how i became a refugee rights advocate

This morning on twitter I retweeted this tweet,

Lebanon has received more #asylum seekers from #Syria in last 24 hours than #Australia has in all of 2013. #auspol

by Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder and CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne. Very soon someone I don’t know responded with this,

@wildecrafted @Kon_K Who cares? You can bet they won’t be housed in air conditioned luxury & paid welfare in Lebanon #notourproblem #auspol

Who cares? I care!

I’ll admit that lately, for the same reasons I haven’t blogged in almost seven months, I haven’t been keeping up with the news about asylum seekers & refugees or the awful race-to-the-bottom politics of the two major political parties in Australia like I used to but my values have not changed.

When I was 21 years old I went on a convergence from Perth to the Baxter Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) just out of Port Augusta in South Australia. At the time I didn’t understand the history of mandatory detention in Australia, and if I’m honest I didn’t really understand why I was going on the convergence.

I first heard about the convergence when I was at a friend’s house, we were sitting on her bed eating highly nutritious mi goreng two minute noodles when I noticed a poster on her bedroom wall that was promoting the 2003 convergence to Baxter IDC.

“Shell, what’s Baxter?” I asked.

Between mouthfuls Shelley told me what Baxter was and we talked about people who had fled persecution and wound up in prisons here in Australia, detained indefinitely without charge or trial. I knew some of this stuff, I’d seen it on the news at my parent’s house but I didn’t yet know that there were people standing up and saying it was wrong.

It was a couple of weeks later when I was hanging out at a feral little bunker of awesomeness called Groovy Space (the home of a local junk percussion band) that my friend Scoutt told me that another convergence to Baxter was being planned and it was happening in a few weeks. She asked if I wanted to come.

There were around 80 of us on the bus from Perth to Baxter. It took us 28 hours to get there, the bus had two drivers who took turns to drive and to sleep in a bed at the back of the bus, we stopped infrequently.

For the three days that we were at Baxter I experienced more than I could have imagined when I signed up to go. I saw a friend, who was well known for his non-violent direct action (NVDA) workshops, get punched in the face by a particularly aggressive police officer. I saw people trampled by horses. I saw helium balloons popped by cops holding pins. I saw the cuts on the face of a fellow Perth activist after his face was rammed into the ground by the police officer who arrested him. I heard our friend tell us about how he’d been arrested because he was holding a camera that had recorded the police brutality and of how the film was wiped clean when he received his camera back. I saw asylum seekers climb onto the roof of the detention centre and heard them call out to us. I chanted “AZADI” (which means freedom in Farsi) with the hundreds of other activists who had come from every state and territory in Australia to protest Prime Minister John Howard’s cruel policies.

While all of this was certainly powerful it was the experience of keeping an overnight vigil at the front gates of the centre with a small handful of the hundreds of convergence attendees that really affected me. We spent the night huddling together under blankets, running on the spot and doing star jumps in an attempt to stave off the chill from of the cold Autumn night in the desert. We discussed anything and everything, always mindful of the people detained in the IDC we sat before. As the sun rose that morning I was struck by the beauty of the vast desert sky. As I stood to face to rising sun the stars still glowed in the dark night sky behind me. I felt free.

The children, the women and the men who were detained at Baxter IDC could not see the horizon. They could not see the simple beauty of the morning washing over the desert. They were not free.

It was in that moment that I knew, I really knew, why I was at the convergence. It was at that point that I understood my own privilege in a way I never had before and it was at that point that I silently vowed to myself, with tears in my eyes, that I would fight for the freedom of those seeking asylum in Australia. They deserve freedom as much as I do.

We won some things during that period of the refugee rights campaign, and in 2007 when John Howard was finally defeated by Kevin Rudd we all had high hopes. Unfortunately since then we have seen a return to policies every bit as inhumane as those of the Howard era.

