KON KARAPANAGIOTIDIS: What the Morrison Government means for refugees

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(Image via @GetUp)

Our doors [at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre] have just opened for the first time since a Morrison Government was elected.

I’m hurting just like I imagine you all are right now and I have shed more tears than I could have thought possible over this last weekend. But I feel most devastated for people seeking asylum, who were desperately holding onto the hope that a more compassionate government would be ushered in on Saturday.

Still, even in the shadow of great loss and sadness I woke up today determined more than ever to fight. Determined that there is a better Australia ahead. When others have chosen fear and division and self-interest, I choose love, I choose unity, I choose justice, I choose compassion and I choose fairness.

This blog is longer than usual, but please bear with me as I break down what the election of a Morrison Government means for people seeking asylum and the vital role the ASRC will play over the coming months.

The ASRC hasn’t taken a backward step or given up in 18 years and we have no plans of doing so today.

We’ve been here before and triumphed against the odds. This is the sixth Federal election since I founded the ASRC and no matter how much tougher things get in its aftermath, we always hold the line. We always return to our values, our mission of protecting refugees and we don’t waver.

This is not a defeat, this is a call to action for us. Our job is not to give up but to build something better starting today.

We will only fight harder for people seeking asylum and be even more fearless. We can’t let this break us or even bend our determination, too many refugees lives depend on us coming together leading with love and direct action now.

We have built a strong movement of caring compassionate Australians, and now more than ever, we need to not just hold our ground but push forward with a new even more compassionate and courageous agenda.

Our movement has had much success (such as Kids off Nauru, Medevac) achieved under a Morrison Government, remember, so we need to continue the work we have started. And even now when we may feel like faltering, we know we can’t, because that will just leave the most vulnerable with no champions.

Now more than ever we need to stand our ground and remind those seeking asylum that we hear them and that we will fight side by side with them for a fair go. We still believe in the goodness of Australians and we know you will rise to this challenge with us.

Seeing the continuation of a government that oversaw 12 people die in offshore prisons, thousands turned back to danger and 30,000 left in limbo in the community for nearly a decade, brings a sense of immense dread to me and everyone at the ASRC. We know this election result will only embolden them and that refugees will once again be in their firing line.

The past six years have been brutal and crushing for all those across the nation who work with, support and care about people seeking asylum. It’s dispiriting that as a country, we have given approval to another term of a Morrison Government that has been obsessed with border security and the stripping away of basic rights for people seeking asylum and refugees.

Yet there is hope. The fact that this was the first election in nearly two decades where people seeking asylum weren’t demonised or used as political pawns is a huge win for our society. Your support has absolutely shifted the narrative on refugees and while it might not feel like it today, the tide is turning. Seeing the end of Fraser Anning’s and Tony Abbott’s political tenure is evidence of this.

And over the next three years, as hard and difficult and long as it will be for thousands of people seeking asylum, we will be here. Just as we have been for the last 18 years.

We will fill the gaps due to policy failure, we will provide food to those with no income, we will house those most vulnerable, we will legally act when people have nowhere else to turn, we will give people seeking asylum a voice and we will shift attitudes on asylum in our media and public discourse.

And importantly, we will use our independence now more than ever to fearlessly fight for fair and humane policies.

Over the years we have witnessed the devastating human cost of punitive policies for people seeking asylum regardless of who has been in government and the result is today, the situation for them is now dire.

The lines for our Foodbank are 50 people deep today as they were last Friday. The calls on WhatsApp from desperate suicidal men on Manus continue to ring through every few minutes as they have for nearly six years now at the ASRC.

There are hundreds of refugees our caseworkers are helping right now with their Medevac applications for urgent medical transfer. Men and women who’ve been waiting for medical care for up to nearly six years.

The homeless families cut off from all support payments and those not allowed the right to work are still queuing up at our front reception asking for housing as I write this.

The wait up until 2021 just for a court hearing for people’s asylum claims remains the timeline for hundreds of families.

