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It’s beyond time to show some compassion and release detainees from immigration detention at the Darwin Airport

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One Monday morning last month, before the sun came up, Serco took two Sri Lankan Tamil refugees from the cramped Darwin cabin they’d been kept in for more than a year. They were put on a charter flight and sent back to Nauru.

Parmika and her husband Kirubakaran had asked to go back. Kiru has been accepted by the United States as a refugee, and they’re waiting to complete the process to have Parmika accepted as his wife. Even so, they figured they were better off on Nauru than being locked up in indefinite detention in Darwin.

The conditions that they and nine other refugees were living in were appalling – each sleeping in single bunk beds, not getting the medical treatment they were brought to Darwin for. Denied dignity, safety, and privacy. Their medical visits and needs not being recorded. Not being told what the medications were that were being administered to them.

A migration agent told me their diet was poor due to being provided takeaway meals from the Mercure hotel that are routinely unpalatable. The agent said: “They are often given reused leftovers and it is regularly unhygienic with hairs, insects and even maggots.”

That is deplorable. It is disgusting. It is unacceptable.

Parmika and Kirubakaran told one of my staff that the only good thing about their year of detention in Darwin was the kindness shown to them by locals. I commend those Territorians who have been keeping up the fight and working so hard to get these refugees released. They are demonstrating tremendous humanity. It’s a shame the Government can’t do the same.

There are still nine refugees, all Iranian, being held in Darwin. All of them have been there for more than a year. I’ve met with representatives from all three families. They’ve sat with me and told me about their suffering and their struggles.

I met with 33-year-old Abbas Maghames, who is being detained along with his father Yaghoob and mother Malikeh, and his sister Hajar. He’s angry and frustrated. His family are Ahwazi Arabs from southwestern Iran, who are discriminated against by that government. Their participation in politics and employment is limited, they cannot exercise their cultural rights, and many have been arrested and imprisoned because of their religion.

The Maghames family have been in some sort of detention in Australia for eight years, since 2013. They’ve been on Christmas Island and Nauru. They were brought to Darwin more than a year ago for medical treatment that they still haven’t received. Their mental and physical health is suffering enormously.

I also met with Mojtaba Hamedani. He’s being detained alongside his wife Afsaneh and her son Behnam. He’s a construction specialist, and his wife was a hairdresser for more than 20 years. Behnam was a child when they fled Iran in 2013 and never got to finish his schooling.

Mojtaba says: “We spent seven years of our short life with no prospects to rebuild our lives, no safety and inadequate health care on Nauru.”

Afsaneh Ghodsi and her husband Mojtaba Haghighat used to work in telecommunications back home in Iran. Eight years later, they’re still locked up. The toll this has taken on their mental health has been significant. They have family here in Australia, including Afsaneh’s elderly parents. Those family members have been trapped in unbearable limbo, waiting in hope that this Government may show some humanity and compassion.

The extended suffering of all these refugees has been perpetrated by the Federal Government. They should hang their heads in shame.

I received a letter co-signed by a number of angry Darwin residents – lawyers and public servants and academics and nurses. They’re plumbers and teachers and administrators.

They call the Alternative Place of Detention at Darwin Airport a “concentration camp”.

They write:
“These refugees were incarcerated in a concentration camp built on Nauru for seven years amidst indescribable conditions: searing heat, tent accommodation, scant privacy, abuse and exposure to all kinds of horror.
“This included lip-stitching and other forms of self-mutilation, including self-immolation, assaults, child abuse, sexual assaults and mental breakdowns. PTSD, Severe Anxiety Disorders, Severe Depression were prevalent.
“They were given numbers, not names, to identify themselves in the deliberate, dehumanising cruelty which has been Australia’s policy towards these innocents.”

They call this policy barbaric, and they’re not wrong. They call this Australia’s disgrace, and it must end.

I’m calling on the Government to release these refugees into community detention immediately. They’ve already done that in Brisbane and Melbourne.

Show some compassion.

Show some humanity.

Let them out and shut it down. Immediately.

Luke Gosling is the Federal Member for Solomon and a former Army Officer.

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