Thursday June 20, 2013 is World Refugee Day. This Sunday (June 16) the Refugee Rights Action Network (RRAN) are hosting a rally calling for an end to the mandatory detention of  asylum seekers and for an end to the awful policy known as “The Pacific Solution”. I will be there, with my children, because the least I can do is spend a couple of hours of my weekend marching for an end to mandatory detention and the closure of offshore immigration detention facilities.


posted by wildecrafted in activism and have No Comments

Toy weapons and war play

I have been pondering toy guns over the last few days as my daughter saw children playing with toy guns for the first time a few days ago. She has not mentioned it, she didn’t ask what they were and on the surface it appears not to have affected her. It has affected me though, it has reminded me yet again that as my children get older I know I will begin to encounter difficult situations where they are exposed to things I would prefer they were not exposed to. Things that they may ask me about, things that I would like to be able to discuss without giving judgement laden responses. I know also that children are so very perceptive and even though she’s not mentioned seeing the toy guns, she would have noticed them and they would have made some kind of impact.

I’m not comfortable with toy weapons. Increasingly so as I become more involved in the refugee rights movement again, this time with more personal involvement with people whose lives have been torn apart by war. Often literally, with many refugees having prosthetic limbs because they’ve stepped on land mines. People who are very traumatised by their experiences with real weapons, real violence.

I feel that toy guns (and, in fact, all toy weapons) are a glorification of war, and I feel that war is… I actually can’t even articulate the sorrow and anger I feel with regard to war. I can’t see anything positive in war. I am committed to non-violence. That certainly doesn’t mean I am never violent, I am very ashamed to acknowledge that I have yelled at my children in anger on several occasions, that I have handled my children roughly when I’ve strapped them into their car seat or pulled them roughly away from a game before they’re ready. My committment to non-violence is a committment to work on ways to address my anger issues (of which I have many), to learn to express anger in a healthy way, to reprogramme my default behaviour when faced with a stressful or anger-inducing situation. For myself, for the people I love, and for people I don’t even particularly like I am committed to non-violence.

I know it’s naive to wish I could protect my children from all exposure to violence when we live in a culture that is quite numb to it. Violence for entertainment, violence on the news. Even without a television or electronic games they’ll be exposed to it in our society, often in very subversive ways. I feel very sad though, that children even know what guns are, that they can conceive to pretend that an inanimate object is a gun when a toy gun is not available.

I have a stance against dolls that represent an unhealthy body image (Barbie, Bratz etc) & princessification (thanks Siobhan), and I feel that my stance against toy guns comes from a very similar place.

I wish to express to my children, through my rejection of certain toys & imagery, that some ideas including (but not limited to) war, “beauty” as media/dominant westernised culture portrays it, intolerance of (racial, physical, sexual, gendered, cultural etc.) differences go against my ethics.

I’m also wary of imposing my own ethics on my children as I know that I’m not necessarily right and I know that other people have very different ethics from me. I know, for example, that some people who I love dearly believe that my choice to consume animal products is unethical. Even though I am very conscious of where the animal products I consume come from (organic & biodynamic farming practices, raising backyard chooks to kill ourselves), these people who I love, who also love me, do not agree with me on this one. Despite differences in our value systems, we’re able to respect each other, and while I value that so much I do think that unconditional acceptance is something of a myth for me, I must be honest about that. I love to believe in unconditional acceptance but I don’t know if I am infallible enough to actually accept everything my children may choose unconditionally in much the same way that I am committed to non-violence despite being unable to control violent tendencies in myself completely (yet).

I believe I will always love my children, regardless of choices they may make in future that I don’t agree with. If I’m honest though, I know I would feel very disappointed if either of my children chose to engage in war in any way (for example). I believe I would still love them unconditionally, yet I believe I may not be able to unconditionally accept some choices they make. Of course this is all theorising right now, I can’t know how I would respond if not faced with the situation. I would hope that even when my children make choices I don’t agree with that I would be able to keep my mouth shut if I have nothing helpful or constructive to say, but then, it’s all down to perspective isn’t it? I may think that vocalising my displeasure at their choice is helpful and constructive, while they may not.