And the faces of the refugees today are still weary and sunken with exhaustion as they know the future remains uncertain, at least for now.

What does a Morrison Government mean for people seeking asylum?

  • The continuation of the cruel and unfair "Fast Track" legal process.
  • The continued denial for those found to be refugees of permanent protection, with no hope for family reunion.
  • Continuing Temporary Protection Visas that will eventually leave up to 16,000 refugees in limbo.
  • No resettling of men and women on Manus and Nauru, including continuing to refuse the NZ deal; this is combined with a stated commitment to try and overturn the Medevac law.
  • Continuing to cut the SRSS safety net for up to 7,000 more people seeking asylum right now.
  • No access to means-tested legal assistance, leaving thousands without legal help.
  • No time limits on detention (in Australia) making it possible to detain people indefinitely.
  • Freezing Australia's humanitarian intake.

But when such a storm looms it is the time to strengthen our foundations.

Together, we have the opportunity to write a new chapter, one that we can look back on with pride and the knowledge that we made a real difference. We know that people seeking asylum need change that is robust and for that change to become part of our nation’s DNA rather than be yet again at the whim of the next election cycle.

We never gave up as a movement. We weathered the storm together. While I have always strived towards the day when the ASRC was no longer be the lifeline so many needed and we could close our doors, today is not that day. Nor is tomorrow. Now we are needed more than ever.

Like many of you, I was shocked to see the number of anti-immigration, pro-discrimination candidates and parties on the ballot papers and to learn that 747,215 Australians voted for either Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party or One Nation. The rise of these parties shows us that we are a long way from the welcoming, inclusive, fair society that we all dream of. Some of the rhetoric used during the election was the worst I’ve ever seen. We must remain vigilant and continue to counter any and all racist, discriminatory narratives.

This is the ASRC’s plan and our priorities.

We have already booked our flights to Canberra next month to lobby the Morrison Government and the crossbench to change the policy on asylum.

As always, we will use our fierce and fearless independence to push hard for political and policy change now.

Our discussions with the Morrison Government will focus on:

  • resettling all men and women on Manus and Nauru, including accepting the NZ deal;
  • immediate restoration of SRSS (income safety net) and a universal safety net for all people seeking asylum, including the right to work and Medicare;
  • immediate change in status for people from Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs) into permanent Protection Visas;
  • restoration of government-funded legal assistance and interpreters for people seeking asylum at all stages;
  • abolition of the Fast Track legal process and people given access to a fair and robust legal process;
  • permanent protection or resettlement for people transferred from offshore detention to Australia;
  • reassessment of claims rejected under the unfair Fast Track process; and
  • to consider/reconsider compelling humanitarian cases, such as the returning of Priya, Nades and kids home to Biloela.

We need your help to achieve the vision we have all hoped for — the fair, humane treatment of people seeking asylum. It is not out of reach.

We can achieve all the above with your support, that’s the power of us together, working as a movement.

What you can do in the next 30 days is help us provide the life-saving and critical support we deliver to over 5,000 people in Australia and on Manus and Nauru today, while we continue the fight for a better tomorrow. Change is coming but we know it will be slow and may not meet the needs of all people seeking asylum.

That’s why right now, it’s the most critical time of year for the ASRC. You can help us meet people’s critical needs by donating to our Winter Appeal, the most important ask we make all year of our community.

In the next 30-60 days we will be calling on you to take action to change the policy in Canberra, getting involved as a volunteer, writing to your local MP to demand they take action on current brutal and cruel policies, helping out at our winter food drive and by rallying your community to join us in our Refugee Week activities.

Our shared vision is to live in a country where people seeking asylum are embraced, where we are proud of the contribution of refugees, their resilience, and their strengths. A country and a people that believe in a welcoming, just Australia for ALL.

We can achieve this vision but it relies on all of us holding the line.

We can and will achieve this together as custodians of hope.

Yours in solidarity,

Kon Karapanagiotidis

Kon Karapanigiotidis is CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). This article was first published on the ASRC website and is republished with permission.


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