See the post preceeding this one here.
At the weekend we went to Leonora in outback WA from Perth with the Refugee Rights Action Network. 1682.8km there & back (according to our legend of a bus driver, Bruce, who drove the whole distance in 3 days).
Children in detention. Another broken promise.
We went to Leonora to deliver toys & books to asylum seekers being detained there, to see the facility for ourselves, to visit detainees and let them know we want them to be free to live in our community while their claims for asylum are being processed, to highlight the issue that neither major political party really want to talk about during this election campaign. The Greens have a better policy than Labor or Liberal on claims for asylum, it’s here if you want to read it.
Nathan holding up some of the donations we collected to take to the children in detention in Leonora.
It was a long trip. The government likes to put these detention centres in remote areas where the majority of Australians will not see them, so they can spin lies about the standard of living & people won’t see the truth & won’t question the lies.
In organising meetings and on the bus on the way to Leonora I had expressed interest in visiting detainees with the children. Serco (the private company who holds the contract to run all immigration detention centres (IDC) in Australia, a company who also hold contracts to run many prisons in Australia) would not allow Babyman in to visit with me, but they would allow The Bubble in. No reason was given for this decision & I can come to no logical conclusion as to why they would allow a 3 year old child into the facility to visit, but not a 7 month old baby. I am told by people who visit at Perth IDC that children are allowed to visit there, and I believe that to be the case because there is a space on the visitors application form to include the names of children who will be accompanying the adult visitor. When negotiating visits at Leonora, the manager for the facility would only allow 4 people in for 2 visits (2 people at a time) for the purposes of this, The Bubble was not considered a person. I wonder if this is how they see the children in detention? I wonder if it’s easier to lock them up and hear their screams of terror in the night as they remember the horrors of the homeland they fled if these children are not considered people?
As a group, we decided that I would take The Bubble in to the first visit with Victoria, a woman who has visited detainees at most detention centres in Australia. We were going to meet with an Afghani Hazara woman, the only detainee whose name we already had. Another member, Claire, and an ex-detainee, Nader, were chosen to go to a second visit with community leaders chosen by Serco & the detainees.
Victoria, The Bubble and I inside the gates.
After we walked through the gate I was told,
“The minor is not allowed to visit”
Victoria & I arced up at this, we had been told The Bubble was allowed to come with me. The guard told us she was allowed to go into the second visit but not the first. Again, no reason was given for this, the guard told us he was simply following the orders from “over there”, a line he used often. Claire & I did a direct swap, so Claire visited the woman with Victoria. After that visit ended & both Victoria and Claire did media interviews at the gate, The Bubble, Nader and I were allowed to visit.
A guard holding Victoria's balloons as she signed herself in & handed over her ID to be kept by Serco until she was signed out again.
We were not allowed to take anything in to the centre with us. We had to leave our wallets, phones, keys etc. with friends at the gate & take only our photo ID, which was to be left with the guards signing us in.When the guard was advising Nader of this, Nader said,
“I know, I have a lot of experience with this.”
The guard told Nader he also had a lot of experience & said,
“I know what I’m doing, I’ve been doing this for 11 years.”
To which Nader replied,
“I’ve been in detention, I know what you’re doing too.”
That sent a shiver down my spine. I felt so humbled by this man who was showing such courage. The choice Nader made to visit asylum seekers detained by the Australian government is a very courageous one. Courageous because Nader was once detained in Australian IDCs just like Leonora. For him to visit current detainees, to know the horrors they experience & to know that what he experienced is still happening, would be heartbreaking. Nader was in detention for 3 years and 3 months, he was detained at Curtin IDC, Baxter IDC & Port Headland IDC.
When we entered the visiting yard, a gaurd asked me if I wanted a toy for The Bubble to play with. I asked him if they had toys that all the children could play with (there were 5 children in the yard including The Bubble), he said “no” and asked me again if I wanted a toy for The Bubble. I declined, since there were not toys on offer for all the children. They entertained themselves anyway, without toys, and without spoken language for the full 1.5hrs we were visiting for.