I know that for now, while I am our children’s primary care-giver I will not allow toy guns in our home because I do not wish to normalise war by accepting war play into our daily lives. I wish that it was not a scenario I have to ponder but I like to think that if I see my children engaging in war play I would use it as an opening to discuss my values regarding war in an age appropriate manner. I don’t think it’s helpful to shame them, or other children, for engaging in war play. I think that making a big deal of it could actually have an effect opposite to the desired effect of squashing any interest in war play, turning it into the forbidden fruit instead. With real, honest information I feel confident my children will make informed choices as they grow up, I just wish I didn’t feel so nervous about it!

posted by wildecrafted in education and have Comments (4)

Compassion Caravan according to Sally

The following is an article written by another woman who came on the trip to Leonora with us at the weekend.

My thoughts on the weekend.

By Sally Woodliff

We set out from Perth in a bus full of books and toys. 22 people from diverse backgrounds – a social worker, some university lecturers, an ex-detainee (now a business owner), students, teachers, tradies and children; a 3 year old and a chubby cheeked baby. We were on a “Santa Claus mission” to bring smiles and fun to the nearly 200 mothers, fathers and children in the Leonora detention centre. Our requests were few and seemingly reasonable; to visit with the people detained, to run some organised sporting activities with the children and to set up the donations in a way that would allow the parents the freedom to choose the toys, books and clothes most suitable for their families.

Instead we were treated as potential criminals. Extra police drove in from Kalgoorlie to watch us. Both federal and state security accompanied us as “facilitators”, but failed to facilitate anything beyond what we were able to sort for ourselves. At one stage, when the frustration got too great, I went for a walk around the block and was followed by a police van. They sat and watched me cry and then took my details. I can only assume that I have either been added to their list of potential trouble makers or was vetted for previous misdemeanours.  We were on a good will visit so we tried at all times to be pleasant and non confrontational, yet when we asked for copies of any policies so that we could comply with them we hit a blank wall. We asked what we needed to do to make contact possible. We were willing to fill out forms, hand over our working with children checks and provide references. We were simply told, “Nope, not going to happen.”

The centre itself looks like the sort of prison camp you would expect to see in a third world country. There is nothing but red dirt and dongas, surrounded by high block-out fences and guards standing to attention at intervals around the perimeter. We were separated by padlocked gates, a double fence, a 100 metre wide dry moat and a plethora of stony faced guards. They have made a deliberate barrier to stop the world seeing in and the detainees seeing out.

The people inside had heard we were coming and were very obviously excited. Children were hoisted up on shoulders in order to see over the compound walls and faces popped up over the fences. They were waving homemade signs, one reading “Welcome to Leonora Family Rejection Centre”. The children started up the communication by shouting “Hi!” and cheering. We responded with “Azadi!” (freedom!) and blew party whistles. We laid the toys outside the fence and an army of guards came and took them inside. We received no information on how the donations would be distributed or even if they would be. The detention centre manager responded to most requests with, “I don’t have to answer that.”

I felt as though I’d entered an alternate reality. I thought the police were meant to protect people’s legal and civil rights. The police were there to make sure that Serco, the private company operating the centre, would not be inconvenienced by our charity. I said to two policemen, “How can you stand it? Don’t you just want to bust them out and play a game of football?” One looked uncomfortable and the federal “facilitator” told him not to answer me. The other smirked and said he’d rather be at home playing football with his children (who I assume are not locked up in a prison camp). I worry about what it must do for the mental health of the personnel involved in the centre – it must require a lot of emotional suppression in order to deal with the reality they see. The line “I was only following orders” only works for so long.

