AUSTRALIA’S rapid processing and prioritisation of Ukrainian refugees has exposed the underlying racism shaping its immigration laws says Fremantle musician and refugee activist Dawn Barrington.
“It’s obvious to me that it’s a racist policy,” she said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”
While Ms Barrington supports taking in Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia, she says the quick turnaround of their applications is in stark contrast to the nine years a group of men have spent locked up in the Perth Immigration Detention Centre.
She says the long detention has put enormous strain on their mental and physical health and their treatment “diminished this nation”. One of the men, an Iranian, was assessed as a genuine refugee but later refused a protection visa; he later self-harmed on numerous occasions and was diagnosed with “psychogenic mutism”.
“There are three guys here in Perth who arrived in 2013 and are still locked up,” Ms Barrington said.
Following last week’s release of nine refugees in Melbourne and four in Brisbane, she is hoping the three Perth detainees will see freedom some time soon.
“When they release them, there’s no rhyme or reason. It’s very hard for the guys left behind.”
Having previously traveled to Manus Island as a musician, Ms Barrington saw firsthand the conditions and treatment of the detainees there. “A part of me didn’t believe it could be that bad,” she said. “I was just totally horrified by it all.”
She says some refugees believe what has happened to them in detention is worse than the events that caused them to leave their countries.
“What’s happened to them here is undercover, kept quiet,” she said. “I met a guy who told me: ‘I’ve been dying for nine years’.”
Ms Barrington began her activism in December 2017 while living in Denmark. She has held a weekly vigil to protest mandatory refugee detention since moving to Fremantle in August 2020.
This Friday marks 83 weeks since the vigil’s commencement.
Prime minister Scott Morrison announced on February 23 that processing Ukrainian visa applications has been made
a top priority. Since then, the Department of Home Affairs has granted close to 4000 visas, mostly temporary, to fleeing Ukrainians.
The Department has also stated that “humanitarian support options are being considered by government and will be undertaken together with key partners to provide targeted support, including UNHCR and IOM”.
Australia has previously provided humanitarian support during the 1999 invasion of Kosovo, when refugees were housed in the Leeuwin Army Barracks in East Fremantle.