Human rights Opinion

Treatment of asylum seekers is our national shame

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Asylum seekers imprisoned in the Park Hotel are at risk of death from COVID-19 (Screenshot via YouTube)

The ongoing suffering endured by asylum seekers is a cruelty that can hopefully be erased at the next election, writes Jane Salmon.

IT'S BECOME an "old" and slightly stale story, like the air within the hermetically sealed Park Hotel in Carlton.

COVID-19 incubator Park Hotel remains a prison for 34 refugees. They are part of a group of around 80 Medevaccers left from the thousands hauled offshore in July 2013. There is mental anguish among those still stranded in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru, too.

Even Christmas visits are not on the cards. 

While many have travelled to Canada and the U.S., there is no face-to-face visiting for those in detention onshore — not even for Christmas.

Activist Lieke Janssen said:

10 December, International Human Rights Day, happened to be the birthday of Adnan Choopani. Adnan escaped persecution in Iran when he was just 15 years old and has been moved from detention centre to detention centre for almost nine years now. Even though he was recognised as a refugee in 2014 already. At the moment, Adnan is being detained in the Park Hotel. This Human Rights Day Rally coincided with his 24th birthday.

The next day, 11 December, was the 40th birthday of Farhad Bandesh. It is a day to remember. Bandesh, who spent over six years on Manus, was finally granted a visa and released from the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) detention centre in Broadmeadows, Victoria on his birthday last year.

Over seven years had been stolen from him by detention and he still remains stuck with short term visas. These keep the uncertainty going and prevent the full flow of freedom. What landlord will accept a temporary visa holder?

Bandesh celebrated his 40th birthday this year with the same people he joined as a released man a year ago. These included David Bridie, Craig Foster, Jenelle Quinsee, Arnold Zable and fellow musician, detainee Mostafa Azimitabar, who was released in January 2021. 

His life has moved forward. He is now a wine maker as well as an artist and musician. We joke that he is really only 31, having had most of a decade stolen from him. 

However, long-term plans cannot be made without permanency. "I am free, but not free." Good wine takes longer than any short-run visa to mature and all the stability that goes with that. 

His Time to Fly wine, however, will be a smooth Shiraz and not bitter. 

(Email your order and enquiries to: Bandeshwine@gmail.com.)

There are many journalists and supporters who deserve to share a glass. I would like to send some to the late Michael Gordon's family. Michael was one of the first to visit Manus and there is still a grant for refugee reporting in his name. There are several other writers who deserve a crate plus the stalwart Senator Nick McKim.

Perhaps any newly elected Labor leaders will prove worthy of a drop if and when they deliver permanency and resolution for those harmed by the offshore process. Their Party may have begun it but no one could have anticipated the brutal ongoing mess Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Peter Dutton have made of it. Decent humans have been permanently destroyed while being abused as deterrents. To put them last on a voting tablecloth will bring belated relief. 

Recent Commonwealth Ombudsman, UN and even Chinese condemnation may not be enough, but perhaps the ballot box is where we can finally the message can get across.  

Hopefully, Immigration Minister Karen Andrews and these torturers will see fit to let young Adnan reclaim his life. He has spent almost a third of it under guard for choosing a boat. 

Most Labor leaders have failed to risk vocal moral leadership at every point in the past two election cycles. However good their policies, this remains hard to forget. Thank heavens for the notable exceptions like MPs Ged Kearney, Susan Templeman, Anne Aly and Josh Burns.

The ongoing abuse of Medevaccers is unspeakable torture. And it remains our national shame. 

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

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