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June Factor on the reality for refugee children in Nauru
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June Factor on the reality for refugee children in Nauru
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June Factor on the reality for refugee children in Nauru
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Articles
7 August 2017

June Factor on the reality for refugee children in Nauru

“Some are now entering their fourth year in living conditions declared unsuitable and unjust by the United Nations.”

Written by June Factor

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

June Factor photographed for Dumbo Feather issue 48 (Photographer Simone Stabb)

I have been visited recently, via email, by a group of children—girls and boys. I don’t know their names, or how old they are, but I guess from their photos the youngest could be seven, the oldest fourteen. They are beautiful children—their parents have made sure they face the photographer neatly dressed, with shining hair and scrubbed faces. Only the smallest boy has managed to muss his hair and there is a certain look of ‘take me as I am’ in his brown eyes. In their arms, the children carry gifts: new books, writing and drawing material and soft, hand-made dolls, animals and balls. They hold the gifts close and two of the older girls manage a smile. The rest look out at the world solemnly. At first I am glad they have the gifts; then I notice the dark shadows under their eyes.

The children are living on Nauru, refugees whose families sought asylum in Australia and instead have been marooned on an arid Pacific island—the world’s smallest and perhaps poorest island nation. Some are now entering their fourth year in living conditions declared unsuitable and unjust by the United Nations, the Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and what reads like a who’s who of the legal profession.

That small boy with the unruly hair may have spent almost half his short life a virtual prisoner on Nauru. And despite the fact that the Convention on the Rights of the Child—a Convention of which Australia was an early signatory—declares that refugee children, like all children, must not be discriminated against or deprived of education, he may well be one of the approximately 85 per cent of the asylum-seeker children on Nauru who don’t go to school for fear of bullying or harassment, according to Save the Children.

Nonsense, says our government. They’re all doing well and anyway, if they don’t like living on Nauru they could go back to the countries from which they fled, often in fear of their lives. And it’s not our fault if their lives now are stunted and miserable—it’s the Nauruan government that’s responsible for their care. Ah, the wonders of modern colonialism. Nauru largely depends on Australia for its finances. How could it bite the hand that feeds it? And who pays for every expense associated with detaining people on Nauru? Australia. How much does that cost? In April 2014, the National Commission of Audit reported that it cost $400,000 a year to hold an asylum seeker in offshore detention.

I’d like everyone who is interested to see the image of the tousle-haired boy and his playmates. But an experienced lawyer has warned that that might create legal problems for the children’s families. Perhaps our government prefers that we remain ‘protected’ from these children’s vulnerable humanity?

Befriend a Child in Detention is a community project committed to seeing an end to the detention of child asylum seekers. We aim to inspire and support compassionate Australians to make a positive connection with the children and families living in detention: to ameliorate their experience, to raise awareness of their circumstances, and to advocate for positive change.

See our website for a range of activities, and contact us (project@befriendachild.com) with questions and ideas.

June Factor

June Factor is convenor of the Befriend a Child in Detention Project. She is a writer, editor and folklorist, and an Honorary Senior Fellow at The University of Melbourne.

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