Earlier this week, footage obtained by Fairfax media showed asylum seekers being attacked by security guards, just hours before Reza Berati was killed inside the Manus Island detention centre.1 They were attacked whilst trying to escape from the detention centre after they were told there would be no hope of resettlement for them outside PNG.
Australia is fast building an international reputation for our treatment of asylum seekers, but sadly, not one we can be proud of. While the actions of our Government fail to reflect our nation’s values of compassion and a fair go, we can lead the way in the meantime by demonstrating these values ourselves.
~ Read on for a call to action from Julian Burnside AO QC, Australian barrister and human rights advocate, on behalf of GetUp. Your details have not been shared with him or anyone else. ~
In June of last year I received a letter from a courageous, young Iranian man who fled persecution in his country, which led to him being detained inside Sydney’s Villawood detention centre.
He had spent the last three and a half years of his life in detention, during which time he’d suffered more than any young man should and seen many of his friends, who could no longer bear the burden of detention, die or return voluntarily to face persecution.
He wrote asking for help. This is part of his story:
“When I set foot on Australian soil, I had felt I set foot in a land where the people there would see me as a human being who is reaching out a hand towards them for help, but… now it is [42 months]
I need help, but my voice is not reaching anywhere and I am extending my hands seeking help from you.”
This young man, like so many others who are currently detained in Australian centres, could be forgiven for seeing Australia as a country, which doesn’t abide by its international obligations under the Refugee Convention, or thinking Australians might be unwelcoming people, who don’t care about the plight of those less fortunate.
We know that’s far from the case.
On a daily basis I encounter the kind of Australians, whom I know represent this country and its values. Those with hearts as big as our land and bright as our sun. Those who embody our ethos of being the land of the fair go – a country with “boundless plains to share”.
Another letter I received from a person held in detention ended with the words:
“Please write again. Please do not forget us; we are human.”
This is where you can help. Will you be part of my letter writing campaign and show some of the world’s most vulnerable people that we’re capable of compassion and empathy?
Find out how to get involved: https://www.getup.org.au/letters-to-asylumseekers
In February GetUp members, along with thousands of Australians, lit a candle for all those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, under our government’s asylum seeker policies. Together, we attended Light the Dark vigils across the country and showed Australia, and the world, what we’re capable of – compassion, love and hope that we can make a difference.
Now we need to show asylum seekers that there are Australians who are thinking about them and are doing everything they can to fight these brutal policies put in place by our so-called leaders.
Will you write to an asylum seeker on Manus Island or Nauru and let them know, we have not forgotten them and we care?
In the early 2000s, I initiated a similar letter-writing campaign and it received extremely encouraging feedback, proving to be, not only valuable in helping keep up the spirits of asylum seekers, but also a great way to help Australians understand what our detention system means in simple human terms.
Will you help us do it again?
Yours in hope,
 Reza Barati death: Papua New Guinea nationals attacked asylum seekers on Manus Island, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 2014