By Elspeth Kernebone
1 February 2022
CAMPAIGNERS hope the media frenzy surrounding tennis player Novak Djokovic’s detention will emphasise the plight of refugees and asylum seekers trapped for years in detention by Australian government policies.
Religious leaders joined together on Friday to launch a #SetThemFree campaign, calling on the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader to work together to free asylum seekers and refugees held in indefinite detention for up to eight years.
Bishop Philip Huggins said Djokovic’s presence in immigration detention had highlighted the plight of dozens of people, detained in the Park Hotel in Melbourne, and offshore on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.
Bishop Huggins said these people’s fate was entirely in the hands of politicians, as there was no legal remedy they could seek.
He said unless these leaders took action, the people could remain in detention in 10, even 20 years time.
Bishop Huggins urged Melbourne Anglicans to meet with their local MP – and any counterpart candidates – to call on them to take the issue to their next party room meeting, to find a solution.
He said the campaigners hoped to have the people released from detention before the next federal election was announced, so the issue was not caught up in the campaign.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre reports about 70 people seeking asylum are still held against their will in onshore detention centres, after being transferred from offshore detention for medical treatment.
About 200 people who are refugees or seeking asylum remain in detention on Nauru or in Papua New Guinea.
About 30 men are being held in the Park Hotel in Melbourne.
Bishop Huggins said these people were the casualties of elections won on “stop the boats” rhetoric.
He said it was inhumane and cruel to lock people up for eight years, especially when most of them had been recognised as refugees.
Their physical and mental health was deteriorating, as they remained trapped in rooms with little stimulation and only hostile people to interact with, he said.
“On the basis of a test of compassion, no one would want to have anyone they love locked up for all these years,” Bishop Huggins said.
“Many of these people who fled form their country of origin, they have aging parents they haven’t seen, they haven’t seen for eight plus years.
“[The] basic call of our faith and humanity insists that we should put an end to this.”
Bishop Huggins said he hoped the federal government would allow the people to resettle in Australia, and build a life here.
“We know the plight of these people, it would be far better, saner and give us dignity as a nation to look after them properly as refugees,” he said.
“[We should] allow them to have access to the health system, and health care, and employment, and to start to make a life, in the same way we’ve done with countless refugees in the whole period since World War II.
“Australia’s a much better country, and a much richer country, culturally and economically and socially, as a consequence of the success we’ve had resettling refugees.”
Bishop Huggins was among faith leaders across Victoria who joined to launch the campaign at St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday 28 January, which was supported by the Brotherhood of St Laurence.
Campaign spokesperson Reverend Tim Costello spoke at the #SetThemFree launch event, as did director Richard Keddie.