More than 30 people formed a flash mob at the Armidale Farmers’ Market on Sunday morning to highlight the plight of asylum seeker and refugee children detained on Nauru.
Many have been there since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that asylum seekers arriving by boat would be transferred indefinitely to detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island. Others were born into detention.
Some have tried to starve themselves. Many have mental health problems, caused by their imprisonment, and live in fear and suffering.
Armidale Rural Australians for Refugees (ARAR) members want all children removed from the island and brought to Australia by Universal Children’s Day, November 30, as part of the Kids Off Nauru campaign.
“It’s time for those children to come off Nauru,” ARAR member Gaynor McGrath said. “They’re stuck in appalling conditions.
“There are a few little signs from the government that it’s going to happen – but nothing definite, so we have to keep it up.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that the children would be off Nauru by the end of the year.
Since October 15, 135 asylum seekers / refugees (including 47 children) have been brought to Australia, primarily for medical treatment. The number of children on Nauru has fallen from 119 in August to 35 on Friday.
Getting them off the island – even bringing them to Australia – doesn’t mean they’ll settle here, though.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the Nauru detainees would never settle in Australia, while the government opposed plans to resettle 150 refugees in New Zealand.
“Morrison’s announcement is fairly clearly a political stunt because political opinion is changing on the issue,” ARAR member Dr Frances Tafra said.
“These refugees have been political pawns for too long.”
Since Independent candidate Professor Kerryn Phelps won the Wentworth by-election, Morrison presides over a minority government – and some of his party have threatened to cross the floor over this issue.
Public opinion is against the detention centres. Three weeks ago, four members of ARAR were among 800 protesters from across the country at a rally outside Parliament House in Canberra.
The Armidale group itself held a vigil outside the Old Court House, and delivered a letter to New England member Barnaby Joyce MP’s office.
Until the children are removed from Nauru, ARAR members will continue to make their voices heard.
“The particular push at the moment is kids off Nauru – but with the understanding that we want this for adults too,” Dr Tafra said.
“Both adults on Nauru and Manus, if they are found to be genuine refugees.”
A small team of people hold a Friday action outside the Wicklow Hotel, asking passers-by to beep for refugees.
They also hope to have a stand at Black Gully Festival on November 17.
“I hope and pray that the public start to make some noise on this issue, enough to convince our politicians that the Australian Public genuinely believes in a ‘Fair go’ and that we have ‘Endless Plains to share’,” Dr Tafra said.
“Most Australians owe their heritage to a family member coming here by boat. It is not illegal to seek refuge. Australia signed the Refugees Convention, and we have International responsibilities as such.”
What can you do?
ARAR members urge readers to:
Go online and register your opposition to government policy at the Kids off Nauru website (https://www.kidsoffnauru.com/).
Join ARAR, which organises letter-writing sessions and other activities. The group meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 5.15pm in the Garden Room at Kent House, 141 Faulkner St.
Write to politicians, both federal and local, and let people know in every way you can.
Write letters to newspapers.
Find out more information on the Department of Home Affairs’ website (formerly the Department of Immigration), or borrow books about refugees’ plight from the library.