Retired Australian judge Jim Macken has, for the past 88 years, led a pretty remarkable life. He’s served as a union organizer, presided over an industrial court, and was appointed to the Order of Australia in 2003.
Now he’s prepared to give up everything — including his Australian citizenship — to move to a decrepit offshore holding center for refugees. There’s just one caveat: A refugee will need to take his place on the mainland in return.
“If it gets just one refugee off one of those islands, and gives them a chance at a life in Australia, I’m prepared to do it,” he told the Guardian this week.
Macken proposed the swap in a letter penned to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who has faced intense criticism this summer after reports emerged that migrants and refugees who tried to reach Australia were being held in unsafe and inhumane conditions in offshore detention centers.
Australia houses asylum-seekers on nearby Manus Island, which is part of Papua New Guinea, and on the Pacific island of Nauru. Critics say the centers are overcrowded and lack government oversight, leading to dangerous conditions for people who have already risked their lives to try to reach Australia.
“I understand this is an unusual request but I offer it in complete sincerity,” Macken wrote to Dutton. “I would consider it a privilege to live out my final years in either Nauru or Manus Island in his or her stead.”
Macken sent his offer to the immigration minister last month and has yet to hear back. But it sounds like this request is not entirely out of Macken’s character.
A 2014 article in an online news site from the town of Pittwater called him “rapscallion, generous to the core, with integrity as high as summer days can be long.”
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