So, there’s a child in detention on Christmas Island because he is an ‘illegal immigrant’. Actually, there are a lot of children in detention in Australia and on Christmas Island for this reason, but for now I’m just going to focus on one, because I am torn between tears and fury.
Seena Akhliqi Sheikhdost was one of the children in the boat tragedy off Christmas Island late last year. His parents both drowned, but he survived, and was of course put into detention, because we are compassionate people who find this an appropriate way to deal with bereaved eight-year-old suspected terrorists. He does, in fact, have family in Sydney, but as an unaccompanied minor, the Government is his legal guardian, and the Government apparently have forgotten why we got rid of Little Johnny, or else they don’t care. They don’t want to release him to his family because they haven’t processed him yet. He has been in detention for more than two months, His first six days in detention he spent without any family, although he had an aunt in the same centre. She wasn’t initially told he was there, you see (to be fair, this was probably bureaucratic stupidity, but there is enough awfulness to go around without adding that sort of thing into it).
As an illegal immigrant, Seena doesn’t get to go to school. He doesn’t get to associate with Australian citizens, either. And while he was allowed to go to the funeral of his parents, he can’t go back home with the family members who are in Australia legally, because he doesn’t have ASIO clearance. And did I mention that he is eight years old?
I find this deeply upsetting to contemplate, which means it’s time to write to the politicians again…
(this letter has been sent to the PM and my local MP, as well as to Chris Bowen, the Minister for Immigration and Locking People Up For No Good Reason – why yes, I am a trifle upset, had you noticed?)
Dear Mr Bowen,
I am writing to urge you to release Seena Akhliqi Sheikhdost and his aunt’s family from detention and into the care of their family in Sydney.
As you know, Seena’s parents were drowned in the boat tragedy off Christmas Island, in which Seena himself nearly drowned. To lose one’s parents is traumatic for anyone, and particularly for a child who has already lost his home.
It is shameful that Australia persists in a policy of imprisoning the children of refugees, and preventing them from attending school. Clearly, an eight year old is no terrorist, and his ASIO clearance (and that of other children) should be given top priority. Moreover, it is doubtful that Seena would have had any say in his family’s decision to come here. Whatever you may believe about the illegality or otherwise of his arrival, it is simply unjust to allow a child to suffer for the misdeeds of his parents, and particularly irresponsible and cruel to do so when there are alternatives.
If a parent kept his or her child from school, imprisoned him and left him alone for more than six nights after a traumatic experience and did nothing when he began to self harm and bang his head, they would be prosecuted for child abuse and neglect. With Seena’s parents dead, his legal guardian is in fact the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship… yet this abuse is allowed to continue. This may be legal, but it is not ethical.
The Howard Government’s treatment of refugees was a blot on our history, and I and many others hoped that with his defeat, the era of treating the desperate and afraid like criminals would be over. As a daughter of immigrants and granddaughter of a refugee, I find it horrifying and depressing beyond belief that these policies persist. Our country was big enough for compassion in the past – have we really changed so much for the worse?
Please release Seena, and the 714 children who, like Seena, are currently incarcerated through no fault of their own.
If you would like to write to Chris Bowen, his email is Chris.Bowen.MP@aph.gov.au .
The Prime Minister can be contacted using an online form here
You can find more information about Seena’s situation here.
And if you are concerned about children in detention in Australia, the website from which all of this came is called ChilOut.org. I recommend it.
Apparently, there are a number of children in the detention centre in Broadmeadows – ChilOut is trying to organise people to become regular visitors there, and I’m looking into doing this. If you are interested in visiting, the facebook page (sorry) is here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=148933925130686&ref=ts