Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Letters to asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru

When I was a young lawyer with more time on my hands than I have presently I started volunteering on the weekends for an organisation called CASE for Refugees. At the time, it was possible for asylum seekers who arrived by boat who were granted refugee status to receive a temporary protection visa (TPV) which enabled them to live in the community. Prior to the expiry of their TPV they could apply for a permanent protection visa (PPV) which would allow them to stay here permanently.  CASE helped TPV holders prepare the forms and accompanying statements and documents necessary to apply for a PPV. Later, CASE helped PPV holders apply for visas for family members who had been left behind (often in refugee camps in countries like Pakistan) to come to Australia too. Whilst helping TPV and PPV holders write statements about the reasons they left their homes and families I heard the most horrific stories of beatings, torture, murder, rape and forced conscription. I felt (and feel) that Australia is a large, rich country and that our refugee policy could be much more generous than it currently is.

Anyway, I stopped volunteering at CASE when I was pregnant with E because I was too sick and tired to devote my weekends to anything much but sleeping. I was pleased to read recently that Victorian lawyer, Julian Burnside QC, has initiated a way for ordinary Australians to support asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island and Nauru. It's not time consuming, won't cost an individual much, and can be done from your own home. The idea is that you write a letter (initially to a non-specific asylum seeker) and send it to Julian, and a self-addressed envelope. He will arrange for it to be sent to Nauru or Mauns Island and given to a particular asylum seeker, who can write back to you if they want to. There are specific instructions on what to do on Julian Burnside's website - click here.

According to recent posts on Julian Burnside's Facebook page, thousands of people have sent him letters which he has forwarded, and they have been received and greatly appreciated by asylum seekers. It is not clear whether the asylum seekers have been prevented from writing replies, or whether the replies have been blocked by detention centre staff or the Immigration Department. However, that's not a reason to stop writing. He also recently said that whilst it is difficult for asylum seekers to access post offices they do get one hour of email access a week, so it might be an idea to include your email address if you want them to write back.

A letter to a stranger who has escaped things most of us can't imagine is not an easy thing to write. Julian's website suggests:

"Write a letter, but not directed to a specific person.  Say who you are, so the recipient will not wonder whether you are acting for the government. Tell them something about yourself.  Let them know that not all Australians are hostile to them.  Be sensitive to their circumstances.  Encourage them to write back to you."

Here is my letter in case anyone else would like an idea of what you might say:

"Dear Friend

My name is M and I am 33 years old. I live in {suburb} which is a suburb of Perth. I have two young daughters named E and C - E is 4 years old and C is 6 months old. Right now I do not do paid work because I stay at home with the girls. My husband's name is D.

I am writing to let you know that I am very sorry our government has locked you up. Australia is a big country and I wish you could live here too. Not all Australians agree with the way our government treats refugees.

If you would like to write back to me I would love to hear from you. Please tell me anything you would like about yourself - where you come from, what it is like in your country, whether your family is with you, how you are managing in detention. I will keep writing to you if you would like that. If it is easier for you to email me than post a letter my email address is: {email address}. I have also included an envelope with my address and some paper and an International Reply Coupon that you can exchange for stamps.

With best wishes from..."

Who else will join me in writing a letter to give a little hope and distraction to someone in a horrible situation?


1 comment:

katef said...

What a great idea!
I'm off to check out the website... I wonder if there is an option for kids? My 10 year olds would love to write a letter to a child in detention. (the fact that I even have to type those words make me shudder!)

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