moral responsibility

Witness for the 630th man on Manus Island

Dear Prime Minister,

'Witness' (detail), 2018, Ruth Halbert, Stations of the Cross.

'Witness' (detail), 2018, Ruth Halbert, Stations of the Cross.

The Government of Australia knowingly denies the human rights of the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru by illegal imprisonment (amounting to slavery) and torture. These crimes by the Government of Australia are racially motivated. The location of these criminal activities in two impoverished countries (Nauru and Papua New Guinea) is also an expression of Australia's racism and colonialism.

Will Australia settle or be sued?

Dear Prime Minister,

The huge class action of 1905 current and former detainees on Manus Island who are suing the Australian Government starts today. The lead plaintiff is Mr Majid Kamasaei. This is why he is suing Australia:

an Iranian man, Majid Kamasaei, who was held in the Manus Island offshore ‘processing centre’ for 11 months before he was transferred to Melbourne. When a teenager in Iran, he suffered severe burns to his face, rescuing his brother from a fire. When he arrived at Manus Island his prescribed medications (necessary to keep the scar tissues on his face and neck from cracking and contracting) were confiscated, his condition deteriorated and he alleges that he was denied medical treatment. He claims the lack of treatment was used as a tactic to pressurise him, with staff telling him that he could either return to Iran and resume his medical treatments there – or wait on Manus Island for his asylum application to be processed, with no treatment in the meantime.

The claim of the class action is that

the detainees suffered physical and psychological injuries due to negligence by the defendants in the provision of (a) food and water; (b) accommodation; (c) healthcare services; and (d) security

A further purpose of the action is to publicly reveal the extent of Australia's shameful mistreatment and torture of the men detained on Manus Island.

What will the Australian government do, Prime Minister, settle or be sued? At what cost?

For the 205th man on Manus Island

Dear Prime Minister,

New Zealand has offered again to take some of the refugees from our offshore detention prisons. Why have you not accepted? Your statement "This offer from NZ has been available for some time and it is one that we appreciate but our focus is on completing the arrangements with the United States." makes no sense. Why does the resettlement offer from the United States preclude the New Zealand offer, especially as even if the US take the full number in the agreement (1250) there will still be refugees left behind who will need to be given asylum.

Of course, you could always do the right, low-cost, legal thing and resettle them in Australia.

For the 175th man on Manus Island

Dear Prime Minister,

In Roger Cohen's New York Times column of 30 December 2016 he writes

The conservative Australian government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull argues that its policy has “stopped the boats” at a time when more refugees are on the move across the world than at any time since 1945. The argument’s flaw is its inhumanity. Despite being a signatory of all major international human rights treaties, Australia has instituted an indefensible policy of cruelty as deterrence.

Roger Cohen has been to Manus island and reports from first hand experience.

Australia's offshore detention regime is indefensible. Close the camps and bring them here.

For the 112th man on Manus Island

Dear Prime Minister,

I want these letters to draw attention to each of the individuals all currently detained and tortured on Manus Island and Nauru by Australia.

But today I must strongly protest to you about Minister Dutton's racist and inflammatory discussion with Andrew Bolt where he used emotive language to vilify groups of Australians as criminals and potential terrorists based on their or their parents' country of origin. His comments are gossipy speculation aimed to increase public anxiety and he is handing certain minority groups up for blame and potential racist targeting. Does Dutton use Mein Kampf as an instruction manual?

I call on you to apologise to the Australian people whom Dutton has so dangerously slandered and to sack him immediately.

End offshore detention. #97

Dear Prime Minister,

The most challenging aspect of trying to work for change in Australia's approach to asylum seekers and refugees is the realisation that no argument or legal course of action can have any effect because of the cynical truth that the issue is not being treated on its legal and moral merits, but is used merely as part of a political strategy in maintaining power. The lives of men like Mr XXX XXX, aged XX, of XXX, the 97th man on Manus Island, are apparently being sacrificed for you and your colleagues' amusement.

Do you see how this becomes a situation where reasonable people feel that their only recourse is to start to act outside of the law?

End offshore detention. Bring them here #85

Dear Prime Minister,

The 85th detainee on Manus Island, Mr XXX XXX from XXX, is being held illegally on Manus Island. It is Australia's legal and moral responsibility to act immediately to ensure he is free to recommence his life in Australia, with all the support and rehabilitation he needs.

We must end detention of all refugees now. Bring them here.

Letters to Tyranny #42

Dear Prime Minister,

"Our current approaches [to asylum seekers] are not sustainable, fiscally responsible or protection-sensitive. We must develop and promote durable, legal and human solutions for people in need of protection. A new Australian approach should not be considered a sign of weakness or a policy backflip, but rather a considered response to the legal and moral imperative to take a leading role in an area of acute global need."

It is urgent that you develop the solutions that Professor McAdam calls for in the conclusion of her article in Monday's Guardian, not only for Mr XXX XXX, the 42nd asylum seeker on Manus Island, but for all current and future refugees and for your own legacy as Prime Minister of Australia.

Yours faithfully

Ruth Halbert