Offshore detention: Horrors being deliberately hidden from us

Offshore detention: Horrors being deliberately hidden from us

This article first appeared in News.com.au

If Aussies could see the suffering being inflicted in our name, we’d be appalled. And that’s exactly why it’s being hidden from us.

OVER the past five years we have seen children on Nauru go from being playful and curious little kids to listless, voiceless, hopeless bodies on a mattress, unable to eat or speak.

We’ve seen their spirits slowly dissolve and the brightness slowly fade from their eyes.

We’ve seen their parents go from frustration at their child’s lost innocence and freedom to worry that their child is becoming sad and withdrawn, then to devastation and fear that their child might die.

We’ve also been in court as our Government has repeatedly fought tooth and nail to deny these children urgent, lifesaving medical care. We’ve seen them pull every tricky legal move under the sun — retrospective legal changes; last-minute capitulations at the court’s door; and shallow attempts to pin responsibility on the Government of Nauru, despite us having seen with our own eyes the complete control the Australian Government has over every aspect of these families’ lives.

All along we have known that if the Australian people could see the things we were seeing, it would rattle the nation’s moral conscience to its core. Which is exactly why our Government has gone to such extraordinary lengths to keep this suffering hidden from view.

It’s why the Government picked remote corners of remote islands in the middle of the ocean to build its detention centres, and why it has worked with Nauru to block independent media access.

We’ve also been in court as our Government has repeatedly fought tooth and nail to deny these children urgent, lifesaving medical care. We’ve seen them pull every tricky legal move under the sun — retrospective legal changes; last-minute capitulations at the court’s door; and shallow attempts to pin responsibility on the Government of Nauru, despite us having seen with our own eyes the complete control the Australian Government has over every aspect of these families’ lives.

All along we have known that if the Australian people could see the things we were seeing, it would rattle the nation’s moral conscience to its core. Which is exactly why our Government has gone to such extraordinary lengths to keep this suffering hidden from view.

It’s why the Government picked remote corners of remote islands in the middle of the ocean to build its detention centres, and why it has worked with Nauru to block independent media access.

For five long years, the Government has wanted to score political points by being cruel to a group of innocent human beings while hiding the ugly consequences of their actions. They have militantly enforced an environment of secrecy and misinformation, designed to prevent us from seeing the very things they knew would trigger the moral awakening that is happening right now.

But they failed. We’ve now seen these children’s faces. We’ve now heard the doctors’ dire warnings. And the nation is rightly appalled.

We see the evidence in the Wentworth by-election, where there was an unprecedented swing against the Government towards independent Dr Kerryn Phelps, who made clear she would demand that all children and their families be immediately evacuated to Australia.

We see it in the three Liberal MPs — Craig Laundy, Russell Broadbent and Julia Banks — bravely breaking ranks and urging their own party to stop playing political games with children’s lives.

And we see it in 6000 doctors uniting to urge now-Prime Minister Scott Morrison to take action before a child dies.

In a desperate attempt to weather the storm and save face, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Mr Morrison are resorting to the same old political tactics.

Mr Dutton is out spouting old stats about boats. But it’s been five years. And the only stat people care about right now is that one-quarter of the children still imprisoned on Nauru actively want to take their own lives.

Mr Morrison is pointing to the children already here in Australia for medical care — as if their evacuation from Nauru was some kind of humanitarian gesture on his part. It’s a breathtaking deceit. We have watched in shock and outrage as the government’s lawyers have fought in court to prevent these transfers. The government has lost every single one of these court cases, and only then have these desperately frail kids been evacuated, often by air ambulance with drips in their arms, and been rushed straight to hospital for emergency treatment as soon as they land.

The truth is that the sick children already in Australia have been rescued from Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton, not by them. And the government is still constantly threatening their parents that one day they’ll all be sent back to Nauru.

After five long years, we have finally reached a tipping point. This has gone too far, for too long. People want change, and the same old dishonesty and cynical politics just won’t wash.

Every single child detained on Nauru must be immediately evacuated to Australia with their families. The government must also find an urgent resolution for the men on Manus; indefinite detention will crush any soul, not just a young one. And whatever the question, slowly squeezing the life out of innocent human beings is not the answer.

Daniel Webb is the director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre: @DanielHRLC

Natasha Blucher is the detention advocacy manager at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and worked on Nauru with Save the Children in 2014: @ASRC1