I woke from a cosy restful sleep in a warm and luxurious bed to hear the morning news, 400 asylum seekers are feared to have drowned on route to safety. 400 deaths should create a global outcry, fellow human beings are escaping wars, political persecution and religious terrorism across the globe. There was little outcry and limited media coverage of this tragic loss of life, why, because these people are labelled incorrectly as ‘illegals’.
Let me try and quantify for you the magnitude of this international disaster!
The refugee crisis continues to escalate, the numbers of displaced continue to rise, many countries are answering the call and offering genuine assistance to those in need. For those of us lucky enough to call a first world country home, I ask you to consider this fact, “developing countries host over 86% of the world’s refugees”.
Take a look at the image above, this is Jordan’s fifth largest city, home to more than 160,000 refugees with 6000 more arriving every day escaping “the brutal Syrian civil war”.
It’s not surprising that a small number of these countless millions of refugees will use any possible means they can muster to find their way to a new home, Australia. Sadly, through poor understanding these people are labelled by many, including politicians as ‘illegal immigrants’. It is important for us all to understand that seeking asylum is not illegal! To seek asylum is to seek refuge. Identity, security and health checks are completed, status is resolved, these people are then identified as refugees. Sounds simple but this is a gruelling process, detention with horrific conditions which are so poor, speaking publicly of them has been banned.
An attempt to balance on the fence between those horrified by such conditions and those gripped with the fear of being invaded by thousands of ‘illegal immigrants’, we have a confused Government. I would ask you to look beyond the misleading headlines. Bursting with pride, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton confirms, there are no more children being detained in immigration detention centres in Australia.
“I’m very proud of the fact we’ve been able to stop the boats and get children out of detention… I feel a great sense of achievement in doing this.”
One would believe that Dutton had performed a miracle, what he fails to mention is the fifty children still imprisoned on Nauru. Exposed to harmful environments, these children experience considerable mental health and wellbeing concerns. Whether or not someone is seeking, or has been granted asylum, under the protection of the Australian Government they deserve the right to appropriate health and medical care.
Mr Dutton assured the Australian public that sufficient level of services are provided for those detainees in Nauru:
“He insisted the children were getting healthcare and education access on the island.”
The health services are understaffed, there is no paediatrician available, medical staff have limited early childhood experience. During 2014, a visiting doctor reported that everyday in Nauru there were “children who were either on suicide or self-harm watch“. These events play as reminders for “past traumatic events and delays their ability to recover from previous trauma”. For children in detention, 34% experienced mental health disorders at considerable levels, compared to less than 2% of the Australian children population.
The Human Rights Commission highlighted “children deteriorate quickly …. timeframe for medical evacuation will not allow support during critical early period of severe illness”. Amnesty International emphasised the difficulty for the Nauru Government to care for the asylum seekers. The Human Rights Commission identified education concerns, lack of facilities, insufficient chairs, limited books, paper and writing implements. Continuous feeling of despair, absence of opportunity, the fear that they will “stay here forever” in a prison, which is fenced with entry checkpoints, does not offer any hope for a future.
Those who sacrifice comfortable living in Australia to support these asylum seekers in Nauru, teachers, doctors, nurses and allied health professionals have been legally banned from sharing with the rest of the world the conditions that our fellow humans are suffering.
The penalty for revealing the truth of the conditions asylum seekers experience is a potential two-year imprisonment under the ‘Border Force Act’. Australians working for our Government in Nauru should have the right to share with us the conditions and I for one want to know. How can we make judgements, offer an opinion, be involved in a discussion on what Australia is doing to address the global refugee crisis if we simply have no idea what is going on?
Terrifyingly more than 50% of the global refugees are under 18 years of age, it’s time to lead the way. Let’s demonstrate to this enormous population of displaced children that we care enough to take the time to listen and understand their plight. We must work together to identify the solutions and the first step is to remove the gag on those who can share with us the hidden realities of Nauru.
Also published on Medium.