In order to re-establish legal advocacy and other state wide support networks for refugees, the Refugee Advocacy Service of South Australia (RASSA) was recently relaunched at a packed out function in the Hawke Centre. Father Frank Brennan, well known supporter of asylum seekers, addressed a gathering of over 200 people, keen to offer a range of voluntary assistance.
Johnston Withers has a long history of representing refugees and assisting them to obtain visas, as well as representing numerous cases and claims against the Government regarding the atrocious and harmful conditions of internment in detention centres. RASSA, which set up a network of volunteer lawyers in this state in 2002, was very successful in winning numerous cases, most of which were conducted pro bono. In doing so they shone the light on the appalling practices of the Government and contractors who run detention centres. RASSA scaled down its activities after the closure of the detention centres in this state a few years ago.
Graham Harbord, Managing Director of Johnston Withers was a founder member of RASSA in 2002 and regularly visited Woomera and later the Baxter detention centre in Port Augusta, along with other lawyers to interview detainees and to obtain instructions for legal action. Graham is still on the board of RASSA.
Both the Liberal and Labour Governments have sought over the last 12 years, to increase the isolation of detention facilities, including the establishment of offshore arrangements, deliberately making it almost impossible for asylum seekers to obtain legal assistance.
In his speech, Fr. Brennan, pointed to the deliberate intention of the Government to escalate the harsh conditions under which large numbers are forced to live. He spoke of the long term costs to Australia of this policy, not only with regard to the physical and mental state of the asylum seekers, including large numbers of children, but also of the moral position of Australia in the world community. The actions of the Government have also raised significant questions involving matters of international law.
The Federal Government has now reintroduced Temporary Protection Visas, and requires all asylum seekers to apply and participate in a new “fast track” process. This has placed enormous pressure on refugee communities and their supporters. RASSA has therefore re-established its organisation to coordinate volunteers and assist refugees to work their way through the complex steps involved.
The impact of asylum seekers on Australian society is minimal compared to the crisis enacting in Europe as a result of the ongoing civil wars in the Middle East. Unfortunately, however, it seems that those whose earlier boats were not turned back will remain incarcerated under the existing policy of the Australian Government.
RASSA and Johnston Withers urge all political parties to join in a rational debate about the plight of the offshore refugees on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island. Father Brennan argued that such deliberate deterrence is no longer necessary and that all these detainees should be resettled in Australia.
To offer assistance to RASSA, or to make a donation, please visit their website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org