Mother's Day isn't the same when you're forced away from family

Mother's Day isn't the same when you're forced away from family

This article first appeared in ABC News

For me and millions of other mums around Australia, today will be a special day.

I'll wake to some slightly burnt toast, some slightly cold tea, a jar of jam from the school stall and probably a couple of earnest home-made Mother's Day cards, delivered to me in bed with a smile from my two beautiful boys.

But Monday morning I'll be back at work, where my colleagues and I will be supporting mothers who were forced to endure a very different Mother's Day.

The Human Rights Law Centre supports several families split between Australia and our Government's offshore detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru.

When a baby brings bad news

These families are split for three main reasons.

Perhaps the most tragic are the families torn apart when they are expecting a new baby. Expectant mothers have been brought to Australia from Nauru to give birth, but authorities have decided the child's father must stay behind.

These mothers are forced to make an agonising choice: their babies can be free and safe, or they can know their father. But they know they will never ever have both.

One of these mothers this week described to me how desperately she hoped that her child would soon have the chance to meet their dad, who has been hopelessly marooned on Nauru for the last five years.

"I want my child to be able to look up and see their father smiling down on them with deep love and affection. I want them to hear the heartbeat of their father while being held in his arms. Every child deserves to have that."

Some of the babies born in Australia are now toddlers, walking and talking in the freedom and safety of our communities. But they have still never laid eyes on their dad. And they never will — unless Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has a change of heart.

We see the agony of this separation weigh on these mothers like a tonne of bricks every single day. It taints even the most joyous of moments.

First steps. First words. The first day of play group. All of these once-in-a-lifetime occasions are simultaneously proud and joyful but also guilt-ridden and heart-breaking.

Medical care at a cost

Other families have been separated when one of them needs to be evacuated from Manus or Nauru for urgent medical treatment.

Here we are talking about women who have suffered serious and often prolonged medical conditions, and some who have been sexually assaulted on Nauru. Or children who are so traumatised by years of offshore detention that they need urgent psychiatric care.

In many of these cases, the Australian Government brings some of the family to Australia but leaves others behind on Manus or Nauru.

That separation is designed to pressure people to leave Australia after treatment to return to the dangerous environment they have just left.

There are more compassionate choices

Some families are separated by the cruel and arbitrary application of Government policy.

Our Government has said that while those seeking asylum arriving before July 19, 2013, can apply to stay in Australia, anyone arriving after that date is banished to indefinite limbo on Manus or Nauru.

There are some families who fled the same horrors at the same time that remain permanently ripped apart just because five years ago they arrived either side of an arbitrary date.

The separation of every single one of these families is the product of a conscious and cruel political decision. A different, more compassionate choice would see these families reunited tomorrow.

Mr Dutton has clear powers under our laws to reunite these families, powers which are incredibly broad and entirely discretionary.

He controversially used similar powers to grant urgent visas to some European babysitters waiting at an airport. He could use those powers here to reunite these families.

And that is the most devastating thing about the anguish these families are being forced to endure — our Government could so easily fix it.

So close, but too far to hug

It is hard to comprehend just how utterly gut-wrenching and soul-destroying that must be for these families — to be so, so close to finally seeing the people you love the most, and yet still be so far.

There is no love more beautiful than the love between a mother and child.

But there must be no pain deeper than having your family needlessly ripped apart.

These families should be together. They should be rebuilding their lives in freedom and safety together.

With the stroke of a pen, Mr Dutton could make that happen tomorrow. He should. And then these mums could finally feel the same love and warmth that I will on Mother's Day once again.

Michelle Bennett is the director of communications at the Human Rights Law Centre.