Witness

Dear Prime Minister,

On Friday 23 March the annual Stations of the Cross exhibition opened at Wesley Church in Perth. My artwork, 'Witness', was made for Station 6: Veronica wipes Jesus' face. In the same way that Veronica was witness and comfort to Jesus' suffering in the face of the hostility of the crowd and the might of the state and priests, so are the Australian activists witness and comfort to the refugees' suffering on Manus and Nauru.

I hand wove face cloths and invited people to stitch their response to the refugees in offshore detention. This is what men and women, of different backgrounds and political beliefs have to say  about the men, women and children on Manus and Nauru.

'Witness' (detail), 2018, Ruth Halbert, Stations of the Cross.  https://www.perthunitingchurch.org.au/stations/view/station-6

'Witness' (detail), 2018, Ruth Halbert, Stations of the Cross. https://www.perthunitingchurch.org.au/stations/view/station-6

PNG refugee resettlement failed

Dear Prime Minister,

On February 20 Papua New Guinean police raided the houses of 13 refugees who were supposedly being resettled in Port Moresby. They were arrested and forced back to Manus Island. PNG Immigration Minister, Petrus Thomas, told ABC News that 'refugee resettlement had failed.'

Yet Minister Dutton's department of Home Affairs maintains that refugees on Manus Island still have the option of settling in PNG. How is the Minister going to make that happen when PNG says no?

Cambodia not safe

Dear Prime Minister,

Both the PNG and Australian courts have found that Australia is responsible for the reugees detained on Manus Island and Nauru.

Australia, along with 44 other nations in the United Nations, has condemned Cambodia for "the recent serious decline of [its] civil and political rights."

Yet Foreign Minister Bishop confirms that your Government expects the refugees detained offshore to settle safely in Cambodia, and has paid Hun Sen's corrupt government $55 million to accept them.

How do you justify sending people who have fled oppression and danger to a country which violently oppresses its own citizens?

He is only ten years old

Dear Prime Minister,

I cannot believe I live in a country where a letter like this is necessary. Your Minister of Home Affairs tried to block life-saving tertiary psychiatric care for a ten-year-old child who has been suicidal since 2013. This is the second court case Minister Dutton's department has lost recently over the acute medical care urgently needed for children detained on Nauru.

The judge ruled that Australia “held a duty of care” to the boy and his family as the entity that had placed them on the island and which ran the offshore processing centre and the regime that held them.
— Ben Doherty, The Guardian Australia

This comes after Dr Nick Martin's damning revelations of how medical care for refugees is routinely blocked.

Every clinical decision that you made was being questioned by a non-medic. I had never had that in the forces. Your expertise and your autonomy was respected in the Royal Navy but in [Australia’s] border force you did absolutely feel there was a political influence on the clinical cases.
— Dr Nick Martin

I have previously written a number of letters to you about the dangerously inadequate healthcare for refugees on both Nauru and Manus Island. What action will you take to ensure all outstanding medical treatments are delivered immediately to the refugees?

Refoulement from PNG

Dear Prime Minister,

In the Parliamentary Research Paper, 'Australia's offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and PNG: a quick guide to statistics and resources,' a table shows the number of departures each month from Nauru and PNG. For the period Jan 2014 - Jun 2015 it shows the destination countries of the returned asylum seekers. However from August 2015 onwards there is no information about the destination countries. Does Australia follow up the fate of each of the returnees? If they have been returned to danger then Australia has committed the international crime of refoulement.

Refugees in PNG report that a total of 6 men have been deported to danger in Bangladesh between 4th and 20th March 2018. Will they be recorded as 'destination unknown.' Were they stateless Rohingyas? What is their fate?

Arrested for complaint

Dear Prime Minister,

The refugees housed at West Haus, Lorengau, Manus Island have struggled since being forced there on 24 November 2017 with poor living conditions. Power and water cease working for days at a time. The water is too dirty to drink and causes skin inflammation. On 20 March one of the refugees made a complaint that

West has no mess for our meals, not enough living space, no toiletries, weekly allowance not enough for daily needs.
— https://t.me/ManusAlert/3611

Security had him arrested.

These men are Australia's responsibility. Bring them here.

Resettlement in PNG was never a viable option

Dear Prime Minister,

Watna Mori, PNG lawyer, says that resettlement of Manus Island refugees in Papua New Guinea (one of Minister Dutton's 3 options) was never viable. She cites the example of seven West Papuan refugees who Australia handed over to Papua New Guinea for resettlement support but were abandoned to their own resources. She says:

As is commonly the case in PNG, once the funding and heat behind the issue disappeared, so too did the ability to care. Australia, meanwhile, distanced itself from the men once they became PNG’s problem.
— Watna Mori

Bad enough for these 7 men, but they are Melanesian and have some connection to PNG culture and society. For the refugees on Manus Island, from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, they have no such connections. The so-called PNG resettlement program has been going for more than three years and is still a failure. Barriers to resettlement are insurmountable. The current contractor, JDA Wokman, is a job recruitment agency with no experience in refugee resettlement.

The New Zealand offer of resettling 150 refugees is still available. Many Australians are willing to offer community sponsored resettlement. Will your government look at these options so that all refugees on Manus Island can be freed from limbo and allowed to restart their lives?

Do you back Peter Dutton?

Dear Prime Minister,

Foreign Minister Bishop refused to back Minister Dutton's claims that white South African farmers need special visas to flee to Australia.

You were asked at the ASEAN Australia summit in Sydney if you backed Minister Dutton's position on white South African farmers and his use of the word 'civilised.'

You did not answer.

Meanwhile the refugees imprisoned by us on Manus and Nauru for nearly five years, look on.

 

White South African farmers

Dear Prime Minister,

Peter Dutton, anxious about losing his seat at the next election, wants to import some voters to shore up his numbers. It seems however that the white South African farmers are not interested. How much damage to Australian-South African relations has Peter Dutton done with his comments about South Africa being 'not civilised'?

Australia has been locking up legitimate refugees on Nauru and Manus Island for the better part of two decades, trying, absurdly, to resettle them in Cambodia and Papua New Guinea, and offering them cash bribes to return to the countries they fled. Not only would that brutal treatment never be dished out to white South African farmers, but we are now proactively trying to add them to our humanitarian intake.
Australia’s disgraceful record of politicising refugee issues has rarely been more brazenly displayed.
— https://thenewdaily.com.au/money/finance-news/2018/03/15/malcolm-fraser-south-african-white-farmers/

Sack Dutton now.

ABF head sacked

Dear Prime Minister,

After 11 months suspension (on full salary) Roman Quaedvlieg is sacked for making 'wilfully or recklessly false statements.'

After Priya's visa renewal didn't arrive in the mail on time, she, her husband and their two baby daughters were imprisoned by ABF within 5 HOURS of their deadline.

Where is justice?