This article was first published by the ABC's The Drum.
The images are devastating. A small boy lying limp and sodden, face-down in the shallows.
As many human rights campaigners in communication roles did yesterday, I spent some time weighing up in my mind whether to share such images. Do they make people turn away at the very time you want them to engage? How would the boy’s family feel? But at the end of the day, they are the truth. A truth we must confront and overcome.
These are fellow human beings simply seeking safety for their children. Don't let the crocodile tears of our politicians persuade you otherwise - punishing the survivors of such risky voyages as Australia does will achieve nothing but more suffering.
We need to burst the bubble of delusion that somehow by locking up a small child on Nauru because she arrived in Australia by boat will magically stop the family of another child in a distant country from fleeing war or persecution. It won’t. If bombs were falling in your neighbourhood, if religious extremists were persecuting your kin, you would seek safety. You would do it. I would do it. To deny this is to deny our humanity – because that’s what humans do, we seek to provide better lives for our children.
Working collaboratively to build safe pathways to protection is the only humane option - along of course with the harder and longer term goal of pursuing an end to so many conflicts.
Unfortunately, Australia’s deterrence based polices hinder these efforts. We should be part of the solution, but as yesterday’s editorial in the New York Times highlighted, we're being internationally condemned for being part of the problem – encouraging the world to slam their doors and shut their hearts. Spending billions on remote offshore detention centres with conditions that the United Nations and various human rights organisation have consistently described as cruel and inhumane.
At a time when Germany is doing its part by accepting 800,000 people in need of safety, Australia has the lowest intake in years (13,750 per annum) after the Abbott Government slashed our humanitarian intake. And rather than invest in the creation of safe pathways to protection within our region, billions of our tax-payers dollars are being soaked up by a network of off-shore detention centres run by private multinational corporations.
Our politicians tell us we need to be cruel to be kind, but we don’t. They will wring their hands and tell us they don’t won’t to see more photos of drowned children, but the harsh reality is if the boy in the photographs – 3 year old Aylan Kurdi – had arrived in Australia, those same politicians would have condemned him and his family to indefinite detention in a place proven to be unsafe. That is no solution. It’s is a blight on our name that makes a mockery of our clearly fading belief in the ‘fair go’.
So look at these devastating images again.
Let the horror of the images – and the boy’s little shoes, and the way his hands just sit turned up as sleeping children do - motivate you to challenge these unsavoury and unjust policies in any way you can.
Whether it’s by writing a letter to your MP, whether it’s protesting, whether it’s supporting legal actions, whether it’s divesting your super or shares from Transfield, whether it’s talking one on one to your friends, work colleagues, neighbours, the person next to you on the train – do it and keep doing it, because every day that we let these cruel policies continue is another day that we diminish ourselves as a nation and as human beings.
Tom Clarke is the Director of Communications at the Human Rights Law Centre.