Last week I came across a video made by a kidz4kidz.aus, a student group aiming to raise awareness for children in detention centres in Australia. The video features members of the group reading actual statements made by children in Australian-run detention centres taken from “The forgotten children: National Inquiry into children in Immigration Detention” released last year by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The message is simple – as kidz4kidz.aus say in the introduction to the video – they are giving voice to children who are voiceless and nameless due to the inhumane policies of the Australian government. The words of one unaccompanied child are especially haunting “…We don’t know when we will be free. Our hope is slowly going. Maybe I will be killed.” This highlights what perhaps is the cruelest cut of all – we have taken away hope from these children and indeed all people held in Australian detention centres.
A series of Australian Immigration ministers have taken macabre delight in assuring asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat that even if they are found to be genuine refugees they will never be allowed to settle in Australia. At the moment going to Cambodia, or staying in Papua New Guinea or Nauru appear to be the only options.
I have witnessed first hand what the removal of hope does to people living in refugee camps. In 1977 and 1978 I worked with the YMCA of Thailand in one of the refugee camps along the border of Thailand with Laos. There were more than 10,000 people living in the camp and though conditions were quite primitive, people were generally in a positive mood. This was largely due to the fact that every Tuesday a fleet of buses would arrive in the camp and take people away to settlement destinations in the US, France or Australia.
I visited the camp again in 1980 and although physical conditions had improved – the food available was more varied and nutritions and health services more established- the mood had changed. People were lethargic and levels of opium addiction had skyrocketed among those remaining in the camp.
Why? The buses had stopped coming and the 3000 or so people who remained in the camp realised that they were not going anywhere. Hope had been removed and despair had taken over.
This year the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expects more than 400,000 people to embark on perilous journeys seeking to escape war and persecution. The response of Australia to asylum seekers stand in stark contrast to that of Germany and a number of other European countries.
Germany has said that any of the asylum seekers currently arriving in Europe are welcome to seek refuge in Germany. Germany expects more than 800,000 people this year alone will take advantage of this offer.
The European response for the most part has been one of compassion – one thing that is sadly lacking from the Australian response to the current refugee crisis.
We need groups like kidz4kidz.aus to help us move towards a more compassionate and sustainable response.