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Australians protest at Nauru ‘nightmare’

Friday 5 February 2016 | Published in Regional

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SYDNEY – A woman who was held in detention on Nauru before giving birth to a son in Darwin last year after complications during the pregnancy has described this weeks High Court decision as a nightmare.

“It’s like dying,” the woman, who now faces a return to Nauru, told the ABC. “It’s waiting for dying.”

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton signalled his intention to send a group of 160 adults, 37 babies and 54 children in Australia back to Nauru, a regime the High Court has ruled is constitutionally valid.

The woman acknowledged she and her husband arrived by boat, but she said the rules were changed after they had left their home country.

“We didn’t know the law has changed in between,” she said. “But that has no bearing on our kids.”

Her son Samuel is one of the 37 children born to asylum seeker parents in Australia who could be flown offshore because of the ruling.

“Our kids are innocent,” she said. “Like any father and mother we have wishes for our kids and this is my first child. I believe, and the mothers in my situation believe, that their kids are Australian.”

Paediatrician Dr Josh Francis, who treats children in detention in Darwin, including many of whom have also been in detention on Nauru, has defied the threat of going to jail to speak out about the treatment of children in detention.)

“Some of the kids who we will see are actually babies who are born in Australia and all they know is the security of their parents,” he said.

“If the safeness and security of their parents is taken away, you have a mother who is depressed, you have a father who is absent because he can’t cope with the thought of dealing with the family through all this – those sort of things have a massive impact on even the youngest children.

“But it’s the older ones, the older ones who have experienced trauma on Nauru, who have seen people trying to starve themselves, have seen people trying to hang themselves, have seen the stress and depression that occurs among the adults they live amongst in Nauru.

“And so for many of them what they’re terrified of is what goes on all around them and they know that it’s worse in Nauru than it is here in Australia.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has in the past declared his discomfort with Australia’s refugee policies but has maintained the tough line of his predecessors.

“Nobody should ever doubt the resolve of this Government to keep our borders secure, to prevent the people smuggling racket, to break their business model and keep lives safe, to prevent drownings at sea and to protect vulnerable people,” he told Parliament.

His Government now faces two big decisions which could risk an outcry either way – whether to send the children to Nauru and whether to pursue the doctors for speaking out.

It also now faces a challenge from church groups across Australia who say they will defy the law and offer sanctuary to asylum seeker families faced with being sent to detention Nauru.

Thousands of protesters gathered in capital cities across Australia on Thursday to protest the High Court decision.

The protests began in Bendigo, followed by a lunchtime demonstration in Sydney, which drew thousands of people, and rallies in Newcastle, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide in the early evening, with an evening protest rally Perth.

About 80 people joined the rally in Canberra, including Husnia Hushang, who moved to Canberra on a student visa three years ago to study at the Australian National University from Afghanistan, who said she knew first hand why people chose to flee their home countries.

“Just last week, close to my home town, there was a suicide attack. Nine people died,” she said.

She said many members of her family left behind in Afghanistan were considering making the treacherous journey to Europe by boat.

“They say to me, if we go by boat it is one time that we face the risk of dying, but every day in Afghanistan we face danger.”

The opportunities to come to Australia the right way, through official channels, were few and far between, Hushang said.

She attended the Canberra rally out of compassion for the families, particularly the young children, who face the “prison-like” conditions of indefinite detention.

Protesters in Sydney gathered outside Malcolm Turnbull’s Wentworth electoral office in the eastern suburbs of Sydney for a planned sit-in.

Joyce Fu from the group, People Just Like Us, said the group would stay until Malcolm Turnbull announced that 267 asylum seekers would be allowed to stay.

Pakistani-born NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi, who attended the sit-in, said: “People are here today to give a loud and clear message to Malcolm Turnbull that if he has any vestige of decency and compassion in him he must rule out sending people – women, men, children, babies – back to the prison jails of Nauru.”

A earlier rally in Sydney at lunchtime drew several thousand protesters.

Iraqi-born refugee activist Mohammad Baqiri, who arrived with his family by boat and was detained in Nauru for three years, told the rally Australia had turned Nauru and Manus Island into “prison islands” and must let the asylum seekers stay.

“My message is clear. We have so many support services for those 267 asylum seekers that are being sent back, and 37 of them are babies. How could they?” he said.

Mohsen Soltani, an Iranian refugee and former Villawood detainee, spent four years in detention told the crowd: “I have witnessed how the kids are going to be affected. They desperately need hope. But the bloody political parties use them for their own propaganda. It’s a tragedy for Australia, it’s totally shameful,” he said.

Julie Macken of Women Supporting Women on Nauru seized on immigration minister Peter Dutton’s claim he would not send children into harm’s way, and said that returning them to Nauru would do just that.

Further protests are planned for Friday in in Brisbane, Hobart, Launceston and again in Adelaide.

- PNC sources