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Byron Shire
April 20, 2024

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BR4R volunteers Ralph Hamill, Heike Kerber, Anne Marchment and Volunteer Co-ordinator, Trish Antoniacomi. Photo supplied.

Eve Jeffery

The advocate group Ballina Region for Refugees (BR4R) grew from small beginnings in 2015 when resident Sue Kelly had had enough of the Australian Government’s increasingly inhumane treatment and policies towards people seeking asylum.

Things have travelled a long way in the last six years. At the last Lismore Car Boot market, volunteers raised $2700.

BR4R has organised rallies, vigils and talks. It also fundraises to enable financial and material assistance for refugees and people seeking asylum in on-shore and off-shore detention, as well as those needing support in the community.

On arrival

The On-Arrival Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Group aims to provide immediate support to people who arrive from offshore detention with material aid and phone credit to connect to their families.

The International Health & Medical Service (IHMS) contract is poor and doesn’t meet the needs of this cohort, which has been neglected for almost eight years. The On-Arrival Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Group have been able to begin a legal pathway to challenge the provision of dental care with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

There are currently thirteen cases being prepared for court. There are also two cases around orthopaedic care. These people require surgery to fix botched surgery in PNG.

There is no reason for these people to be in closed detention, as much work can be done as outpatients.

Supported accommodation for those who will never recover

There are several of these people across three immigration detention centres. The men are becoming distressed and pushed to their limits in closed detention, with little in the way of medical care.

Funding from BR4R allows those men who are most vulnerable in the closed detention system, to be supported. The phone credit and working phones give them a window to their families and to the wider world.

Since the repeal of Medevac, eleven men have gone to Melbourne. It is worth noting that there are still men in PNG and in Nauru have been approved for transfer, some who have been in Bomana Prison (now closed down). There have also been four Australian Border Force transfers.

These men were close to death (this is the criteria for transfer) – one from being beaten in PNG, one resignation syndrome and the resulting re-feeding syndrome, and two from neglect of long -term medical situations. Brisbane has received all Border Force transfers, except for one which requires highly specialised long term care.

Lisa Dillon, Publicity Co-ordinator for BR4R said the group donates money to other groups that they consider are doing vital work to support refugees and people seeking asylum.

‘When the Medevac Bill was passed, there was immediate need for support of all kinds for these people, and Dr Rose established a group that we thought worthy of support,’ she said. ‘We raise money for other groups who are at the coalface, so to speak.’

Ms Dillon said there are a number of South Sudanese refugees in the Lismore area, who were brought here by Sanctuary Northern Rivers, under Australia’s annual intake arrangements.

‘I don’t think there are any recent refugees or asylum seekers in this area who came here by boat and have been in offshore detention.

‘They are mostly in the capital cities because they are either in city detention centres or have been released into the  community from those places – and that’s where there is the best medical help and potential for work for those who are able – though most are very damaged by their experiences.’

Priority is to have all genuine refugees immediately released

BR4R Vice-President, Stanley Yeo, said the priority now is to have all those who have been judged to be genuine refugees immediately released from detention and adequately supported by the Government to live and settle in the community.

‘This is particularly important for those who have been detained offshore, as their physical and mental health is very poor.’

Mr Yeo said it’s difficult not to be aware of the plight of refugees in this country, as there has been an enormous amount of media coverage. ‘It’s important to read about individual refugees, which helps to understand what led them to leave their own countries.

‘I believe the biggest challenge is to help the general public believe that they can do something to help. We all need to understand that every little action we take, or wave we make, when added to others, creates a huge wave.’

Anyone can help

Lisa Dillon says one way anyone can help is by donating time to a group such as BR4R, or by donating money to a refugee support group. ‘It’s also important to talk to friends about refugees – to dispel misconceptions and to raise awareness.’

Fundraising Coordinator, Trish Antoniacomi, said that bucket donations and stall takings at Lismore were up by nearly 50% from last year. She believes this generosity reflects people’s disapproval of the government’s treatment of refugees.

Ms Antoniacomi said every cent of that money will go to the On Arrival Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Group of Brisbane, headed by Dr Gabrielle Rose.

‘Recently a number of people have been released from detention, many of them after eight years of incarceration,’ she said. ‘They have been provided with only three weeks accommodation and a little money, so community groups have to step in and help.’

Justice and a fair go for refugees rally

Volunteers dream of the day when their work is not necessary – in the meantime, they provide refugees with clothes, food, accommodation and other basic needs.

The next BRFR fundraising event is on Palm Sunday, March 28 at Lennox Head, starting at 11am on the foreshore. Funds raised will go to the non-profit Romero Centre, who provide support for asylum seekers. You can find out more details of the event on the BR4R Facebook page.

New volunteers are warmly welcomed at Ballina Region for Refugees. Contact is via the website at br4r.org.au.

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