What makes the police presence even more unbelievable was the fact that only that morning we had rung the police from the Kalgoorlie camping site to report a father who was threatening his young daughter with extreme violence. We reported that we had heard the father threaten to strangle her and “put one through the back of [her] head.” The police responded that it was not their business to deal with “how people parent their children” and that they could only do something after actual violence had occurred. It seems incredible then that they had travelled to Leonora on only the idea of we might do… I’m not actually sure what they thought we might do…. chant? Wave signs? Talk to people??

I have personal experience with grief and trauma. The outpouring of support I received after my partner died was nothing short of remarkable. Australians have a great capacity for compassion and understanding. When each day seemed to last a month and I struggled in a sea of pain I was supported by a professional counselling service and an incredible community who allowed me the time, space and freedom to recover equilibrium. These very traumatised families are being denied all of the things necessary to recover mental stability. They are in a highly stressful situation with no feelings of safety or assurance. They feel they might be sent home at any moment, to almost certain death. They are separated from normal life – they are prevented from cooking for their families, from having their own space and possessions and they have no access to the natural environment. They are watched at all times by guards who are used to dealing with criminals. The guards have no training in mental health, children’s welfare or social work. I wouldn’t allow some of these men into my classroom, yet in Leonora they have unrestricted access and power over the children and their parents. I can’t tell you how much this frightens me.

Our translator talked to me about his own experiences in detention. Six years on he battles daily with the mental, emotional and physical scars from the three years he spent in Australian detention centres. What occupies his mind now is not the time spent fleeing his home or the time in camps in other countries or what must have been a terrifying journey in a leaky boat. He is damaged from time spent in our country, under the “care” of our systems and governments. He asks “Why was I punished? I’m a good person?” Unfortunately his case is not unique. There is overwhelming medical evidence that there is a direct link between immigration detention and deteriorating mental health. Our translator said that he could see the signs of beginning mental illness in the faces of the people he met in the Leonora facility. Despite popular belief, on their own children don’t just “bounce back” from traumatic experiences. They need professional support and care to be able to deal with the past. Without support, and with the ongoing stress that they experience in these facilities, they are likely to develop mental illnesses that will be with them for the rest of their lives. That treating people with such severity is not only part of Australian policy, but is also now celebrated as an achievement, is unforgivable. It needs to stop.

The media are denied access to the centre. People who enter to visit are not allowed to take anything with them – not even a pencil to make notes. Visitors are not allowed to take anything out with them either, including handwritten notes from the detainees. The manager reported that all written communication had to go through an “official process”. This means that guards would write down who the letter was from and who it was addressed too. Detainees were also not given a receipt for their letters. We were unable to recieve a letter that we knew had been written for us. The reason given was the existing back-log of unsent mail that would have to be processed first. I find it hard to believe that facilitating contact with the outside world is a priority for centre staff.

Visitors must give 24 hours notice and have the name of the person they want to visit. They can be refused if the name is incorrectly spelled. They can also be denied entry on the discretion of the centre manager without a given reason. None of the official web pages contain the mailing address of the centre. Letters sent to “Leonora detention centre” are returned to sender. Effectively this means that the asylum seekers are denied any form of communication with the outside world. They have no voice.

This is occurring under a Labor government. From all the signs it only looks like it will get worse unless the public make a concerted effort to say this is not okay. The Liberal policy is potentially even more inhumane, with the proposed reintroduction of temporary protection visas and reopening of Nauru. Temporary protection visas keep families separated, place asylum seekers in a psychologically devastating state of uncertainty and deny them their fundamental rights such as the right to work and to take English classes. Currently this abuse is occurring on Australian soil with guards who are able to go home at night to their families. Who will staff an off shore detention centre? What will ensure the staff’s mental stability? And who will be there to monitor what happens? Out sourcing our processing facilities to countries who themselves are struggling to provide human rights for their own citizens can hardly ensure an improvement to conditions.

