“PLEASE, we are human … So please, please, consider and treat us as human beings,” is the plea of a Sri Lankan refugee languishing in detention in Brisbane on hearing the news that the Australian Government could take away his mobile phone.
Raj is a Tamil refugee, a businessman from Sri Lanka who Australia has held in immigration detention for seven years.
As a political refugee he is afraid to give his full name, and he doesn’t want his parents back home to know what he is going through.
He is among more than 120 refugees detained at the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel, having been transferred from Papua New Guinea late last year for medical treatment under the now-repealed medevac legislation.
Raj, speaking via mobile phone from detention, was upset about Federal Government moves to make way for the possible removal of mobile phones from refugees in detention.
Proposed changes to the Migration Act would allow Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge to declare certain items, including mobile phones and sim cards, prohibited and grant Australian Border Force officials additional powers to search detainees.
“We are not criminals; we are not terrorists …,” Raj said.
“If I just use my phone … I speak with my family and sometimes watch movies or something …; so why do they want to take my phone from me?
“The phone is much help being in detention because we speak with our families freely and sometimes we watch our religious things on the phone.
“If we’re not able to use our phones in detention then everyone will get more sick, mentally.”
Raj said sometimes being able to speak with his family face-to-face on his mobile phone was more beneficial mentally than seeing a counsellor.
“The phone is useful for us because everyone misses their family,” he said.
“If we can see our parents – or some people have a wife and children – that brings healing.
“Sometimes we feel like we are with them. Sometimes they’re cooking something and they show us …
“Sometimes our family has a problem and we can’t speak in public (on a landline); we need privacy.”
Rebecca Lim, a Brisbane Catholic who is a refugee advocate, said mobile phones were a lifeline for the refugees in being able to access their lawyers and their families.
“And, if Australia has nothing to be ashamed of in terms of the men exposing what’s been happening to them in detention centres, then why are we so afraid of letting them keep their mobile phones,” she said.
“To (the refugees) it’s just another means of punishing them, to take away the last piece of dignity that they have – the freedom to call their families, their friends, engage with the outside world, social media, to tell them what’s happening …
“And they’re in lockdown; they’ve had no visitors for the last five or six months, since March, since visits were banned to detention centres and apods (alternative places of detention – hotels).
“Their mental health is so poor because they’ve been locked up so long now and there’s no hope of a resolution; they feel quite hopeless.
“And, I think once you take away their mobile phones it would be just the last straw for many of them.”
The proposed legislation was being debated in Federal Parliament during the first week of September.