Ballarat Rural Australians for Refugees members have been deeply saddened by news that a Sri Lankan man with whom we have formed a close personal relationship has been diagnosed with leukaemia.
This man is currently detained in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre (MITA). Last Christmas was his 10th in detention.
He arrived in Australia in 2009 after fleeing Sri Lanka in the wake of that country's genocidal civil war which claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives.
He is now 45 years old and has spent almost one fifth of his life in Australian detention centres.
A gentle man, he has always put on a brave face for his visitors.
We visited him in the Melbourne Clinic in August 2017. There were two Serco officers on guard at all times.
His next hospital appointment is not until June. We are deeply concerned that this level of neglect and continued detention will cause his health to deteriorate more rapidly.
The Tamil Refugee Council has called for his immediate release.
Meanwhile, the government wilfully calls refugees "illegals" and encourages a climate of fear, promoting itself as the power that will save us from this supposed danger.
Billions of dollars spent propping up the fiction that refugees are dangerous could have made a big difference to our health and education systems.
Instead, this insane amount of money has been diverted to heavily staffing and maintaining offshore and mainland detention centres. In these places, the harassment of stressed and struggling people continues to be ramped up.
In MITA, refugees are under constant surveillance and harassed day and night.
Billions of dollars spent propping up the fiction that refugees are dangerous could have made a big difference to our health and education systems. Instead, this insane amount of money has been diverted to heavily staffing and maintaining offshore and mainland detention centres.
The number of uniformed Border Force officers has increased considerably. As visitors, we are aware of them at all times, standing around in groups of four, five or more.
Distressed residents tell us: "They watch us all the time, and they say things to us ... they try to make us angry."
The very presence of these military style uniforms is intimidating to people who have fled oppressive regimes. There should be no uniforms in places that house refugees.
The people we visit tell us that they are now to be subjected to body searches coming in and going out of the visiting room.
It is hard to imagine any reason for this further humiliation.
We are concerned that the people we visit, especially the women, will not want to expose themselves to this indignity and may stop coming to meet their visitors.
Would it be too cynical of me to imagine that this might be the real motive behind the body searches?
Guards now patrol around tables in the visiting room and linger within earshot so we are no longer able to converse freely with residents and have to talk about anything personal in whispered stops and starts.
Last week, a young mother told us that random room searches can be carried out as early as 6am or as late as 9pm.
She has two children, the eldest of whom is only three years old. These are just two of the children who, according to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, do not exist in detention.
Some forms of harassment are nothing short of mean spirited.
One of the men has been using a pillow that he made for himself in the craft workshops, because the pillows supplied at MITA are very thin.
In conditions that severely limit personal possessions, he was proud of his creation and had used it for the past three years.
Officers conducting a recent room search decided that this pillow is now dangerous. Instead of placing the confiscated item in his property locker, they threw the pillow in the bin.
MITA is a place of cruel, indefinite detention for about 100 people, run more like a high-security prison than a refuge for displaced people. Indefinite detention is torture that causes physical and mental deterioration.
We strongly protest the long-term detention of refugees.
We demand speedy, transparent processing and release without delay.
Maureen Riches is a member of Ballarat Rural Australians for Refugees.
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