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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Novocastrians rally in support of refugees

People seeking asylum have the right to a safe and permanent home.

That’s the driving message behind a new campaign, which urges the Federal Government to immediately release refugees in immigration detention.

Launched this week, the Time For A Home initiative saw representatives from Amnesty International, Grandmothers for Refugees Newcastle Lake Macquarie, Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy, and Refugee Action Network Newcastle gather at Civic Park on Wednesday (4 December) to call for support. 

“We, as a community, need to raise our voices and call on the government to make a change,” Amnesty International Newcastle branch convener, Kevin Sweeney, said.

“The Time for A Home campaign is calling on the Federal Government to release and resettle the refugees who have been held in detention for more than seven years, with some of them up to 11 years.

“The immediate action that needs to happen is for them to release the refugees from detention – there is no good reason to hold them, they could easily be released into the community on temporary visas while permanent resettlement arrangements are made.

“It is the humane thing to do.”

Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy’s Niko Leka added that they deserved our support.

“If we lose the struggle with asylum seekers then we’ve lost the whole concept of human rights,” he said.  

Members of the Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy Group at Civic Park this week.

Around 200 people who have been transferred from Papua New Guinea and Nauru are being held in Alternative Places of Detention (APODs).

The APODs are small hotel rooms and, currently, about 120 people are being held at Kangaroo Point (Brisbane) and 60 people are being forced to stay at the Preston Mantra Hotel in Melbourne.

Additionally, there are another 1,000 men, women and children in community detention or on temporary visas who desperately need help.

They have been transferred to Australia for medical or other reasons but are living without sufficient funds or support and are relying on charities for basic day-to-day support.

Mr Sweeney added that the living conditions were unacceptable, with refugees trapped in hotel rooms for up to 23 hours a day.

“They are people just like us,” he said. “They deserve a safe place to call home.”

Grandmothers for Refugees Newcastle Lake Macquarie representative, Marion Gevers, echoed Mr Sweeney’s thoughts.

“Those people have a legal right to come to us for safety and we should welcome them and we should allow them to settle in the community once we know that they are safe and are in good health,” she said.

“We imprison these people at an outrageous cost and it really deprives them of a normal life.

“As long as there is one person detained because they asked for refuge, we will be out here and demanding their freedom.”

Mr Sweeney, Ms Gevers and Mr Leka are urging the community to support the Time For A Home campaign by spreading the word, attending events, and calling on the government to make change.

“The first thing is to sign the petition, the second is to call [your] members or parliament or write to them and express your concerns, and the importance of releasing these people,” Mr Sweeney said.

“The third would be to just spread the word, to talk about it with family, with friends and colleagues and spread it on social media.

“There are a lot of people who are just still not aware of what goes on and, when they become aware, they are horrified.”

Go to the Time For A Home website for more information.