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Brisbane priest speaks out against government plans to cut ‘lifeline’ for refugees and asylum seekers in detention

Lifeline; “And I just think it’s going to be a disaster if they’re not allowed to have their mobile phones.”

A BRISBANE priest has spoken out against plans to remove mobile phones from refugees and asylum seekers in detention.

Bracken Ridge parish priest Fr Gerry Hefferan has pleaded for the proposed federal legislation not to be adopted.

Fr Hefferan, who was part of an Australian Catholic delegation that visited Port Moresby last November to meet asylum seekers and refugees formerly detained on Manus Island, spoke about his concerns at the end of a recent Sunday Mass.

“There are grave concerns that such action (removal of mobile phones) would deny this very important lifeline that detainees have to family and support by phone,” he said on the day after he spoke to the congregation.

“For many of the detainees, this human contact by phone is so important to their mental health.” Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge introduced the legislation on May 12 that would include provision to allow mobile phones to be confiscated as “prohibited items”.

Mr Tudge said that would mean mobile phones and other prohibited items could be seized “if they are being used for criminal activity or because they are putting at risk the health, safety or security of persons in (an) immigration detention facility”.

In a report in the Good Samaritan Sisters’ online magazine The Good Oil, convenor of the Refugee Action Campaign in Canberra Dr John Minns, who is Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at Australian National University, said the Federal Government’s assurance that only those involved in criminal activity would have their phones banned did not ring true.

“This is not about national security,” he said.

“Where is there the slightest evidence that these people have been involved in criminal activity? “But even if they were, if the police suspect people are involved in illegal activity out in the broader community, can they come and take their phones away? “Of course they can’t.

And yet they set up a separate standard for these people.

“They haven’t been charged with anything in seven years of being here, let alone convicted.” Dr Minns said the people brought to Australia under the Medevac Bill were given clearance on character and criminal grounds before leaving Papua New Guinea.

Refugee and asylum-seeker advocate Rebecca Lim, a Brisbane Catholic who accompanied the Church delegation to PNG last November and who continues to support those detained at a Kangaroo Point hotel, said confiscating mobile phones would be “another punitive action”.

“I think it will contribute further to the poor mental health (of the detainees),” Ms Lim said.

“I just think this is the last straw for many of them, if they can’t communicate with family and friends, … this is their lifeline.

“Many of them don’t care whether they have shoes or what kind of clothing … but, for them, the phone is their lifeline.

“And I just think it’s going to be a disaster if they’re not allowed to have their mobile phones.” Ms Lim said detainees would be denied their privacy if they had no mobile phones and had to line up to use landlines.

“There would be privacy concerns,” she said.

“If somebody is a detainee, and doesn’t have access to his phone, then how does he then contact his lawyer? “It means he has to line up in a public place or in the detention centre for the landlines or whatever alternatives that (the Government) intends to provide.

“Secondly, people need their phone; that’s the only thing they have left, while in detention, to connect with family, friends, their children.

“A lot of them don’t just speak on the phone, they use video calls – FaceTime and Zoom and whatever else – WhatsApp and imo – so I think this will just strip the last piece of dignity left, from them – the opportunity to kind of connect with the world.”

Papua New Guinea priest queries moves on refugees’ mobiles

Fr Giorgio Licini: “That case is sadistic. You’d say it’s even stupid. If it is targeting criminal elements with criminal records, that is a different story.”

A SENIOR priest in Papua New Guinea says removing mobile phones from refugees and asylum seekers detained in Australia would be “the last step to burying them alive”.

Fr Giorgio Licini, who is Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands general secretary and who knows refugees and asylum seekers transferred to Australia from off-shore detention for medical treatment, was commenting on Federal Government legislation that proposes the removal of mobile phones as a possibility.

Fr Licini said if the legislation was targeting people “who have no violation and they are just in Australia because of being transferred from Manus (Island) and Nauru under medevac (legislation) or similar circumstances, well, if the objective is to remove the phones from those people then the legislation and the legislature can only be described as sadistic”.

“That case is sadistic. You’d say it’s even stupid,” he said.

“These are the only two words that I could use for that kind of action or legislation.

“If it is targeting criminal elements with criminal records, that is a different story.

“If it is targeting these kinds of people …

that we have known here and who have been transferred to Australia under the medical legislation passed by the Parliament of Australia, they have no criminal records, they went away from here with files of medical records and … referrals and so on.

“If it’s targeting those kind of people …

and the only connection they have with the outside world is their phones, then that is sadistic and that is stupid …” Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge introduced the legislation on May 12 that would include provision to allow mobile phones to be confiscated as “prohibited items”.

Mr Tudge said that would mean mobile phones and other prohibited items could be seized “if they are being used for criminal activity or because they are putting at risk the health, safety or security of persons in (an) immigration detention facility”.

The proposed legislation would give Australian Border Force officers strengthened powers, including to search for and seize illegal drugs and other items.

Mr Tudge said under current legislation, officers were not legally able to search for or confiscate dangerous items, such as illicit drugs, child abuse material or extremist material.

Officers must rely on local police or the Australian Federal Police to attend the facility to search for and seize the items.

Mr Tudge said current legislation was inadequate to manage detainees who had a criminal history and who sought to continue their criminality while in detention.

“As we cancel the visas of more foreign criminals, more end up in immigration detention and current powers are not adequate to keep those facilities safe,” he said.

Refugees and asylum seekers transferred to Australia for medical attention are being held in immigration detention in Brisbane and Melbourne.

In Brisbane, they are detained in a hotel at Kangaroo Point.

Fr Licini said removing mobile phones from the detainees would be “a serious attack on their health, on the psychological and psychiatric health of these people …” “That would be the last step to burying them alive …

in the sense that now they are isolated …,” he said.

“They are staying in the same hotels, in their rooms all day, no way to go out, no other connection with the outside world except by phone.

“If you remove the phones they are buried alive.” Fr Licini, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, has personally and actively supported refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and visited Australia last August to plead for compassion for them.

He described the situation for the people caught in Australia’s off-shore detention regime as “a humanitarian crisis”.

Speaking from Port Moresby during the week he said he had little contact with the men transferred to Australia under the medevac legislation.

He said he knew well one man who had attempted suicide in Port Moresby and had tried again since being transferred to Melbourne.

“It’s easy for us who are free, not so easy for them that they’ve spent seven years in that situation – first in Manus and then in Moresby and now in Melbourne, and Melbourne and Brisbane for them is even worse than Port Moresby, because here actually they could go around … they were free to go around …,” he said.

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