/12/05/medevac-refugees-we-face-special-punishment/160708680010817
about the apparently ’special treatment’ being given to those refugees and asylum seekers who were brought to Australia for medical treatment under the Medevac legislation. Prime Minister, why are so many of these people locked up in Alternative Places of Detention in confined conditions likely to exacerbate their physical and mental problems? Why are many of them  still waiting for medical treatment? Why are so many being harassed by being moved between detention facilities in the middle of the night without warning?
Your faithfully,

28 November 2020

Dear Mr Morrison,

I am a friend of the Centre for a Compassionate Society, which is based in the electorate of Melbourne. I live in the electorate of ***. I will be adding my voice to the voices of many others who value compassion, by writing a letter to your government every week until all refugees and asylum-seekers who have been detained on Nauru and in PNG under Operation Sovereign Borders are appropriately re-settled. We also seek humane treatment for refugees and asylum seekers on-shore. We are copying this letter to the Ministers and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, and to our local members of parliament.

This week we would like to issue a simple request: would you devote an hour of your time to listening to some episodes of a podcast produced by Guardian Australia?  https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/audio/2020/nov/18/introducing-temporary
You will hear your voice as Minister for Immigration in the early years of last decade. You will also hear the voice of Zaki, a Hazara asylum seeker who fled Afghanistan at the age of 16, after his father had been seized and disappeared by the Taliban. He is now part of the 30,000 people living in the Australian community who form the so-called ‘Legacy Caseload’. He survives on one of the Temporary Protection Visas which your government has issued, unable to fully settle and integrate into our community for fear of being returned to persecution. I wonder if you will be moved by his story of suffering during his dangerous journey to Christmas Island, and of yet more suffering at the hands of your government. I wonder if his story will lead you to consider how you would feel if your own children were forced to seek safety in another country, and that country gave them the kind of welcome that Australia has given Zaki.
Prime Minister, how long must those people who make up the Legacy Caseload wait for their asylum claims to be processed?
Yours faithfully,

21 November 2020

Dear Mr Morrison,

I am a friend of the Centre for a Compassionate Society, which is based in the electorate of Melbourne. I live in the electorate of ***. I will be adding my voice to the voices of many others who value compassion, by writing a letter to your government every week until all refugees and asylum-seekers who have been detained on Nauru and in PNG under Operation Sovereign Borders are appropriately re-settled. We also seek humane treatment for refugees and asylum seekers on-shore. We are copying this letter to the Ministers and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, and to our local members of parliament.

As we indicated last week, we were grateful to receive a reply from the Minister for Home Affairs to our many letters. The benign picture which that response paints of Australia’s treatment of refugees on- and off-shore is very much at odds with a report prepared by a coalition of NGOs for the upcoming review of Australia’s human rights record by the UN Human Rights Council. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/580025f66b8f5b2dabbe4291/t/5f9b47b76ee6345364e0b111/1604011960979/UPR+Coalition+Factsheet+-+Refugees%2C+Asylum+Seekers+and+Statelessness.pdf
That report paints a picture of cruel and worsening treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, including the following information about which we have questions:
1. The average length of time that individuals spend in detention has increased since March 2015 from 394 to 551 days, with some people spending more than 10 years in detention. Will your government consider introducing a reasonable maximum limit on the time that any individual can be held in immigration detention?
2. In recent years the conditions of immigration detention have become more prison-like, with – for example – body searches, use of force, and mechanical restraint when people are transferred out for appointments. Will your government acknowledge that holding people who have committed no crime in prison-like conditions is likely to further traumatise already vulnerable people?
3. As of mid 2020 there were about 360 people still on Nauru or in PNG under Operation Sovereign borders. Will your government consider accepting the New Zealand offer of resettling some of these, and allow the remainder to settle in Australia?
4. Almost 5000 people who arrived in Australia by boat in 2012/2013 are yet to have their refugee claims determined. Is this a deliberate policy to demoralise these people into seeking to return to the countries they fled? When will their claims be finalised?
We look forward to receiving your answers to these questions; and we look forward to a time when we do not need to be ashamed in international fora of our country’s treatment of people who came here seeking a safe home.
Yours faithfully,

14 November 2020

Dear Mr Morrison,

I am a friend of the Centre for a Compassionate Society, which is based in the electorate of Melbourne. I live in the electorate of ***. I will be adding my voice to the voices of many others who value compassion, by writing a letter to your government every week until all refugees and asylum-seekers who have been detained on Nauru and in PNG under Operation Sovereign Borders are appropriately re-settled.

