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We all belong in the book of names

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – August 29 . Kon Karapanagiotidis with blue book of all the people he has helped over the years seek asylum. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre .August 29, 2017 in Melbourne, . (Photo by Darrian Traynor) Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton addresses the media during a doorstop interview at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 16 August 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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There are two notebooks. The covers are blue, and worn at the edges. One book is falling apart, the spine held together by tape. Both are 168 pages long, and each contains lists of names, one to a line, numbered and dated.

The first entry, back in 2001, records the name of the first person who sought help from the newly-founded Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. The final entry is numbered 7579. The second book, which starts where the first ended in 2012, is filling up fast.

The number of people who have received assistance from the ASRC is now approaching 15,000. Many have also been assisted by a range of other community and church groups.

Each name represents a story, each name a life, a journey.

Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder and chief executive of the ASRC, flips through the pages of the first book. He lights up at individual names.

“Most of the people named in the first book have received their permanent visas, but this one was forced to leave,” he says sadly. “This one has been reunited with family and is thriving. That one has started a business that employs many workers.”

The people named in the second book tell a different story.

Most remain on various forms of temporary visa. To understand their predicament requires a shift from names to statistics. Many are among a group of about 24,500 asylum seekers, who arrived by boat in between August 13, 2012, and July 18, 2013.

“Their lives are on hold, subject to arbitrary policy changes,” says Karapanagiotidis. “They are caught up in a nightmare. Some may be deported in the short term, and others may have to wait for years, if ever, before receiving permanent protection.”

Early this week, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, as directed by its minister, Peter Dutton, signalled yet another shift in policy. The new visa affects up to 410 asylum seekers who have been transferred to from Nauru and Manus Island at various times since 2013 – for medical treatment, mental health issues, to give birth or accompany sick loved ones. Some of the transferred women had been raped on Nauru. The group includes 50 babies, 66 children, single men and women, and families.

Known as the “Final Departure Bridging E Visa”, the first 65 recipients were summoned to the offices of the department and told they will lose their accommodation within three weeks and be immediately cut off from basic services.

“The aim is to make them destitute,” says Karapanagiotidis, “and make conditions so difficult that they will be forced back to Manus Island and Nauru, and returned to danger, the scene of their trauma.”

On Monday morning, he called a meeting of staff to discuss this latest crisis. Even though the centre’s resources are stretched well beyond its limits, the staff immediately agreed to take on the cases of asylum seekers affected by the new visa.

“We have accompanied some of them to the department’s offices. We’ve also tried to find at least one person willing to tell their story,” says Kon. “They are confused, and too terrified. They fear they will be punished if they go public. They finally felt at home here, and had a chance to breath freely, make new friends, and regain trust. They had found a safe space to tell their story, face to face, with empathetic listeners. Now this. They are shattered.

“The big story is that we cannot hear their story now. Worse still, they have been robbed of their stories and had them distorted. The minister has smeared them as con artists and fabricators, and accused them of robbing pensioners.

“They have been turned into ghosts. It is terrifying.”

There has been one saving grace. Since the ASRC, and other community groups, posted details of the new visa on social media, the public response has been overwhelming. Many have expressed outrage and offered rooms for individuals, accommodation for entire families. Sanctuary. Others have offered employment, material aid, or contributed to the emergency appeal set up to help those affected. Donated 2 weeks housing to @ASRC1 bc despite what Dutton says, my ‘social justice agenda’ as a lawyer is right & moral #[email protected]__K??? Emma (@emmerina) August 30, 2017I just donated @Kon__K because compassion matters and is better than this https://t苏州夜场招聘/a4aoxoyzYX??? tarnya widdicombe (@tarnya_widdi) August 30, 2017

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