Leading local Anglican joins campaign to house detained refugees

Canon Emerita of St Paul's Cathedral and a former Registrar of the Melbourne diocese opens home in support of campaign

Asylum seekers in detention in Preston

By Mark Brolly

September 8 2020A prominent Melbourne Anglican is one of many Australians prepared to open their homes to refugees being kept in indefinite immigration detention.  

Ms Leigh Mackay, a Canon Emerita of St Paul’s Cathedral and a former Registrar of the Melbourne diocese, told TMA that the @HomeSafeWithUs campaign reflected community anxiety about asylum seekers being kept in detention in Australia.  

“I think the risk of COVID infection in detention settings is an added pressure on the Government,” Ms Mackay said.  

“When this proposal came up for offering a place to people who would not be dependent on the Government ...  I thought I would volunteer.  

“I have been a supporter of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre for a very long time and also the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project at Albert Park and I have just really been donating things to them over the years.”  

The @HomeSafeWithUs coalition of 19 refugee support groups includes the Brigidine project, Grandmothers for Refugees, Rural Australians for Refugees and the Refugee Advocacy Network.  

Ms Mackay, a parishioner of Christ Church South Yarra, said she had taken in an asylum seeker for about six months a couple of years ago. With the current campaign, she had been asked to specify what she had available and indicated two upstairs spare bedrooms and a bathroom – suitable for a couple or two single people.  

“I think it would have to be for a reasonable period, I am imagining six months initially.”  

“Moz”, a Kurdish refugee who was detained on Manus Island and in Port Moresby from 2013 until he was transferred to Melbourne last year, has been locked up 24 hours a day in the Mantra Bell City Hotel in Preston since November last year. He said the @HomeSafeWithUs campaign was a very positive action “because it says ... we have friends and family and we are not criminals”.  

“Why do we have to be treated this way? We would like to live with our friends and family. I have found hundreds of friends who are like my real family.”  

Moz said his blood family – five brothers, one sister and his parents – remained in his homeland.  

“I think this is a good way for the Australian Government to know that we are not alone and we don’t expect them to spend money on us to find accommodation or support.  

“When we were on Manus, we were in touch with these friends for a long time, they know us and they are like family. Every day we are in touch with them, they call us.”  

He said the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Peter Dutton, and acting Immigration Minister Mr Alan Tudge had threatened to confiscate the mobile phones of those in detention and urged Australians to support a campaign on 1 September, #ShameAlanTudge, to let the Minister know that refugees needed their phones.  

“(For) more than 2500 days we have been locked up by their Government but my message to the Australian people is love, my message is beauty and love,” Moz said.  

A spokesperson for the Refugee Action Network and the @HomeSafeWithUs coalition, Ms Pamela Curr, said offers had been made from people across Australia ready and willing to open their homes as a viable alternative to keeping refugees in indefinite immigration detention. There were 160 beds available across the country ready for refugees now, with more offers expected in coming weeks and community agencies ready to assist.  

“There is no good reason to continue depriving refugees of their freedom,” Ms Curr said.  

“These are not convicted people serving a court-ordered sentence. They are victims of the arbitrary policy of indefinite detention and the refusal to recognise the refugee status of anyone who arrived by boat seeking asylum after the 19 July 2013. This policy contravenes our obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.  

“More than seven years later, with the country gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government should accept this offer from communities across the country as the timely and viable alternative to endless detention.”  

The initiative follows the re-opening of Christmas Island as a detention facility for people who had served prison sentences and who were in line for deportation but unable to travel under global pandemic restrictions. There were concerns that refugees currently held in hotels and other immigration detention centres in the eastern states would be transferred “out of sight” to Yongah Hill in Northam, about 100 kilometres east of Perth.  

“They have begun moving detainees around like pawns on a chess board,” Ms Curr said. “It is so costly and unnecessary, when there are warm, safe beds and people waiting to welcome refugees into their homes.  

“Hundreds of refugees have been supported in home host arrangements over many years right across Australia, and this is absolutely the best option now.”