We also seek humane treatment for refugees and asylum seekers on-shore. We are copying this letter to the Ministers and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, and to our local members of parliament.

We were grateful to receive a response this week from the Home Affairs Department, the summary of which is that your government’s Operation Sovereign Borders has stemmed the flow of illegal maritime ventures and therefore prevented deaths at sea, that regional processing is a system which treats people with ‘respect and dignity’ and under which people have freedom of movement and adequate support services, and that all people under these arrangement including those temporarily in Australia have permanent resettlement options which you encourage them to pursue.
Prime Minister, while we applaud your stated goal and achievements of preventing deaths at sea, we remain very concerned about the human cost of these policies. Your portrayal of the conditions under which refugees and asylum seekers live in PNG and Nauru is contradicted by the experience of so many whose physical and mental health has been damaged in these places, and for whom the Medevac Bill was necessary in order to access appropriate care. We were very distressed this week to read a ‘letter from detention’ from a suicidal stateless Kurdish asylum seeker who has been in detention now for 11 years, indicating that these conditions continue for him and for many others. https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/topic/2020/11/14/letter-detention-help-before-my-soul-gone/160527240010712. He describes his situation this way: “I am in very bad situation which is unexplainable, like a bird in the cage. When you open the cage after a long time, the poor bird cannot fly anymore. It has lost its wings and its heart for flying. I came by boat to save my life. If this is my crime, so you have imprisoned me for 11 years for this crime”. Equally troubling to us is that many of the people damaged by detention, and brought to Australian under the Medevac legislation, now reside in even more restrictive conditions in so-called Alternative Places of Detention on-shore, such as the Mantra Hotel in Preston. Together these facts render rather hollow your statement that “the length and conditions of immigration detention are subject to regular internal and external review”.
Your letter raises many questions for us, to which we respectfully request a prompt reply.
1. If by your own estimation only 822 have been resettled in the US, how many remain on Nauru, in PNG and in APODs, and what are your plans for them? What is the foreseeable future of the US deal? In order to end this impasse will you accept the NZ offer of resettling 150 people per annum?
2. Will you consider granting freedom of movement to those refugees and asylum seekers currently held in such restrictive conditions in APODs, until permanent resettlement options can be found?
Yours faithfully

7 November 2020

Dear Mr Morrison,

I am a friend of the Centre for a Compassionate Society, which is based in the electorate of Melbourne. I live in the electorate of ***. I will be adding my voice to the voices of many others who value compassion, by writing a letter to your government every week until all refugees and asylum-seekers who have been detained on Nauru and in PNG under Operation Sovereign Borders are appropriately re-settled. We also seek humane treatment for refugees and asylum seekers on-shore. We are copying this letter to the Ministers and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, and to our local members of parliament.

We do not understand how it is possible that in this country, people who have committed no crime are detained against their will for more than 7 years. We are particularly concerned that those refugees and asylum seekers who were brought to Australia under the ‘Medevac’ legislation, are now detained in hotels in Brisbane and Melbourne. Given that these people were brought to Australia because of medical and psychiatric illnesses, invariably exacerbated by the strain of longterm detention, we are very concerned that they continue to be detained, let alone in such restrictive conditions. Prime Minister, can you imagine the desperation that they must be feeling, at the waste of so many years of their lives, unable to settle, to build or nurture families, careers, community?
Surely it is impossible for this to continue forever. How do you plan to resolve this situation so that these people can get on with their lives?
Yours faithfully,