Writing for Media

Addressing a rally for refugees at the Ballarat Trades Unions Hall.

Art and Activism at Ballarat Trades Hall

The Courier, 19 JUNE 2021

Ballarat Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) welcomes our local community to two exciting events at Trades Hall during Refugee Week, which begins tomorrow, Sunday 20 JUNE 2021.

Throughout the week, local artist Wendy Bolger will feature the We Welcome Refugees campaign banner in a brilliantly conceived art installation. Holding the event at Trades Hall during Refugee Week, reinforces the call for justice, equality and freedom. The banner plays a significant role in voicing that call.

Included in the installation are photos by Melbourne photographer Paul Dunn, who has captured people from all walks of life, cultures and religions, declaring their concerns on homemade signs held high at rallies. As a counterpoint, the campaign banner within a seascape video created by Wendy and husband John, draws attention to the nation’s border security barrier to refugees. The banner denounces indefinite detention of people held offshore and onshore, away from the public eye.

In the installation we see the banner taken to the coast to connect with our borders, so rigorously patrolled by Border Force. The banner is seen against the Cape Otway coastline with its tremendous seas and dangerous reefs. “There is an acknowledgement of the desperation and bravery of people who risk their lives in leaky boats to escape persecution or death in their homelands”, Ms Bolger said.

As the banner is released and tossed around by the elements, its message becomes distorted, symbolic of ever-changing public opinion on refugees, influenced by the political agenda of the day. And with the lighthouse in the distance questions arise. Is it a warning of danger? Or is it a beacon of light, hope and welcome?

Don’t miss this exciting free art installation at the Ballarat Trades Hall from 10am – 4pm daily during Refugee Week 20 – 26 JUNE.

On Tuesday 22 JUNE, Ballarat RAR is proud to support the launch of One Dream – Four Countries by well-known Ballarat personality, Sundram Sivamalai. In this book Sundram writes of his journey to escape oppression. The author will be interviewed by Prue Bentley, ABC Ballarat. Refreshments will be provided and the bar will be open for the purchase of drinks. Wendy Bolger will address her We Welcome Refugees installation prior to the launch. Come early!

Tuesday 22 JUNE 5.00pm – 7.00pm, Ballarat Trades Hall, 24 Camp Street.

Maureen Riches, Ballarat RAR

Government Defends Suffering and Neglect with Lies and more Lies.

The Courier, 12 JUNE 2021

With Refugee Week 2021 fast approaching, thoughts of supporters all over Australia are dominated by images of little Tharunicaa from Biloela, none more so than members of Ballarat Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR). We visited her when she was imprisoned in Melbourne, held her in our arms, warmed to her smiles and marvelled at the courage of her parents who kept her and her sister smiling despite the panic in their own hearts. 

Even those who are familiar with the callousness of Australia’s refugee regime are shocked by the neglect which has endangered the life of this small child. Medical intervention was prevented by prison guards who ignored her raging fever and her mother’s pleas that the child be taken to hospital. They “diagnosed” her condition as influenza and “prescribed” Panadol. This went on for two weeks. Now Tharunicaa is in hospital in Perth, where doctors – not prison guards – have diagnosed pneumonia and septicaemia. What Australian family would not be outraged by such neglect?

We are mindful too of other friends enduring indefinite incarceration in prisons across Australia. We have witnessed the devasting effects of this torture. It follows a familiar pattern.

First there is disbelief: I remember a new arrival expressing his frustration that he had been detained for six weeks and was still not processed. I remember the horror on his face as others told him that they had been waiting for six years and more.

Next anger and fear set in as the hopelessness of their situation dawns upon them. They plead with us to help them. We try to console them without giving cruel false hope, mindful of what we can and can’t do.

Then we see them becoming withdrawn and ill, as they realise how long they might be here, or see others deported back to the dangers they fled. Like us, some have limited coping mechanisms, others have none.

Torture is sadistically ratcheted up as arbitrary movements around the country deliberately separate families and separate refugees from their established community support – us. All this despite decades of doctors’ warnings on dangers of indefinite detention and the government knowing that these are innocent people, not guilty of any crime.

