People Are Rallying Around Australia To Stop The Government Sending Refugee Babies Back To Nauru

Doesn't seem like the kind of thing you'd need convincing on, really.

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This morning the High Court threw out a legal challenge to Australia’s offshore detention system, ruling that the government’s running and funding of immigration detention centres in foreign countries does not breach the Constitution. The ruling means that 267 asylum seekers transported from Nauru to Australia, including 54 children and 37 babies, will likely be sent back to Nauru. Many of the 267 were sent to Australia to receive emergency medical treatment after conditions on Nauru proved to be seriously dangerous to their health, safety and wellbeing, and there are concerns they could be at risk of severe physical and mental harm if they’re sent back.

Now the ball’s in the government’s court — they can choose to send the asylum seekers back to Nauru, or not, at their leisure. It’s likely that they will; to do otherwise would be to contradict the “tough” commitment made by current and former Prime Ministers and Immigration Ministers that no boat arrivals will be settled in Australia.

But interest in the High Court case has been building for some time, and now that a ruling’s been handed down pressure is building on the government to let some or all of the asylum seekers stay in Australia. Fairfax newspapers have focused their attentions on the 37 babies (some of them born in Australia), while the #LetThemStay campaign has begun trending on social media.

Last night on the ABC’s 7.30, meanwhile, two paediatricians who’ve treated children held on Nauru, Karen Zwi and Hasantha Gunasekera, publicly warned that sending children back would put many of them at risk of sexual assault, self-harm, rape and suicide.

“We hardly ever see young children and adolescents so traumatised by life that they would want to take their own life, but in Nauru and in detention centres where kids have been kept, sometimes for most of their life, we see very young children who just can’t take it anymore and try to kill themselves or wanting to hurt themselves. Or saying things like, ‘I may as well just jump off the roof,'” Dr Gunasekera told 7.30.

Zwi, meanwhile, said children kept in detention were so profoundly traumatised it was as if they had “been through a mincing machine… Sometimes I feel they are broken into little bits and it’s really hard to put the pieces back together again.”

Under the Border Force Act, passed in July last year with the support of Australia’s two major political parties, Zwi and Gunasekera could be jailed for speaking publicly about so-called “protected information” on the operations of Australia’s detention centres.

That 7.30 episode particularly focused on a five-year-old boy who was allegedly raped on Nauru and is due to be sent back, with his attacker still unidentified and at large. While Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in an interview that the government would take medical advice into consideration before deciding whether to send people back, he reiterated that “if you seek to come to Australia by boat we’re not going to allow you to settle in this country”.

It’s not just children who could be placed in serious danger if they’re sent back. Speaking to the Guardian, an anonymous Sri Lankan woman who suffered rape and torture at the hands of Sri Lankan soldiers before fleeing to Australia by boat in 2014 said she was “terrified” of being sent back to Nauru, and would “commit suicide” rather than run the risk of rape, sexual assault and inadequate medical care on the island.

With more of these stories emerging around the case, refugees and their supporters have begun taking action to try and stay the government’s hand. Free the Children Nauru, a Facebook group run by children in detention on the island, have released a petition calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to resettle asylum seeker kids in Australia, as well as a video in which they talk about the lives they fled in their home countries, and the lives they lead on Nauru now.

Prominent individuals and bodies like UNICEF Australia, Amnesty International, GetUp!Save the Children, ChilOut, Human Rights Commission President Professor Gillian Triggs and the Human Rights Law Centre have all come out strongly, urging the government to rethink the deportations. Other groups, like Christian advocacy organisation Love Makes a Way and the Refugee Action Coalition, are organising vigils and sit-ins across the country to demand the 267 asylum seekers be allowed to stay.

Info for those rallies is listed below. Whether the PM takes notice remains to be seen.


Where: Department of Immigration building, 26 Lee St, Sydney
When: 12:30pm, Thursday, February 4


Where: State Library of Victoria
When: 5:30pm, Thursday, February 4


Where: Cnr Northbourne Ave and Barry Drive
When: 5:30pm, Thursday, February 4


Where: Wheeler Place, 375 Hunter Street, Newcastle
When: 5:30pm, Thursday, February 4


Where: 97-99 Kanowna Avenue East, Redcliffe
When: 8:30pm, Thursday, February 4


Where: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 299 Adelaide St, Brisbane
When: 12:00pm, Friday, February 5


Where: Corner of King William Street and Rundle Mall
When: 4:00pm, Friday, February 5


Where: Corner of Macquarie and Murray Streets
When: 5:00pm, Friday, February 5


Where: Nightcliff Pool, 259 Casuarina Dr
When: 5:30pm, Sunday, February 8