The Freedom Cage

April 2022. The Australian Government released all of the refugees and asylum seekers detained in the Park Hotel ahead of the current election campaign. There is a small number still detained on the Australian mainland, as well as those still held offshore. The refugees from the Park Hotel have been left with minimal support, and are dependent upon people of goodwill in the Australian community to help them find accommodation and provide other supports. The Freedom Cage public protests are currently paused.

background: ‘The Freedom Cage is a call to stand in solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers locked up in Australia and offshore under the harshest refugee policies in the world. The men and women we advocate for have been in detention for up to 9 years, all because they came to Australia by boat. By standing in the cage, we bear witness to the Australian government’s persecution of vulnerable people who came to our shores in search of safety and a home – and we invite you to do the same.’

The Nun in the Cage – a recent ABC Compass documentary on Sr Brigid Arthur and the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project, featuring the Freedom Cage and the stories of asylum seekers and refugees [broadcast Sun 17 Apr 2022, 7:30pm]

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Contact:
Tom Hardman, 0419 620 927

THE FACTS ABOUT AUSTRALIA’S REFUGEE POLICY

DETENTION, especially prolonged indefinite detention, damages mental and physical health. Self-harm was frequent. Former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry called Australian detention centres “factories for producing mental illness”. Amnesty International said conditions in Australia’s offshore detention centres “amount to torture”. Australia is the only country in the world that enforces mandatory and indefinite detention of asylum seekers, in breach of the UN refugee convention.

Read Mehdi and Adnan’s story for a personal account of the whole nine years of extended torture HERE

THE PARK HOTEL, located at 701 Swanston St, Carlton, in the heart of Melbourne, was until April 2022 one of several ‘Alternative Places of Detention’ (APODs) used by the Australian government to detain refugees on the Australian mainland. The refugees in the Park Hotel were brought to Australia from PNG and Nauru for medical treatment under MEDEVAC laws, but they rarely received it. They were unable to open windows, let alone go outside. Most of these men were in detention for nearly 9 years. Their physical and mental health continued to deteriorate in dentention.

OFFSHORE DETENTION in Nauru and Papua New Guinea is a vicious and unnecessary policy. The UN declared that conditions in Nauru and PNG violate the convention against torture. Fourteen men have died in offshore detention, due to medical neglect, violent attacks, and suicide. Women and children have been raped and sexually abused. No journalists are allowed to visit Australia’s offshore detention centres.

THE COST of keeping asylum seekers from our shores is very high – $10 billion over four years according to an audit commissioned by the Australian Government. This is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Some asylum-seekers living in the community in Australia can work but have no access to welfare if unemployed. Many of those who arrived after 13 August 2013 aren’t allowed to work. Releasing refugees from detention would save billions. Giving refugees the right to work and access welfare would be a powerful blow against poverty.

COVID-19 swept through the Park Hotel in October 2021 after management failed to take adequate precautions against the virus. Some of these men had been denied access to vaccinations. Windows could not be opened in the Park Hotel so the virus spread through the air-conditioning system. Prisons are one of the places of highest risk for COVID breakouts.

SEEKING ASYLUM is a human right. Article 14 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Asylum-seekers have the right to be assessed by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or by any country like Australia which is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. To gain refugee status, asylum-seekers must prove a well-founded fear of persecution in accordance with the Convention. It can be on grounds of ethnicity, religion, sexuality or gender, political opinion or activism – for example being a trade unionist. Deportation to danger by the host country – know as ‘refoulement’ – is a breach of the Convention.

SEEKING ASYLUM BY BOAT is not a crime. The UN refugee convention does not consider how an asylum-seeker arrives relevant for determining claims for protection and refugee status. Those people who come to Australia by boat are not ‘queue jumpers’. Most people who come by boat are fleeing countries where it is unsafe or impossible to access embassies or UN offices to access visas. In dictatorships and war-torn countries, people may be persecuted for attempting to leave by legal avenues. Some ethnic groups, such as the Rohingya, are not recognised as citizens within their own country and thus have no means of obtaining passports or visas.

WHAT ABOUT ‘STOPPING THE BOATS’?
It is a common misbelief that Australia’s hardline treatment of refugees and asylum seekers who arrived by boat is necessary to deter others from attempting to do the same. It is important to deter people from risking their lives at sea, just as it is important to counteract people-smuggling, and the Australian public is rightly concerned about these issues. But it is the government’s policy of boat-pull-backs that has stopped people from arriving by boat, not the brutal conditions of offshore processing and indefinite detention. People still attempt to reach Australia by boat today, but since 2013 the Australian navy intercepts all boats and forces them to return to their country of departure. Whether or not one agrees with the policy of boat pull-backs, it is clear that it is the fact that it is virtually impossible to reach Australia by boat that has prevented further arrivals and will continue to do so. The idea that releasing the refugees in detention on- and offshore will ‘open the floodgates’ and lead to a resurgence of boat arrivals is a MYTH.

The men above are three of the fourteen people who have died in offshore detention during the last 8 years.

“I have survived to this day because of the love from thousands of wonderful Australian friends who have supported us through this suffering. Their protests speak truth to power; they have touched our lives with compassion. We would be dead without them.”
Thanush Selvarasa – refugee, activist, and ex-detainee of 7 years.

THE FREEDOM CAGE PROTEST IS CALLING FOR

• An end to mandatory indefinite detention and the immediate release of all asylum-seekers and refugees into the community. [as of 28 April 2022, we believe 6 refugees previously held offshore still remain in Australian detention centres]
• An end to offshore detention of asylum-seekers in PNG, Nauru, Christmas Island, or elsewhere.
• Speedy processing of all refugees and asylum seekers offshore under the New Zealand Resettlement Option
• The abolition of Temporary Protection Visas and the granting of permanent protection with full rights to work, welfare, and education to refugees.
• Compensation for all who have suffered as the result of their detention, enduring physical or psychological harm, including special assistance to children who have been detained to help them recover from their ordeal and obtain a good education.
• The abolition of Direction 80, which prevents refugees who arrived by boat from being granted family visas in order to bring their relatives to Australia and be reunited with their loved ones.

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