I didn’t read Amnesty’s report on Nauru last week. I knew it was bad, and I signed yet another petition, but I didn’t read the report because some things, once seen, can’t be unseen. My imagination is vivid and I am prone to nightmares – I don’t need more fuel.
I haven’t read the full Nauru files, either. In fact, I spent yesterday consciously avoiding reading anything about them at all. I know they will hurt to read. I know they will detail endless abuses, ignored and even encouraged by a system in which there is no transparency, only secrecy, with deterrence and stopping people drowning at sea being held up as the cardinal virtues, the only solution, the moral response before which all other moral imperatives must bow.
I didn’t read them because I have read so much already, and written so much already, and the only thing that ever seems to change is that I lose more of my faith in humanity. I have signed petitions and I have written letters, and it doesn’t matter, because the Government isn’t listening, and the opposition is afraid to look weak. (The Greens may care, but they have no leverage, and I don’t think that One Nation is my natural ally in this particular battle.) I did, finally, read this report, but I could not bring myself to click on all the links.
I didn’t want to know the details.
Of course, I – like most Australians – can make that choice. I can choose not to read these articles and files – to prioritise my own mental health over knowing absolutely everything that I can know over how my country is abusing vulnerable people. And, incidentally, there is nothing wrong with making that choice. I think there is a point where reading too much horror is so overwhelming that it actively saps the energy we could be using to act to counter the horror. I can choose, for that matter, to ignore the whole situation.
The people on Nauru – men, women and children – don’t have this choice. The violence, the abuse, the fear, is a constant for them at all times, and they have no hope for a future in which they will be able to escape this abuse. Their choices are to remain and endure, or to return to the countries they fled, in fear of their lives. (And let’s not pretend that these people are not genuine asylum seekers. Though, frankly, at this point, it doesn’t matter whether they are or not – nothing can justify abusing people and denying them medical care, let alone the indefinite detention of children in unsafe circumstances.)
Honestly, I’m no expert on any of this. I don’t know, really, what a sustainable immigration program looks like, or how much we can afford to spend resettling people in Australia. I do know that we are paying a huge amount of money to imprison people on Nauru or to resettle them in Cambodia, while refusing New Zealand’s offer to re-settle people there (because God forbid that we actually allow the people we have been systematically abusing to settle somewhere that they might be safe from harm). I am fairly sure we could process asylum seekers more cheaply and more humanely in Australia, and I am not the only one who believes this.
I freely admit that I don’t know the best long-term strategy.
But the situation on Nauru and Manus Island and Christmas Island is one we have created ourselves as a country. We are turning scared, desperate people into scared, desperate, traumatised people, and sometimes into scared, desperate, dead people. This is absolutely immoral.
To me, the only moral response now is to close the camps and bring everyone in them to Australia. We have deliberately damaged people, and we owe them restitution, regardless of their status. No exceptions.
We can afford this – we’re talking something in the realm of 1,500 people, less than 0.01% of the Australian population. Even if we put them all straight onto unemployment and provide them with access to psychological and medical help and case managers, it’s still going to cost less per person than we are spending on Nauru. We don’t even have to worry about what message we are sending to people smugglers – this isn’t a long-term policy change (much as I might like it to be!), this is making restitution to a specific group of people because we stuffed up. We aren’t going to do the same for everyone who comes here.
Going forward, we need to come up with a better strategy for helping asylum seekers. There is so much war now, in Syria, and South Sudan, and elsewhere, that the flow of refugees is not going to stop any time soon. Australia needs to join with countries throughout the world to figure out a compassionate and practical response to this situation. It’s a global problem, and it needs a global solution.
But Nauru? That’s local. We did that ourselves, and it’s our responsibility to fix it.