There are workable and humane solutions that maintain the dignity of refugees. We could pump the money that is currently going to Serco into services that everyone could use. We currently have a severe housing shortage in Australia for needy people. Imagine if the millions (billions?) of dollars going into detention centres went into housing, ESL education programs and mental health workers. Imagine what that would do to a town like Leonora. We are currently seeing an overwhelming waste of money, resources and human potential. Not to mention what it is doing to our international standing and our national image of Australians as fair and compassionate people. This situation needs to stop. I normally hate it when people compare situations to the Nazis but in this case the thinking is the same. Fundamentally good people are standing by while lives are destroyed by cruelty, pettiness and a careless disregard for the dignity and well-being of fellow human beings. Get informed. Get active. Please.

posted by wildecrafted in activism and have No Comments

Compassion Caravan (after)

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.

Article 31
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).

For example:

Article 39

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:, 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.…816-126nh.html…section=justin…st-at-leonora/

More photos taken by members of RRAN who made the trip can be found here:!/album.php?aid=195653&id=526943643

posted by wildecrafted in activism and have Comments (8)

A letter to Serco

There is so much I want to share about our trip to Leonora, it was incredible. As I have the time I will draft a post (or 10!) and try to put the experience in to words. Until then, here is a letter I wrote to Serco, the private company who holds the contract to manage all the immigration detention centres in Australia:

To Whom This May Conern,

I am writing to express concern over the lack of availability of English language dictionaries for asylum seekers being detained in immigration detention facilities managed by your company.

At the weekend I met with a Sri Lankan man and his daughter who are being detained at Leonora, Western Australia in a facility managed by Serco. I asked the man if detainees were provided with dictionaries to help translate words from their own language into English so they may learn the English language and be able to communicate with English speakers without waiting for a translator to be available to them. He told me dictionaries are not given to detainees.
If claims of asylum are found to be genuine, how can asylum seekers be expected to live in an English speaking community and contribute to the community as they wish to do so if they have little or no English? Imagine starting a new life in a country whose dominant language you can not speak.

As the “service” provider I feel it is your duty to ensure that you provide the services you claim to do so on your website.

Quote from your website

“Using the skills and operational experience developed in the UK and Australia, Serco will seek to improve the operation of each IDC in line with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s new detention values, including the standard of living skills and English language education programmes and the availability of facilities such as, a World Faith Centre, gym, library and the internet.”

If you honestly do seek to improve the operation of each IDC, a basic improvement in English language education programmes would be to ensure that each person seeking asylum is given THEIR OWN COPY of a relevant English to native language dictionary.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this suggestion.
I will be forwarding a copy of this letter to DIAC and several media contacts as well.


K Wilde

I’ll be printing it out & sending it to DIAC’s Global Feedback Centre also. Details here:
I’m also going to send it to my local papers & possibly The West Australian newspaper too, though it’s unlikely they’ll publish it since they’re so right wing!
If anyone else feels like contacting them with the same concern it would help me to fulfill my promise to the man I met that we would try to organise dictionaries for them.

I’ve also contacted GetUp suggesting that they give the meeting with refugees that Abbott won to Gillard in an attempt to put the issue into the spotlight right now, in the last days of their racist campaign. (I know he didn’t win it, but you know, I reckon he’s the one who’d be winning by meeting with them, rather than the other way around, he has a long way to go before his heart starts beating, old Tones)

Now onto writing letters to MPs about abolishing detention centres altogether…

posted by wildecrafted in activism and have No Comments

Compassion Caravan (before)

This weekend we’re going on a bus trip with 20 odd people (yes, we’re all very odd :P) from the Refugee Rights Action Network. An 850km bus trip to Leonora and back (1700km round trip) to visit families of asylum seekers being held in detention.

For info on the purpose of the caravan, see here.

