Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist and asylum seeker on Manus Island, recently won the top prize in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for his book “No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison”. In an interview after accepting the award, he described being sent to Manus Island as being ‘exiled’. This word conjures up images of banishment and being cast out; being stuck somewhere with no-where to go. He continues to live on Manus Island along with other refugees and people seeking asylum. The detention centre was closed in October 2017, and Amnesty International and the Refugee Council of Australia report that nearly 600 men continue to live on the island, with increasingly poor physical and mental health. These organisations call on the Australian Government to end the policy of off-shore detention.
In 2018, serious concerns were raised about the health of refugees and people seeking asylum on Nauru, in particular children, many of whom were suffering from ‘resignation syndrome’. There were over 100 children on Nauru at the start of the year. Doctors from Medicins sans Frontieres as well as Dr Nick Martin, who was employed by IHMS (International Health and Medical Services) spoke about the inadequacy of health services to satisfactorily manage the severity of some of the health problems. This year Dr Martin won the Blue Print for Free Speech Prize in London for speaking out about his concerns.
In October 2018, a petition signed by nearly 6,000 Australian doctors was delivered to the Prime Minister’s Office, urging Scott Morrison to bring the children and their families to Australia. Thankfully, over the following 2 to 3 months, children and their families were moved from Nauru to Australia. On 3 February 2019, the Minister for Immigration David Coleman confirmed at a press conference that there were only 4 children left on Nauru and that they were soon due to depart.
The Australian Government continues to maintain that their current policy dealing with boat arrivals of people seeking asylum is saving lives by stopping people drowning at sea. This policy involves boat turn-backs, and offshore processing of applications of asylum seekers who have arrived by boat since 2013. Those arriving by boat who are deemed to be genuine refugees are not allowed to have permanent residency in Australia. However, many people are now saying that treating refugees in this way in order to deter others from coming by boat cannot be justified. As former Socceroo Craig Foster said in his opinion piece in the Age on February 22nd: “It cannot be right that, with Australia having participated as one of just eight nations in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights over 70 years ago, we are prepared to put people seeking asylum at risk of physical and psychological harm in order to deter others.” Currently there are around 420 people in Nauru, just under 600 in PNG – just over 1,000 in total; 456 have been resettled in the US.
Hope for Nauru (previously known as Care for Nauru) is a charity that supports refugees and people seeking asylum on Nauru by sending them care packages containing food, special foods and medical supplies. It also advocates for refugees and asylum seekers brought to Australia for medical treatment. It presented welcome packages to the families who were recently transferred.
With Hope for Nauru member Helen McKenzie, people from the MUC congregation have been supporting the organisation’s activities, by shopping for items and packaging them up ready to post. Helen, Faye, Tricia and I recently did shopping for clothing for 12 men on Nauru (reimbursed by Hope for Nauru). Tricia, Yvonne and I helped Helen McKenzie with the packaging. Tricia gave her reason for helping in the following comment: “I’m disappointed in the way our government deals with refugees and asylum seekers, especially with how they are being left and forgotten on Nauru. Hope for Nauru gives me the ability to express my concern in a practical way.” This is my reason: It is not illegal for people to seek asylum. Refugees in Nauru are living in limbo. Helping Hope for Nauru is my way of showing that there are people who care about them so that they do not lose all hope.