Things you can do
I admit, I’m finding this section harder and harder to write, but we do need to try to keep talking and acting and trying to make change. One very tiny crumb of comfort I found in discussing this yesterday with a friend of mine overseas was that her news reported both the terrible things happening on Nauru, and the fact that Australians are very divided over the situation. Our politicians may not be listening, but we *are* being heard. We aren’t completely invisible. And perhaps overseas pressure can do what we can’t. But we need to make sure everyone knows that there is support in Australia for a more compassionate approach.
I’m going to write to Turnbull again, of course, not that I expect much, and I’ll be writing to my own local MP and Senators, too. But this time around, my main focus will be the ALP leadership. I was struck recently by something Sam Dastyari said in an interview with Annabel Crabbe about the politics of refugees in Australia. He pointed out that for the Liberal Party and the Greens, anything about refugees is an instant political win – the Coalition can keep their constituents happy by being Tough on People Smugglers, and the Greens by Letting Them Stay. Labor, on the other hand, can’t win either no matter what they do, and so in his view this is an opportunity for the party – if they can’t win politically, there is no reason for them not to sit down and actually come up with an asylum seeker policy that is fair and reasonable and also feasible. I’m not entirely happy with their efforts so far, though they are still less horrifying than what the Coalition has been doing, but I do think that the ALP might be where the leverage lies on this one. So some time in the next few days, I’ll be writing a very carefully worded letter to Bill Shorten, trying to encourage more steps in the direction of a compassionate asylum seeker policy.
Here are some other things you can do:
Amnesty International has a petition asking the Government to close the camps on Nauru, and resettle those in them in Australia.
GetUp also has a petition – of course it does! – to Bring Them Here.
Letters / Phone calls / emails
You can find a list of contact details for Senators and Members of Parliament here. If you know your local Senator or MP’s name, there is a search field where you can put in a surname or your electorate and be taken to a page with their contact details. Some people you might consider contacting include…
Malcolm Turnbull – (02) 6277 7700; email@example.com ; @TurnbullMalcolm
Peter Dutton – (02) 6277 7860 or (07) 3205 9977; firstname.lastname@example.org ; @PeterDutton_MP
Bill Shorten – (02) 6277 4022 or (03) 9326 1300; Bill.Shorten.MP@aph.gov.au; @billshortenmp
Shayne Neumann – (07) 3201 5300; Shayne.Neumann.MP@aph.gov.au @ShayneNeumannMP
My understanding is that emails are good, phone calls or paper letters are better, and actual meetings are best. I find phone calls and meetings super intimidating, and take a lot of notes. There is some good information here on how to contact politicians usefully.
Australia for UNHCR is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing life-changing humanitarian support to refugees and other displaced and stateless people who are supported by the United Nations Refugee Agency (The UN Refugee Agency). We achieve this by raising funds for UNHCR’s international humanitarian operations.
Amnesty International are, of course, one of the reasons we know what’s going on on Nauru, and they are fantastic on human rights generally.
Material Aid and Volunteering
In Victoria, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre provides a wide range of services to asylum seekers, from advocacy and legal support to material aid. They accept donations of both cash and material aid, and also have a volunteer program. They also have a catering service and a cleaning service, both of which provide paid work opportunities to people seeking asylum. They are pretty awesome generally.
In New South Wales, House of Welcome provides material aid for refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, including food, toiletries, household items, and even second-hand mobile phones. They also accept cash donations.
In Western Australia, the Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees provides financial assistance, material aid, and case management to newly arrived refugees. They accept donations of money and gift cards.
In Queensland, the Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Network has a whole list of ways you can help.
In Tasmania, Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support runs a friendship group for asylum seekers living in Hobart.
In the Northern Territory, there is the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, which works on support, community awareness and advocacy. They have a wide variety of projects, including visiting people in detention, making welcome packs for refugee mothers and babies, and of course, advocating for policy change. And yes, they are looking for both donations and volunteers.
In the ACT, Canberra Refugee Support are assisting refugees to settle in Canberra, providing advocacy, policy advice, and also training, to help refugees settle and integrate into the community.