While Nader spoke with 6 men & 3 children who he was able to speak to without using a translator (he is Iranian & can speak Farsi, Arabic & English), The Bubble and I spoke with a Sri Lankan Tamil man and his 7 year old daughter (using a translator).
He was chosen as a representative of his community to speak with me. He had a piece of paper with things they, as a community, wanted me to know.
First on that list was the request that pregnant women be allowed to live in our community while their claims are being processed. He said that being in detention was very taxing on them & made their pregnancies harder.
Second on that list was that their children be allowed to live in our community also.
They did not ask for any material things, they asked for freedom.
He asked me, with tears in his eyes, why Australians hate refugees. I told him that not all Australians hate refugees and that I could understand how he may be led to believe that when the media always chooses to show the vocal minority who like to spew vitriol at any opportunity. I told him that people can be scared of what they don’t know & that sometimes those people don’t want to know the facts because they’re comfortable believing the falsehoods they believe as long as they are not challenged by them.
He asked me to tell the people of Australia that they do not wish to be a burden on Australians, that they promise to work hard, that they want a new life. He asked me to explain that they wouldn’t come here seeking asylum if they were not desperate. He said that if people knew the truth they would surely have compassion. In Sri Lanka he had to move from place to place, often leaving the dead bodies of family and friends, unable to bury them before fleeing for safety. I promised him I would keep dispelling myths, I would keep fighting until Australia’s policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers arriving in Australia without a valid visa (whether by boat or by plane) is abolished and forever remembered for the shameful blemish on our nation’s history that it is.
Australia is breaching the UN Convention on Refugees by detaining people without charge or trial.
refugees unlawfully in the country of refuge
1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present
themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
2. The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country. The Contracting States shall allow such refugees a reasonable period and all the necessary facilities to obtain admission into another country.
At the gate to the detention centre, another member of RRAN asked a police officer how long he could hold one of us, as Australian citizens, before having to either charge us or release us. The answer was 20 hours. The Tamil man I met, his wife and 2 daughters (5yrs & 7yrs) have been in detention in Australia for 2.5 months. They have committed no crime, they are seeking asylum from persecution.
Detainees holding a placard inside the detention centre that reads: "Welcome to Leonora family rejection centre"
He told me that the children in detention are screaming out in their sleep, that they are not able to heal from the traumas they have already experienced because they are in detention & that they are experiencing new traumas associated with being in detention. He said that when children who have been detained are released they are developmentally delayed, he said their 6 year olds are like our 3 year olds…
Australia’s policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers is also breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Particularly article 22 (refugees), article 27 (adequate standard of living), article 37 (detention & punishment), article 38 (protection of children affected by war & armed conflict), and article 39 (rehabilitation of child victims).
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.
The families in detention are not allowed to cook their own food. Parents are unable to do simple things we do every day in order to care for their children. They are being watched and judged in their every interaction with their children. They have to trust these same people who incarcerate them with the safety of their children when the children go to the local school, because as parents they are not allowed to walk or drive their children to school. IMAGINE. LIVING. LIKE. THIS.
The man I met said they eat and sleep, that they feel they’re wasting their lives. They want to get on with life, to start a new life in Australia. He said they were so glad when the Australian Navy rescued them from the people smuggler’s boats, because they had been so scared on the boats, but then when they were put into detention in Australia they were in shock because they didn’t expect to be detained.
No crime to seek asylum. Free the refugees
As a child & young teenager I visited a family member in prison on more occasions than I can count, at each prison that I visited the conditions were better than those I saw at the Leonora detention facility. There are innocent children & women (some who are pregnant) being detained by our government, there are innocent men being detained by our government, it’s simply not ok. It has to change.
PLEASE write letters to local media, state media, national media, international media, your local government, your state government, federal government, the UN, anyone you can think of. Please highlight this issue, please help to dispell myths about asylum seekers that friends, family and strangers may have. Read up on the facts (you can start to do that here: www.boat-people.org), question everything you’re told by the government and media about refugees & asylum seekers.
In the words of another RRAN member,
“We will win because we are right!”
Here are links to some news articles & GWN video about the convergence.
More photos taken by members of RRAN who made the trip can be found here: