Nauru

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.

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