Refugee Action Collective (Vic)

Free the refugees! Let them land, let them stay!

Open letter to Foreign Minister Penny Wong

Open letter to Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong from Refugee Action Collective – Vic

Re: Urgent call to continue funding United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)

Dear Minister Penny Wong,

The recent decision to suspend aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is wrong and funding must be resumed as a priority.

We note the suspension is in relation to unproven accusations of the involvement by a small number of staff members in the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, an attack that UNRWA condemned.

This decision is both unjustified and will result in further needless suffering by the Palestinians in Gaza.

UNRWA employs approximately 30,000 people, 13,000 in Gaza alone. Why should the organisation and the people of Gaza be subjected to collective punishment because of the alleged actions of a handful of people?

UNRWA provides aid and service to millions of people, how is it expected to continue to support those who are suffering, starving and in desperate need of medical services if funding is cut?

While this decision may be popular in some quarters, it is times like this that Australia needs to show that it is there to support the vulnerable, the dispossessed and those living through a critical humanitarian crisis.

We urge you to immediately reverse the decision to suspend aid.


The Refugee Action Collective, Victoria

Do our protests have an impact?

In November 2023, RAC (Vic) held an action outside the State Library to protest the long-standing ban on refugees from Indonesia.

In 2014 the Australian government implemented a ban on the resettlement of refugees from Indonesia.

This meant that people who had signed up with the UNHCR in Indonesia for resettlement in Australia and who had been found to be refugees by that organisation were forbidden to do so. The Albanese government maintains the ban today.

Indonesia is a major regional gateway for people to come to Australia from countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran and Sudan.

As Indonesia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention this ban has left 14,000 men, women and children in limbo. They are living in poverty with no work rights and no future.

Most Australians would have no idea about this ban and so the situation goes largely unchallenged and unscrutinised.

RAC (Vic) is determined to highlight this appalling situation and stand in solidarity with those currently in limbo in Indonesia.

Although the protest drew a relatively small crowd it had a big impact on those most affected by the ban. We received dozens of messages during and after the livestream from refugees in limbo in Indonesia who were glad to see people standing in solidarity with them.

Here are just a few quotes from refugees who either participated in the action via phone or who watched the livestream. The quotes show that our actions matter.

They also show that those affected by Australia’s policies are people – not numbers or cases but people. These people have hopes and dreams and Australia’s brutal policies stand in the way.

We must continue to shine a light on this injustice and build the protest against it. “From little things, big things grow.”

We will be planning more actions in 2024. Please join us.

To the Australian people who demonstrated for us yesterday, I am writing to you today to express my sincere gratitude for your support … You have shown us that we are not forgotten and that there are people who care about our plight … it gave us hope that one day we will be able to rebuild our lives in a safe and welcoming country. We will never forget it. (Alireza)

Thank you for the rally and support. It came at a crucial time. People were losing hope. I hope to see more of this support. Your support is touching hearts and saving lives. (Hussain)

Thank you for standing in solidarity with the forgotten refugees in Indonesia. (Noor)

Sending love from Indonesia to you dear Australian kind heart people. Thanks for raise up our poor voice. We are here in Indonesia living about 11 years without any basic human rights. (Mahdi)

We all appreciate your kindness and caring about refugees in Indonesia. Thank you so much. (Assadullah)

By Barbara Forehan

The High Court decision explained

Why have some people in detention been released?

On 8 November 2023, the High Court of Australia held that indefinite immigration detention (i.e. where there is no end point in a person’s detention) is unlawful, and that the Australian Government cannot detain a person if they cannot be removed from Australia in certain circumstances.

As the High Court has not yet published its written reasons, it is unclear how many people in detention are impacted by the decision and must be released. We do not know when the High Court will publish its reasons, however it is unlikely to be this year.

During the High Court hearing, lawyers for the Minister indicated that 92 people in detention would likely be impacted by the decision, and possibly 340 other people may be affected.

As of 18 November 2023, at least 93 people have been released from detention.

RAC Vic welcomes the High Court decision. We have campaigned for many years for an end to the cruel policy of indefinite detention.

Many, but not all, the people who are being released from detention have committed crimes. It is important to note that they are not being released from prison. They were moved to detention after serving their sentence.

How did the government react?

On 16 November 2023, the government passed a new law that applies to people released from detention because of the High Court decision.

The law says that people released will be granted bridging R visas with additional conditions, including strict reporting requirements.

People will also be subjected to curfew requirements and electronic monitoring devices.

There is a process for people to request the Minister to remove these conditions if the Minister is satisfied that the person is not a risk to the community.

Also, if people have been convicted of certain offences, their bridging visas will have conditions that prevent them being in contact with certain people in the community.

If a person breaches these new bridging R visa conditions, it is a criminal offence, unless the person has a reasonable excuse.

If a person breaches a visa condition over more than 1 day, each day that the person is in breach of the condition will be considered as a separate offence.

The punishment for each offence is a minimum sentence of 1 year of imprisonment and the maximum penalty is up to 5 years’ imprisonment.

RAC Vic believes this is a draconian response that is inherently racist – it applies only to non-citizens.

Citizens who do jail time are released into the community once they serve their sentence, sometimes with conditions.

Non-citizens are being treated as if they are inherently more dangerous. Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil responded to the High Court decision by saying that if she had her way, all the people released would be back in detention.

Labor is pandering to racist fearmongering. This is a logical continuation of Labor’s commitment to the Coalition agenda of Operation Sovereign Borders, boat turnbacks, mandatory detention on Nauru and the continued misery for a small number of refugees in Papua New Guinea and 14,000 more in Indonesia.

RAC will continue to campaign against this agenda, for refugees to be welcomed. We will also continue to campaign for non-citizens to be treated equally with citizens in the criminal justice system.

  • RAC acknowledges the use of an Asylum Seeker Resource Centre briefing document.