Established in 2014, Trinity Aid For Refugees (TAR) seeks to provide support for asylum seekers and refugees. Its members comprise people from the four communities of Queenscliff, Point Lonsdale, Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads who are either members or friends of Holy Trinity Parish.
The work of TAR is a Christian response to the Gospel imperative to love thy neighbour, best articulated in Matthew 25:35:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
The work of TAR is not restricted to people of Christian faith. Indeed, across Australia, many people respond to the needs of asylum seekers and refugees motivated by universal humanitarian values best encapsulated in the golden rule attributed to Confucius “do unto others as you would have them do to you”. To this end, TAR seeks to work in harmony with other support groups such as Queenscliff Rural Aid for Refugees, the Uniting Church, St James Anglican Parish, Grandmothers for Refugees, and Combined Refugee Action Group Geelong (CRAG).
TARs aims are:
- To provide practical support for asylum seekers and refugees through annual collections of groceries and shopping vouchers within the four communities
- To engage in advocacy to seek change in the policies of government and opposition political parties through letter writing and petitions.
- To provide holiday activities for refugee and asylum seeker families in the Geelong region
- To liaise and support the activities of other like-minded groups.
Whilst not motivated or supportive of any individual political party, the focus of TAR is to change the policies of the two major political parties in Australia whose attitudes are similar particularly with respect to mandatory detention of boat arrivals in offshore centres.
Current issues which reflect a challenge to justice: (Updated November 2021)
Successive governments of both major political parties have stated asylum seekers who arrive by boat will never be permanently settled in Australia. This policy is clearly in breach of the United Nations 1951 Convention on Refugees. Apart from the human rights issue, the opportunity cost to other government wellbeing programs such as health and NDIS has been immense. Since 2012, $7 billion has been spent on offshore detention.
In answer to recent questions in the Senate it was revealed that the annual cost of detaining asylum seekers on Nauru has escalated to $4.3m per person. Currently 110 males are detained on Nauru (down from 1193 in 2016) with reduced numbers due to limited re-settlement in the United States, deaths, and abandonment of claims for protection. Women, children and family groups are no longer placed on Nauru. New Zealand has offered to re-settle some asylum seekers from Nauru, but this offer has been consistently rejected by the Australian Government.
Medivac Asylum Seekers in Melbourne Hotels
Whilst some asylum seekers who were evacuated from Nauru to Australia for health reason (and placed in hotel detention) have been released into community detention, approximately 46 still languish in The Park Hotel, Melbourne. Little logic appears to exist as to which detainees were released and those who remain in hotel detention. Of those remaining in hotel detention 20 have tested positive to Covid with vaccination processes not commenced until August of 2021. Some have refused vaccination on the grounds that it may result in the Commonwealth Government returning them to Nauru.
Syrian Refugee Camps
Approximately 40 Australian children are interned within Kurdish held refugee camps in Syria. The children are innocent victims of war when their mothers (either voluntarily or forcibly) followed their fathers from Australia into Syria and Iraq in their quest to become Islamic State fighters. Most of the fathers are now dead or imprisoned.
Repeated requests to the Australian Government to repatriate the mothers and children have not been responded to on the grounds that the government does not wish to risk Australian lives in a rescue effort. Yet Australian media have accessed these families without security consequences and European nations such as Germany and Denmark have repatriated their families from the same camps without incidents. Some of the mothers interviewed by Australian media have offered to be monitored by security agencies if they are returned to Australia, but such offers have not been responded to.
The camps are tent cities in a harsh environment with little access to health services and no education programs. Occupants are reliant on NGOs for basic services.
A basic principle of justice is that children should not be punished for the deeds of their parents.
Update on the Biloela Family
This Tamil family fled Sri Lanka because of civil war and the fear of persecution. They were welcomed into the Queensland town of Biloela where the husband worked, the family integrated into the supportive local community, and where two daughters were born. Forcibly removed from Biloela to be deported when their visas expired, the family have endured over 1000 days in detention, most of the last two years on Christmas Island.
When the youngest daughter Tharnicaa became ill on Christmas Island, she and her mother Prya were evacuated to Perth followed shortly after by the father Nades and older daughter Kopika. Released into community detention, the Immigration Minister eventually placed the parents and Kopika on a 12 month bridging visa. Tharnicaa remains without any form of protection, possibly because her case remains in the Australian Courts. In a churlish decision, the Immigration Minister is forbidding the family to return to Biloela and must remain in Perth.
The plight of individuals and groups.
Most refugees on bridging visas within Australia are now denied Newstart and rely on NGOs and charities for the basics of life including food and rental support. Some have no work rights. Little government support exists for legal challenges to refugee claims for visas, with courts and tribunals experiencing long backlogs of pending cases. Most legal cases are undertaken on a pro bono basis or funded by NGOs and charities.
Two ongoing anomalies in Government policies
A major anomaly exists in the Commonwealth Government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees compared to other visa over-stayers such as backpackers, tourists and temporary workers. At any point in time it is estimated that there are over 60,000 visa over-stayers in Australia yet they are pursued with little interest or vigour by the government compared to the efforts and finance committed to not accepting refugees and asylum seekers.
A second anomaly is the contradictory distinction between boat arrivals and arrivals by air. Boat arrivals are detained in offshore processing centres (Nauru, Christmas Island, and previously Manus Island) whilst arrivals by air are released into the community after initial security and health checks.
The work of others
Many community groups have responded to the call for justice in dealing with asylum seekers (including those listed above). One such group is the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project. Based in Albert Park, Melbourne and operating since 2001 the group has a volunteer support group of over 200 people. Its work includes advocacy for individual asylum seekers and their families, lobbying of politicians, referrals to professional people such as migration agents and legal personnel, contact with case workers within the Immigration Department, acting as litigation guardians for minors and provision of food and basic necessities for those in need. A key part of their work is emergency financial support for individuals and families including rental and accommodation support. In excess of 100 individuals and families are provided with accommodation support at any point in time.
Financial support for this work is provided by The Brigidine Sisters and numerous donations from the community.
The Brigidine Asylum Seeker website and newsletter can be accessed at www.basp.org.au.
Australia is a generous and prosperous nation, yet in the current climate of worldwide refugee movement we should be doing better. In 2020 it was estimated that civil wars, drought and poverty had caused 26 million worldwide refugees and 45 million displaced persons. Australia has placed a current ceiling of 18,750 on UN sponsored refugees within an annual migration figure of approximately 150,000 (currently far less because of Covid).
As we move towards a Federal election in 2022, advocacy, letter writing and direct contact with politicians of all parties will be appropriate actions to undertake. An emerging issue in 2022 will be asylum seekers fleeing Afghanistan, some of whom are owed protection by Australia because of their previous association with Australian military personnel. To date the Australian Government has offered 3,000 settlement places, an offer that seems minimal given that both Canada and the United Kingdom have each offered 20,000 places. Given Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan over many years, it seems reasonable for Australia to exercise responsibility in accepting a fair share of those seeking asylum from this war torn nation whose new regime violates human rights, particularly those of women.
Support for the work of TAR and similar groups in this regard is invited.