September 30, 2015
Open Letter to the Refugee Movement
Kids Out, All Out!
Every one wants children out of detention.
The Australian Human Rights Commission report, “The Forgotten Children 2014” which was released in early 2015 renewed interest attention to the situation of children in detention.
As a result we have seen the formation of groups such as “Grandmothers Against
Detention of Refugee Children”. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has ‘Kids Out’ as one its key campaigns.
Since the election of Malcolm Turnbull, the Greens have also prioritised the focus on children. Adam Bandt said a key test for Turnbull was “Releasing children who are locked up in detention.” GetUp’s Transfield divestment campaigner Shen Narayanasamy recently argued in The Age ‘People might be swayed by the Stop the Boats rhetoric, but they draw the line at child abuse’.
But the truth is that there are few children in detention even if you count Nauru as well, where there were 87 as of July. The issue for children on Nauru is not detention per se, it is the fact that they are incarcerated on Nauru. Getting them out of detention, only to leave them on Nauru would be worse than an empty victory. Keeping families and children on Nauru is still child abuse.
By continuing to focus on “children in detention”, there is a serious risk of both disorienting the people in those groups and also misdirecting their significant energy and mobilising ability. Limiting the focus to children, inadvertently actually limits the impact on the government. The fact is that the government is getting children out of detention including significant numbers out of detention on Nauru. Things have moved on since the “Forgotten Children”. To end the abuse of children, we have to end offshore processing and close Nauru.
It is time to campaign for what we really mean – close Manus, close Nauru.
We also need to end mandatory detention, onshore as well as offshore. So long as the architecture of detention and deterrence exists, there is always a risk that children and others will be detained again in the future. Detention is not OK for anyone.
It is understandable that people think campaigning for children is a relatively soft target, that can appeal to a much wider layer of appeal than “end offshore processing. It is also sometimes argued that “children out” is only a first step; and that the groups will go to campaign against offshore processing after “children out “ is achieved.
But that is not the way politics works. When Howard released the children from detention in 2005, ChilOut folded. There are ways to tap into concerns about children in detention without disarming the campaign groups.
Our slogans have to be “Free the Children; Free Everyone; Close Manus & Nauru; End Offshore processing.”
With the ascension of Turnbull it is essential that we don’t sell the campaign short. More and more people see through the Liberals “Stop the Boats Slogan”. More than ever we have to demand: Stop the abuse -free ALL the refugees.
Refugee Action Collective