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Dear Friends,

United Nations Universal Children’s Day is observed on 20 November. The UN says that the day offers the opportunity to advocate, promote and celebrate children's rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will make a better world for Children.

The UN website urges us, ‘Mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses and doctors, government leaders and civil society activists, religious and community elders, corporate moguls and media professionals as well as young people and children themselves can play an important part in making Universal Children's Day relevant for their societies, communities and nations.’

Kids Off Nauru
World Vision Australia is doing just that, with its #KIDSOFFNAURU campaign calling on Australia’s political leaders to free the 40 or so children held on Nauru by Universal Children’s Day.

The Campaign website says,

‘Children in detention on Nauru have recently witnessed lipstitching, self-immolation and other suicide attempts. There are limited safe or pleasant places to play because of unshaded, hot phosphate rock and the fear of wild dogs on the island.

‘In at least three cases in the past seven months, Australian judges have ordered that young children be immediately brought to Australia for care. Three refugees in Nauru have died by suicide.

‘One 10-year-old boy had attempted suicide three times on Nauru. Doctors said he was at critical risk of killing himself, but it took a Federal Court order to eventually move him to Australia for urgent treatment. It shouldn't require Federal Judges to force the Government to keep these children safe.

‘Children and their families are trapped on the island of Nauru in cruel and inhumane conditions without adequate health, education or employment options. By Universal Children’s Day (20 November), we need to bring them here and either offer resettlement in Australia or find another suitable country that welcomes them.’

This campaign follows the deteriorating health of refugees and asylum seekers and the removal of Australian doctors of the International Health and Medical Services by Nauruan authorities. Following the departure of the Médecins Sans Frontières team, the organisation released a statement describing the mental health situation of asylum seekers there as ‘beyond desperate’. MSF Australia director Paul McPhun reported that many children are suffering traumatic withdrawal syndrome and are unable to eat, drink and talk.

Church lending its support
ACSJC Chairman, Bishop Vincent Long, is lending his support to the campaign as one of its 60 ambassadors. As part of his message for #KIDS OFF NAURU, he has put out the following call:

‘Think of the children being held on Nauru. They have been traumatised – torn from their homes and endured perilous journeys. We cannot be a nation that adds to their trauma, that turns away or remains indifferent. Now is the time to get these children and their families safely to Australia.’

The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council joined with sixty other faith-based organisations sending an interfaith letter addressed to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader stating that the situation of children on Nauru is a humanitarian emergency and calling for all children and their families to be brought to Australia by 20 November.

There have been a number of supporting initiatives.

On 11 September, Bishop Vincent joined with five other religious leaders, issuing an interfaith appeal to get asylum seekers off Manus Island and Nauru, noting that both the United States and New Zealand agreements to resettle refugees will be inadequate to end the suffering of those in prolonged and indefinite detention at Australia’s hands. Sr Libby Rogerson IBVM, representing Catholic Religious Australia, was part of an interfaith deputation to Parliament House on 18 October to speak with the Minister and Shadow Minister for Immigration on the plight of asylum seeker children on Nauru.

And Bishop Greg O’Kelly, Apostolic Administrator of the Adelaide Archdiocese and Bishop of Port Pirie, has recently said,

‘At a time when people are greatly concerned about the wellbeing, the care and safe upbringing of children, it seems conflicting that we have permitted innocent children to be confined to a place where ordinary and proper human development is challenged ... We support any move to remove all children and all genuine refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.’

The words of a child detained
In their 2015–16 Social Justice Statement, For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas, the Catholic Bishops highlighted the circumstance of children under current government policy:

‘Children are a particularly vulnerable group in any detention setting. The findings of the Human Rights Commission’s 2014 National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention show that these policies have caused terrible harm to children and their parents. As a signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, Australia is obliged to ensure that the detention of children is a measure of last resort, for the shortest period of time possible, that children are not detained arbitrarily, and are not separated from their parents.’

The Bishops drew on the words of a poem a 17 year old asylum seeker submitted to the Australian Human Rights Inquiry in 2014. He was being held on Christmas Island and in fear of being sent to Nauru. These words reveal the lived experience of being detained indefinitely, without a durable solution and without the hope that every child should be afforded:

If only you could feel how much it hurts to be locked up behind the fence.
If only you could see how my tears are falling down every moment.
If only you could know how much it means to me, to be a normal person,
Like any other – like people outside the fence.
If only you could see the world I left behind.
If only you could see how lonely I am without my family,
And knowing they are not safe.
If only you could hear me out and listen to why I came.
If only you could feel the pain inside my chest.
If only you could see how many times I wake up in the middle of the nights,
My blue bag to Nauru waiting at my door.
If only you could see how many dreams I have for my future.

As Universal Children’s Day approaches, a day to promote and celebrate children's rights, let us remember these words and advocate for the children and their families who remain on Nauru.

John Ferguson
National Executive Officer

 

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