I can’t get my head around the fact that while I live my life, while I get driven to school by my dad, while I enjoy normal Tuesdays, children younger than me are killing themselves…because we lock people away who just need safety and help, Imogen subsequently wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
And there’s nothing I can do, she regrets. But you can, Mr Abbott. It is your government that is doing this to human beings. You have the power to save people’s lives.
Imogen’s letter was published by Crikey, and subsequently circulated on social media. I posted part of it on my 2020socialjustice Facebook page, where I often post about refugee policy, and where there is often heated response. This post, however, opened the floodgates, and with Imogen’s clearsighted views as a benchmark, I sorted the responses into categories (see Note).
Responses about party politics were (as usual) the most numerous. For example:
- These kids were in detention before Abbott was elected.
- Krudd and Gillard are treated with cotton wool gloves, while Tony Abbott gets the iron fist.
- Just sink the boats halfway. That’s how Labor like it.
- For the LNP (government) it’s not about keeping people alive. It’s about keeping people out.
- You’re a puppet of the left. You’re pushing the left agenda.
- Stop the leftist lies.
Writing about asylum seekers at this time in Australia invariably draws Islamophobic responses, and this post was no exception:
- For me it’s definitely about keeping Muslims out. Screw them. I would rather see them floating in the sea. Nothing to do with politics. I despise Muslims.
- These country-jumpers end up back in countries like Syria wanting to kill us.
- Fuck off with ya crap you bring with you. Why should we change to accommodate anyone?
Blaming the parents of children in detention was also a theme (and one with a history extending back to Howard’s “children overboard” fabrications in 2001):
- The parents are probably behind some of the kids’ suicide threats, expecting to get immediate processing of their applications.
- If we’re going to apportion blame, why not lay it on the parents who placed the kids in these circumstances.
References to asylum seekers as “illegals”, “queue jumpers” and “economic migrants” were frequent:
- I don’t think we can just throw out the welcome mat to all those who come here illegally.
- I feel for the people who are waiting patiently in refugee camps and can’t pay to come on boats.
- Real refugees can’t afford to come on boats.
Interspersed with this onslaught were patient (and not so patient) reminders that it is NOT illegal to seek asylum; that both major parties are culpable as far as detention is concerned and have been over many years; that Australia is complicit in wars that displace people and create the need for asylum; and, that if we lived in countries where people “disappeared” overnight or family members could be shot dead in front of us, we would also be doing our utmost to get to safety.
I don’t think it’s right for us to sit in our nice warm loungerooms, wrote one person, behind our computers, and tell these people they shouldn’t try to come here; they shouldn’t try to get to a place where they can have a safer and better life.
Decluttering our vision
Imogen, writing her letter after school, was not bogged down by these entrenched and polarised views. She was not even alive when mandatory detention was introduced. She did not see these children in terms of politics, race, or religion; she did not hold their parents responsible; she was not blindsided by spin about illegality, queues, economic migrants, and threats to national security.
What she saw through her thirteen-year-old eyes were children younger than herself in awful circumstances who want to kill themselves. Having grasped the core problem, she took it up with the person she believed could fix it – the current prime minister.
We could do well to refresh our vision and draw from Imogen’s clarity about our responsibility to asylum seekers and their children.
Note: I would normally embed a link to my initial post about Imogen’s letter on Facebook but, for reasons unknown, this post was deleted by Facebook from my page. Fortunately, I had kept a copy of the post and all comments, so was able to proceed with analysis, although much detail is lost here…Joan Beckwith.
Written By Joan Beckwith, PhD
“WHILE I ENJOY NORMAL TUESDAYS” Immigration detention through the eyes of a 13-year-old was originally published @ 2020 Social Justice and has been syndicated with permission.