#KidsOffNauru: How did we get here?
"I have a seen a little girl of 14 years old...in a catatonic state” described senior UN official Indrika Ratwatte, following a visit to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre. “[She] hasn't gotten out of her room in months, has not taken a shower, [and] is in a state of complete stress and trauma.”
Child detainees on Nauru are suffering an outbreak of resignation syndrome. This severe, trauma-related psychological disorder renders its victims unable to engage with the world around them. The first symptom is progressive social withdrawal, where “the child may stop talking and isolate themselves in bed, and may stop eating and drinking”. The final stage is a comatose state - an extreme response to an intolerable reality.
For the past decade, our country has progressively withdrawn from a multiplicity of social contracts. The Australian government has violated formal international laws such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Convention Against Torture. The Australian public has gradually abandoned a more basic moral contract: a human instinct to care for the vulnerable. It’s as though we’ve succumbed to a collective ethical coma.
As of October 21st, Australia is detaining 1,278 refugees on Nauru and Manus. That’s over a thousand people who have fled persecution, war or violence, only to be imprisoned by seemingly arbitrary policies. This political limbo is not only absurd - it’s logically, emotionally, and physically paralysing.
So how did we get here? And why did #KidsOffNauru have to happen?
There's a general confusion about what's happening and our politicians aren’t interested in clearing things up for us. Political figures like Tony Abbott, are trying to downplay the suffering of refugees by obscuring the realities of life in detention.
In a recent radio interview, Abbott referred to Nauru as “a very, very pleasant island”. He went on to describe the Regional Processing Centre the way one would a beach resort: perfect for those who enjoy the tropical lifestyle. There's a stark difference between his review and Amnesty International's description of Nauru as an “open-air prison” where conditions “amount to torture.”
Other politicians choose to portray offshore processing as an unsolvable crisis. In a puzzling interview with Sky News, Peter Dutton insisted that he “would love to get everybody off there tomorrow.”
Instead, his Home Affairs department is funnelling money into offshore detention facilities. It costs around $400,000 to detain a single asylum seeker for one year on Manus or Nauru. That’s over four times the average Australian’s yearly income.
Offshore detention is the locus of Australian shame. But why go to all this effort to keep these centres running? Despite his role as Minister for Home Affairs - the department responsible for border control, immigration, refugees, and citizenship - Dutton’s trying to convince us that there’s nothing he can do.
Scott Morrison tried the same tactic, saying that he’s been on his knees, in tears, and praying for kids on Nauru. It’s a shame that the Prime Minister of Australia doesn’t have enough political sway to change things.
Our politicians’ tendencies to downplay severity and relocate responsibility indicates a profound moral discomfort. Yes, they are deeply ashamed of the suffering they allow on Nauru. Why else would they avoid admitting that they’re involved?
Detainees on Manus and Nauru are imprisoned in a cautionary tale: a cruel performance run by the Australian Department of Home Affairs to warn other refugees against coming to us for help. In the interest of coercing vulnerable people from seeking refuge in our country, Dutton has defended everything from separating parents and children to turning a blind eye to child sexual abuse.
Political views aside, no person can justify the authorisation of child abuse. I believe that all Australians are united in their opposition to these conditions. There’s a reason politicians don’t want us to know what’s happening: ignorance is the only thing stopping Australians from turning this around.
You can change everything. Do some about the conditions of detainees on Nauru and Manus Island. Tell your friends, family members and co-workers. Sign the petition.
If you're passionate about campaigning for the rights of young people and believe in a more just world, join the movement today.