Opinion: Child refugees should never be a political football

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt is the host of our parenting show Kinderling Conversation 

Where do you sit on the debate about refugees?

I'm sick of the fact there is even a “debate”. For decades now Australian Governments have been using the question of asylum seekers as a political football and I am monumentally over it.

How did we ever let our politicians make this an issue? What has happened to our humanity?

Right now we are focused on the plight of 37 babies and 54 children (not to mention 160 adults) who are likely to be sent back to Nauru following the High Court’s ruling that it’s legal to do so (read the ABC report).

But for years now we have let children be locked up in detention – on shore in Australia and off-shore - despite knowing how damaging it is for them. ChilOut, a non-profit group to get children out of detention was formed in 2001. That’s more than fifteen years that we’ve been putting kids in detention.

Politicians have declared that off-shore processing is the solution to stopping deaths at sea. I don’t deny that deaths at sea are a problem. But I think it’s appalling that the Government uses this to justify the inhumane way we are treating refugees.

This justification is part of a strange kind of political speak that makes my head hurt every time I hear it.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton asserted he would act quickly if the High Court ruled in the Government’s favour, indicating that sending the children to Nauru would reduce the amount of children in mainland detention.

Right. Because it’s not actually on our land we are no longer responsible. It’s taking ‘out of sight/ out of mind’ to a whole new level.

This language of obfuscation when it comes to refugees sometimes feels straight out of George Orwell’s political dystopia, 1984.

People seeking asylum (asylum seekers – defined by the UNHCR as someone claiming to be a refugee) somehow became “illegal immigrants”, despite the fact we have a legal obligation to accept them and determine their status, whether they arrive by boat or plane (see the 1951 Refugee Convention).

And despite the fact that, statistically speaking, most asylum seekers have turned out to be legitimate refugees. (In 2012-13 88% of asylum seekers who arrived by boat were found to be legitimate refugees - source: Refugee Council.)

Then offshore processing centres and boat arrivals became “need to know” information of the most classified kind. Doctors are legally required not to talk about what they see at these detention centres.

This includes children so traumatised they talk about taking their own life.

Appearing on the ABC’s 7.30 program last night, Dr Karen Zwi talked about the alleged rape of a five-year-old boy. She said his greatest fear was returning to Nauru, where the alleged attacker remains at large.

Imagine if this was a boy in your local kindergarten. Imagine if it were your son. Would we be sending him back to that preschool?

In trying to keep refugees “out of sight/ out of mind” the Government has acted in such a dark and insidious way that we should all be totally freaked out.

This is not just about the vulnerable babies who will be sent back to Nauru if nothing is done. This is about the mothers and fathers who will go with them, and children and adults who have done nothing wrong but are being sent to an island in the middle of nowhere, who will be made invisible because we are turning our backs on our responsibilities to the weak and vulnerable.

This is not a political argument. It’s about having some humanity. It’s about understanding that the majority of people who come to Australia are fleeing from legitimate persecution.

I’m not saying that I know the answer to the problem. But surely we are better than this. There has to be another way. We need to show our politicians that we care, that they can’t do this in our name and get away with it.

It’s time to change how we see refugees coming to our country. That is, we actually need to see them.

Many Australians are justifiably outraged at the thought these vulnerable children would be sent back to Nauru. These angry voices could sway the Government’s decision to send them back.

But if the Government changes its stance on the decision to send the refugees back to Nauru, we need to understand that it’s not the end of the fight.

Seeing a photo of a baby has a way of hitting you right in the heart. That could be your baby.

But there are also men and women on Nauru, just like me and you.

There are families, just like yours, locked up and behind bars just because they tried to find a better life for their families.

And they need our help.

Don’t let them be sent back to Nauru. Don’t let this political football be kicked around anymore. Let’s find our humanity and change things around here.

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If you feel the same as Shevonne, sign the Get Up petition or attend a protest meeting: