It’s Refugee Week.

It’s Refugee Week.

Despite my very happy life and the reasons I have each day to be incredibly joyful, there is a prevailing sadness in my soul which frequently bubbles to the surface, often without warning.

While I go about my happy life, there are innocent people and their beautiful children imprisoned indefinitely in appalling conditions, designed to punish them and to break their spirits.  My taxes are paying for it.

photo 4Yesterday, in Refugee Week, the Australian Labor Party voted to continue its support for offshore detention.   This is despite recent violence inflicted upon asylum seekers in the Manus Island detention centre in which one man was beaten to death, one had his throat slit, one had his eye gouged out and around 70 others sustained injuries.  This is despite reports of physical and sexual abuse of children by staff in the detention centre on Nauru.  This is despite inspection reports by Amnesty International and the UN which condemn the conditions in the centres as appalling and in breach of international human rights conventions.   This is despite the Labor Party declaring the following as one of its ‘Enduring Values’ in its National Platform:

“Labor is a party of human rights. Labor believes in a just and tolerant society that fully protects the rights and freedoms of all people in Australia.  Labor supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international treaties to which we are a signatory.”

It’s Refugee Week.

Today, in Refugee Week, the Australian High Court upheld the Federal Government’s constitutional right to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea.   Laws in Nazi Germany also ensured that Hitler had a legal right to send people to concentration camps.  Courts only decide what the law says; they don’t enforce what is morally right.

It’s Refugee Week.

While I celebrate my daily joys, there are wonderful people held captive in our communities by statelessness, family separation, poverty and uncertainty.   Their lives are made so meaningless that they consider taking desperate measures, rather than persevering with lives in limbo here.

When a young friend spoke last week of contemplating voluntarily returning to face his persecutors, he smiled wistfully as he said he could take his chances in order to try to grow old with his brothers.  But his smile faded and he hung his head as he conceded, with pain in his voice, that he would not be safe on return.

Today in my home town, in Refugee Week, a Tamil man I’ve met, and whose friends describe as ‘extraordinarily honourable’, was buried.  In a moment of great despair, brought about by living in constant uncertainty and fear of being returned to Sri Lanka, he decided that setting himself on fire would bring an end to his suffering. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection refused to allow his family a visa to attend his funeral.

It’s Refugee Week, and it  breaks my heart that suicide or potential execution appear as better options than persevering with the wait for refugee status to be determined.

It’s Refugee Week, and these words, published in 2007, are shamefully as true today as they were the day they were written:

“A just society does not ignore the needs of the powerless, voiceless minority.  A just society does not turn its back on damaged human beings who ask for help.  A just society does not imprison innocent people…Our treatment of refugees, here and in Nauru and Manus Island, is a scandal that will haunt us for decades.  The human misery we have inflicted on thousands who have arrived looking for help is incalculable.  Our complete abdication of moral responsibility – leave aside our legal responsibility under international conventions – is reprehensible beyond words.”  (Julian Burnside, Watching Brief)

It’s Refugee Week.