Exile on Main Street – refugee rights and policy wrongs

“The unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps.” – Franz Fanon

Did the people who supported the Medevac Bill ever consider that their concerns for refugees would be countered by state and federal governments? Did they envisage refugees ending up in Brisbane with less medical treatment and increasing their pain and suffering. The minister put them in KP prison yet they have committed no crime. One hundred and twenty or so refugees detained in Kangaroo Central Apartments have had little or no medical care. That is, until recently.

Now the Queensland government have begun a strategy of mass arrests by its police force to slowly wear down the resistance by Refugee Solidarity who have organised a 24/7 blockade of the site to prevent the men being extracted to high security remote locations such as Brisbane International Transit Centre (BITA) and Christmas Island.

As often happens government throw the ‘rule of law‘ out the door misusing ‘lawful directionspublic health directives and the bail act to achieve their aim of extracting the refugee leaders and their supporters from the ‘KP Prison‘. The architects of this repression don’t care that magistrates or judges may overturn police action down the track because, they think, the protestors will then be gone.

Yet the refugees themselves and a small band of supporters, mainly young people, have managed to turn adversity into hope. For the past 3 weeks there have been mass rallies outside the KP prison. More than that, the banners draped over the balconies show that there is a sense of freedom and justice within the community of refugees in this makeshift detention centre. From their responses each Sunday, these hundred and twenty inmates are bouyed by the actions of Refugee Solidarity and the people who come out to support them.

With a state election in October, the Police Minister is staying in the background and allowing senior police to do the dirty work on the ground. This strategy is called by insiders, ‘safe hands‘. The government can urge people not to protest in an attempt to deny organisers the oxygen they need in the mainstream media to get their case across. The media will do their job and sensationalise the arrests and play up the inconvience to the cars going along Main Street.

Refugee advocates put this call out in 2019:

The Medevac process, passed in February 2019 against the opposition of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton, has allowed 130 refugees and asylum seekers so far to access urgently needed medical care in Australia [testimonies from the refugees themselves say this is untrue, the refugees at Kangaroo Central Apartments have not been given proper medical treatment].

After six years of brutalisation and mental torture, those who have been on Manus and Nauru all face desperate medical problems.”

Poster in favour of the Medevac Bill in 2018

Experts on human rights had this to say in their book “Refugee rights and policy wrongs“:

In December 2018 independent MP Dr Kerryn Phelps and four other crossbenchers introduced a bill known as the Medevac Bill into Parliament to facilitate medical evacuations from Manus Island and Naru. Following parliamentary debate and amendments the bill was passed in February and received Royal assent on the 1st of March 2019.

THE bill amended the Migration Act to create a more transparent and independent process to facilitate medical transfers from Manus Island and the roo.

Previously medical transfers were commonly blocked or delayed 4 years by the government, even against the clear advice of doctors. Under the new law a medical transfer is required if two independent treating doctors assess a person as requiring medical or psychiatric treatment or assessment in Australia because appropriate medical care is unavailable on Manus Island or Nauru.

The Immigration Minister retains the discretion to refuse to transfer within 72 hours after being notified by the doctor’s assessment if the person has an adverse security assessment or a substantial criminal record.

The Immigration Minister may also refuse to transfer if he or she reasonably believes that the transfer is unnecessary on medical grounds but if that’s the case, a panel of medical experts must assess the proposed transfer and the minister must accept the panel’s decision unless the person has an adverse security assessment or a substantial criminal record.

The medevac bill was opposed by the Morrison Coalition government on the grounds that it would reopen people smuggling trade by sending a signal that transfer to Australia was eventually possible. However it was difficult to see how this could be the case when the legislative changes applied only to people who were already offshore and not to anyone who might subsequently be sent their.

For it’s part Nauru passed new laws to block medical transfers unless doctors had examined the patient personally rather than remotely via telecommunications technology.

Whether or not this was related to the fact that Nauru good to lose at least 9 million dollars Australian the year if all refugees and Asylum Seekers were transferred to Australia remains a matter of speculation.”
– “Refugee rights and policy wrongs ” by Jane McAdam and Fiona Chong

Mass arrests at Kangaroo Point prison

Will the organisers turn the protests into a campaign of mass defiance against both state and federal governments? Only time will tell.

Ian Curr
30 June 2020

Mass Action on Main Street Kangaroo Point Brisbane 21 June 2020. Photos: Lachlan Hurse