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A disappointing response from Philip Ruddock, plus my response

Last week I wrote to several politicians asking them to basically stop locking up asylum seeker kids. The good news is I got a response from my local member, Philip Ruddock. The bad news is that it could not have been more disappointing.

Here’s a PDF of his response. The cynics among you will of course roll your eyes, tsk tsk and think “Well, what did you expect?” Don’t get me wrong, I certainly didn’t expect that the government would repent, compensate the detention centre inmates, and make other amends. I did expect my questions to at least be addressed.

I was even prepared for a bit of a templated letter. But what has really incensed me is that he stated the complete opposite of what I asked: to please help separate the issue of the treatment of people already in our national care (especially children) from the issues of turning back boats. In short, the ‘fight against people smugglers’ should not be taken out on children.

Just like the last post, here’s the text of my response, in case anyone finds it useful:

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RE: APPALLING CRIMINAL TREATMENT OF CHILDREN IN DETENTION

Dear Mr Ruddock,

Thank you for your recent letter, I appreciated the prompt response. Although I don’t agree with your own position nor that of the Coalition Government, I still respect the work you’ve done for years in this area.

But you didn’t address my questions. I’ll restate them in a more pointed way: what will and your office do to work more urgently with the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection and his department to:

  • Separate the issues of the treatment of people – especially children – in our national care from the legal issues surrounding asylum seeker treatment?
  • Change the agenda and public conversation (through the media and other means) from one of legalese, fear and poverty of spirit to be more of compassion, creative thinking and leadership, and opportunity?

If anything, you expressed the opposite of what I asked: you’ve conflated the issue of fighting people smugglers with the issue of maltreatment of children in detention. They should not be related like that.

They are not illegal, and referring to them as a three-letter acronym is inhumane

Firstly, I and many others, including organisations like the Australian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and Refugee Council of Australia dispute the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s terminology of ‘Illegal Maritime Arrivals’. It is not a crime to enter Australia without authorisation for the purpose of seeking asylum. Asylum seekers do not break any Australian laws simply by arriving on boats or without authorisation.

As I’m sure you’re very aware, Article 31 of the Refugee Convention clearly states that refugees should not be penalised for arriving without valid travel documents. What may be considered an illegal action under normal circumstances (e.g. entering a country without a visa) should not, according to the Convention, be considered illegal if a person is seeking asylum.

And your Coalition Government is certainly not in a position to label people ‘illegal’, considering the recent event of (as Amnesty International Australia’s Refugee Spokesperson Graeme McGregor put it) handing over Sri Lankan asylum seekers to the Sri Lankan navy. This “would be in serious breach of the principle of non-refoulement, risking returning potential refugees to torture and death at the hands of their persecutors.“*

Also, framing asylum seekers as ‘IMAs’ is dehumanising, creates barriers to the community understanding the issues affecting asylum seekers, and confusion that can fuel conflict, resentment and disharmony.

To your point about health, security and checks to be undertaken: the Immigration Detention and Community Statistics Summary Report published by DIBP states “The average period of time for people held in detention facilities is steadily increasing to 305 days as at 30 April 2014.” 18% are held for over a year.

Over a year, Mr Ruddock.

In the US (the top receiving country of asylum seekers per capita in the past five years), cases must take no longer than 180 days of an application being filed. Sixty days is normal. Other countries like UK and Denmark don’t even detain asylum seekers; they can live normal lives while their claims are processed.

To your point about it being in the best interests for the children to remain with their parents: that statement is completely empty of reason when child self-harm is “shockingly high” and parents are prepared to sacrifice themselves to give their children a better life.

To your point about not taking a backward step in the fight against people smugglers: that has simply nothing to do with locking up children for over a year. And taking such a ‘fight’ out on children is amoral and unconscionable.

Furthermore, I simply do not believe that “all efforts are made to ensure detention of children is a last resort and for the shortest possible period”. The number of detainees and the duration of their detention has only increased in the last 10 years (according to AHRC reports), and this chart from the aforementioned DIBP report shows the steepest climb has been since your government has been in power:

chart-daysindetention

 

 

 

 

 

So, my questions to you remain: what will and your office do to work more urgently with the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection and his department to:

  • Separate the issues of the treatment of people – especially children – in our national care from the legal issues surrounding asylum seeker treatment?
  • Change the agenda and public conversation (through the media and other means) from one of legalese, fear and poverty of spirit to be more of compassion, creative thinking and leadership, and opportunity?

 

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