June 06, 2015 | Jema Stellato Pledger
I have pondered the amount of press, time and effort that went into trying to save Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’s lives. It was nothing short of exemplary in terms of who and what Australia can be. For once in a very long time I was proud of Australia; of the Australian people as the country was brought together towards a common goal to save the lives of these young Australian men
I was very interested in the social media outrage with posts stating that ‘Bali will not be my holiday destination’ and ‘we must cut arts collaborations with Indonesia’. The disgust aimed at Indonesia was palpable and from my perspective quite frightening. The anger is understandable but one must remember, if you break the rules of a country you are entering, there is a price to pay and unfortunately two young men paid the ultimate price.
I stand for mercy was an excellent campaign and one which crossed cultures, languages, generations and socio-political beliefs. But what is Mercy? The dictionary definition is ‘compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm’ (Oxford Dictionary).
In respect to Mercy, let’s turn our attention to a 5 year old Iranian child who was on Nauru for more than a year. She came to Darwin’s Wickham Point Immigration Detention centre due to her father’s ill health but the family are to be returned as soon as he is well. The child has been diagnosed with severe PTSD. Her displays of sexualised behaviour are further evidenced by drawings of inappropriate sexual acts, which are indicative of either experience of, or witness to abuse or both (John Lawrence SC, 2015). Mr Lawrence, the family’s lawyer is appealing to keep the child in Australia. Can you imagine how the parents of the child feel? How impotent, helpless and disturbingly desperate because they could not and still cannot protect their child. One needs to put themselves in their shoes for moment and I’m sure there would be a need for retribution in your heart.
In the report the Forgotten Children- The 2015 Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention there was evidence supporting the fact that detaining children causes irreparable harm. “The overarching finding of the Inquiry is that the prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seeker children causes them significant mental and physical illness and developmental delays, in breach of Australia’s international obligations”.
The Immigration minister Morrison and Dutton respectively agreed that keeping children for prolonged periods in remote islands does not in fact deter people seeking refuge nor people smugglers offering their services. In short desperate people will do anything when there is a glimmer of hope, however faint.
On Christmas Island the right of all children to education was denied for over a year. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, as the guardian of unaccompanied children, has been derelict in his duties to act responsibly on their behalf. There are numerous issues, but one of the worst, that would appear to affect any action was the finding that incidents of “physical assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm involving children indicate the danger of the detention environment”. The children and their families were not immediately removed. I doubt this would have been so if it happened to an Australian child or family.
So I ask, where does Mercy come into these stories? We all stood for mercy when those poor young men were to be executed… Can one stand for mercy and ignore the plight of children and women being harmed in our name?
There is a story of a 23 year old young woman who was viciously attacked whilst on a day release from Nauru camp. The camp guards and her brother went looking for her when she didn’t arrive back to camp. She was was found in the police station, in severe shock and covered in bruises. She had clearly been sexually assaulted.
These stories are not uncommon. How can a 5 year old be sent back to her abusers or a 23 year old sexual assault victim be thrown in jail? These are victims of Australia’s harsh and inhumane policy and there are many in this situation. Do we not have a responsibility to bring them to Australia for proper treatment?
How would anyone feel if it were their daughter who was raped and sexually abused? Would you sit silent? I doubt it! Would you want the perpetrators brought to justice? Yes you would. How is this child and young woman any different to one of our own? They are not. Their parents have the same fears and need for justices as any Australian. As Australians we must ask ourselves “how could we have allowed this to happen, and worse, let it continue?”
Further, the thousands of Rohingya Muslims languishing at sea for months are in dire need of our help. Initially countries in the area pushed them back….but to where? They are escaping ethnic ceasing in Myanmar. They are stateless and no one wants them. Australia has stood firm on its pushing back the boats with Tony Abbott stating that “it would be ‘utterly irresponsible’ for Australia to do anything which may encourage people onto boats” (James Bennett, ABC News 2015).
Were is not for Malaysia and Indonesia who “relented on a hard-line policy of pushing back the boats, and said their nations would accept the migrants for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies” (Al Jazeera, 22nd May), the boatloads of Rohingya would have faced certain death. Currently the U.S. and Malaysia continue to search for the thousands still stranded at sea. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 25th that Indonesia has joined the search. Where is Australia?
Australia has been vocal on its stance for Mercy. We stand against the death penalty yet we send children back to horrendous conditions in offshore processing centres. We allow the rape of young asylum seeker woman to go unpunished. We pay billions of tax payer dollars to keep innocent people locked up in camps. We stand by and literally watch children women and men perish at sea and allow poor countries shoulder the burden. Mercy is not selective- only in Australia, it seems.
Jema Stellato Pledger is a Human Rights Advocate and a PhD candidate at ACU Melbourne. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org