We are sickened by the Morrison government’s continual lies, especially those referring to refugees as “illegal”. Let me make one thing clear: refugees are never illegal. Their right to come here, by whatever means is at their disposal, is guaranteed by both international and Australian law. We invited refugees to come here when we signed and participated in writing, the United Nations convention which enshrines these rights. It is only our government that has acted illegally, rewriting the rule book to suit itself. This is not democracy at work.

Maureen Riches, Ballarat RAR

New law gives more power for cruelty – detention for life.

The Courier, 5 June 2021

When our government is told by the federal court that what they are doing is illegal and they simply write a new law and do as they please, that situation is dangerous for all of us. Indefinite detention of refugees is unlawful under international law but Australia has quietly made it legal.

The Migration Amendment Bill 2021 was rushed through parliament with immigration minister Alex Hawke claiming it would “send a strong message that we are committed to upholding human rights”. That claim is deceitful and misleading.

In fact, the law gives the minister power to simply overturn refugee status. There is no justification for giving the minister such power. A minister should not be able to arbitrarily overturn the protection visa of someone whose life is at risk. The loss of refugee status faces a person with a cruel choice between spending decades in detention, or going back to a country where they will be persecuted.

There were objections from Greens Senator Nick McKimMP Andrew Wilkie and others. Even parliament’s own Human Rights Committee raised concerns. But the government cut short debate and brought the bill to a vote. With Labor’s support, the bill passed quietly into law.

The new law was tabled in a spiteful response to a federal court ruling against the government. The ruling freed a 29-year-old man who had come here as a child refugee from Syria. His visa was cancelled because of a criminal conviction as a teenager. He could not be returned to Syria because he faced persecution there. The court ruled that his detention was unlawful and ordered him released. This new law allows our government to imprison such refugees for life without charge or trial.

Being in contact with refugees both in detention and living in the community, I see the distress and fear caused by this law. It is shocking that our government would choose this inhumane option, rather than accept New Zealand’s offer of refuge, or let people seeking asylum fill the labour shortage created as borders remain closed against our annual migrant intake…people like the courageous father of the Biloela family stranded on Christmas Island, who was only too willing to accept work Australians didn’t want. Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) continue to campaign again cruel refugee policies and we support people seeking asylum in our community. We welcome you to join us.

Maureen Riches, Ballarat RAR

The real story behind recent refugee releases

The Ballarat Courier, 30/1/2021

It was a week of joy, happy tears and celebrations. Many refugees were released after more than seven years. They had spent almost two years locked in motel rooms with no visitors, fresh air or exercise while returning travelers and tennis players grumbled about two weeks quarantine.

The men were thrilled to be free but there was no preparation for what was to come.

One group was taken to a motel on the outskirts of Melbourne, another to a de-commissioned aged care building, and in a demonstration of callous, mean-spirited vindictiveness, they were told that they have just two weeks accommodation – that’s it. After that they are on their own and homeless, unless refugee support groups can arrange something for them – the very groups Peter Dutton has continually vilified for supporting refugees.

The men have no income support. They are expected to find their own housing, be self-sufficient and employed in two weeks! They have been imprisoned for more than seven years and now they must find their way in an unknown place, negotiate banks, public transport and medical care in a foreign country. 

Their supporters found that they had no food and no cooking facilities and that their accommodation was far from shops, surrounded by industrial sites and grasslands. The aged care accommodation has now been locked down and no visitors are allowed. The people are free to come and go – if they only knew where to go.

It is hard to comprehend the malicious cruelty of this choice of accommodation and a contract of minimal support for the refugees. Ordinary Australians have stepped up to do the Minister’s job, providing food and essentials.

These men join thousands of others denied access to safety-nets the rest of us take for granted. 3000 people, including families with children are facing destitution, with no work rights, no Medicare or Centrelink. They are dependent on the kindness of strangers. This is a harsh government in action. Few Australians realise what is happening in their own country.

You can ease this shameful situation by making donations on the website of National RAR (Rural Australians for Refugees), or via their Facebook page.

Maureen Riches, Ballarat RAR

Palm Sunday rally for refugees, Ballarat 2021

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