We’ve been on a convergence with RRAN before, in 2005, a much longer one. We went to the Baxter Immigration Detention Centre in Port Augusta, South Australia. In 2005 we didn’t have children though. Actually, in 2005 we weren’t in a relationship either, Liam did sit next to me on the way there though…

So, given that we’re not childless, single people anymore, there is a lot more for us to consider this time around, it’s not as simple as packing our clothes/tent/snacks & hoping for the best. We’ve got a 3 year old child & a baby to entertain in the confines of a bus, a bus that we’re sharing with another 15-20 people.

Babyman doesn’t require much in the way of entertaining yet, he’s not really very mobile & basically as long as he has free access to boobs, cuddles & regular clean nappies he’s pretty happy. The Bubble on the other hand, she’s 3 & VERY high energy. I’ve thought a lot about what things we can do with her on the bus to keep her occupied for the 20 (or more?!) hours we’ll be bussing for.

I’ve bought her some new story books, which she was about due for anyway, because new is often more captivating when it comes to story books for 3 year olds. Her favourite of the new story books is her copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

I’ve made her a craft kit. I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet but it is AWESOME (toot toot toot)!

I’ve got a clear plastic box with 8 compartments and filled them with:

1. cotton wool balls

2. wooden dolly pegs

3. foam monster shaped stickers

4. colourful plastic pony beads with large, toddler friendly size holes

5. rainbow coloured popsticks

6. different size & shape fabric off-cuts from my quilting stash (yes, there is paisley in there)

7. different size & colour pom poms

8. craft ribbon & goggly eyes

I’ve also got a bag filled with things that didn’t fit in the box:

Sticker sheets with stickers of many different sizes, shapes & colours; multicoloured pipe cleaners; craft glue; scissors; a colouring book; coloured pencils & sharpener; large size, natural (non coloured) popsticks; a large ball of grey yarn for threading beads & other general crafty applications; a pad of scrap paper that Liam made at work to use as a drawing pad.

I’ve deliberately excluded things like glitter & paint because they’re a little too messy for the bus.

Tonight, once The Bubble was in bed Liam made some playdough to include in the activity bag, I suggested he mix lavender essential oil into it, hopefully it’ll act as a calming activity if/when The Bubble needs calming. We have already made 8 batches of playdough in the thermomix last night to give to the children in detention at Leonora. Liam made the playdough & I kneaded the colours & some essential oils into the batches by hand while he got started on each new batch, true production line styles. We made a playdough rainbow…

Red with rose oil, orange with tangerine oil, yellow with lemon oil, green with lime oil, blue with ylang ylang oil, indigo with patchouli oil, violent with lavender oil.

On top of all that stuff for activities we’ve packed about half the clothes they own, we’ll probably not need them, but if we don’t have extra clothes they’ll no doubt be needed. Better to have them in the bag & be able to put them back in the cupboard unused when we get home, than to leave them in the cupboard & curse when we run out of clean, dry kids clothes.

We’ve got awesome snacks for the trip so there’ll be no roadhouse stodge for us. I went to the little organic place just up the road from our house to get enough food for snacks & meals. I’m sure we’ll be rolling off the bus when we get to Kalgoorlie tomorrow night after eating hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, pistachios, dark chocolate covered cranberries, raw cacao nibs, goji berries, sultanas, roast veg salad, fresh fruit salad (kiwi fruit, red apple, banana, orange, pear), mushrooms, carrot sticks, celery sticks, spicy lentil dip, cold organic beef sausages, avocado, fresh honeycomb & popcorn!

I’ve also got a herbal first aid kit of sorts. I’m not feeling well & since I’d be taking herbs at home, I’ve decided to dispense myself some travel sized herbs. Tinctures of Echinacea, Olive Leaf & Golden Seal plus some essential oils, herbal lozenges for my sore throat & wholefood supplements (bee pollen, barley grass, spirulina etc.)

On that note, massive weekend begins in 8 hours, I need to rest now!

I’ll be taking notes & writing an update on the trip when we get home. Keep an eye on the RRAN website ( over the weekend for live updates.

posted by wildecrafted in activism and have Comments (2)