While many Australians struggle with on again, off again, COVID restrictions, two families in Darwin have been in total lockdown for over 18 months.

Since early 2020, two refugee families, 4 men and 3 women, have been in detention in small, very basic rooms, behind a high fence outside the Darwin airport, unable to make any plans or even cook their own food. Instead they are delivered frozen meals each day to microwave. Husbands and wives sleep in bunk beds or on the floor, along with their sons and daughter. Their doors are not able to be locked. Guards check on them by torchlight morning and night.

My first visit was from outside a high fence. I had to crane my neck so-as not to peer through wire as we spoke. The refugee families were outnumbered by guards. The feeling of despair was palpable.

A fortnight ago, one of the families was released and moved to Melbourne. Which left the Magheme family remaining alone in detention in Darwin. In desperation they began sleeping on the ground outside of their accommodation. They felt less trapped in a cage that way.

The alternative arrangement for refugees in Australia in similar circumstance to the Magheme family is community detention. This is a viable and compassionate option which is not only far more cost effective, it also allows refugees to engage in a meaningful existence whilst waiting for transit to their third country. In the Magheme’s case, the USA.

ACL believes this compassionate response remains consistent with the important principals of protecting our borders. We have advocated for this with Australia’s Immigration Minister.

STOP PRESS: As this blog piece was being prepared to be uploaded, we have heard wonderful news that the Magheme family have been relocated into community detention. The last family in detention in Australia will now have opportunity to experience Australian community life first-hand.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/aug/11/after-eight-years-in-australian-detention-the-only-refugee-family-held-in-darwin-centre-remains-in-legal-limbo