Human rights Opinion

Amnesty for refugees in Australia is urgently needed

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Rallies in support of asylum seekers will be happening across Australia on Palm Sunday (Screenshot via YouTube)

With asylum seekers slowly being released from detention, now is a perfect time for Australians to demand more from the Government, writes Jane Salmon.

HOW MANY of the 2013 boat arrivals remain in detention?

Currently, there are 31 onshore, with 217 in PNG and Nauru. 

These people are in dire need of support. 

This is very hard on those remaining, shunted about at the whim of the Department of Home Affairs.

An amnesty for all is urgently required. 

These slow trickle releases seem to be stealthy (late on Friday nights), to be arbitrary and intended to avoid media coverage. The men do not have access to caseworkers until several working days after release. 

Why now?

It seems that the Election is a factor in the decision to release more men from Park Hotel, which was a source of national embarrassment during the Novak Djokovic Australian Open detention debacle.

The refugee support hashtag #GameOver, great lawyers, the unsustainable cost of mindless cruelty and the way freed detainees have continued to work for the release of all have also had an effect.

Other factors may include Craig Foster's searing Press Club speech, continuous campaigns by advocates, the number of pro-refugee Independent candidates running and Palm Sunday falling during the election campaign.

Polling shows that damage to Defence Minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott Morrison's images over immigration is real. Sadly, Labor alone did not effectively address prevailing refugee myths. Independents have taken on both main parties in marginals and even safe conservative seats to break the deadlock.

Nicolette Boele, for example, attended a refugee forum in Bradfield (with lawyer Alison Battisson and former detainee Mostafa Azimitabar or “Moz”) and has been tweeting about refugees since. 

A global spotlight on forgotten Afghan allies following the Ukrainian refugee crisis may also be helping. The Federal Budget revealed cuts in refugee resettlement expenditure but increased intakes.

Hossein Latifi is one of the Park Hotel refugees released. He says he will not be happy until the remainder of the Park Hotel cohort is free. 

He was released after nine years of various forms of detention on his 33rd birthday and spent part of his first day of freedom pleading for others.

Of the eight remaining in Park Hotel, three with whom I have had contact seem deeply depressed.

There are Palm Sunday rallies occurring all over the country on 10 April.

Cutouts of “Lives in Limbo”, strong speakers, newly released detainees and a determination to make a difference via the ballot box will be part of the nation's Palm Sunday events which are listed here.

As Palm Sunday falls during the election campaign, the events can be expected to be politically ecumenical as well as multi-faith. Voting for compassion is seen as central to achieving justice for refugees.

Jane Salmon is a refugee advocate. You can follow her on Twitter @jsalmonupstream.

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