On Wednesday 3rd February, the High Court of Australia passed a ruling that would allow the Australian government to deport 267 asylum seekers to the detention centre on Nauru. 72 of these asylum seekers are children, including 33 babies who were actually born within Australia’s borders, sparking protest throughout the country.
Medical professionals, with years of experience within offshore detention centres, continue to argue that conditions there are made to be akin to torture ‒ designed to make life so unbearable for asylum seekers that they are forced to return to their home countries.
Experts maintain that the privatised nature of Australia’s offshore detention centre regime renders the wellbeing of asylum seekers a distant third priority, behind deterrence and profit. With one doctor, John-Paul Sanggaran, going so far as to label the detention system “a form of systematic child abuse,” the chief doctor of the Australian Border Force has also admitted that the act of detaining damages the mental wellbeing of children.
This reflects the Australian Medical Association’s code of ethics that states: “Regardless of society’s attitudes, ensure that you do not countenance, condone or participate in the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading procedures, whatever the offence of which the victim of such procedures is suspected, accused or convicted.”
To protest this decision by the High Court, thousands of people gathered across Australia, with even more voicing their anger online.
One such gathering occurring on Northbourne Avenue in Canberra. Both through the act of physically protesting, and with the utilisation of online hashtags, critics of the ruling demanded that the Australian government #letthemstay and furthermore, #closethecamps.
One of the most notable gatherings was outside Lady Cilento’s Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, where hundreds gathered to prevent one-year-old baby Asha from being removed against her doctors’ will and sentenced to the unsafe environment of Nauru. Asha is now in community detention, but her ultimate fate remains undecided.
On the same day as the High Court’s decision, a group of Australian religious leaders made history by invoking the principle of sanctuary and offering their churches as safe havens for the asylum seekers facing deportation. Soon, they were joined by numerous other churches and secular institutions ‒ including several state and territory governments.
The ANU too, is participating in the protest. The ANU Refugee Action Committee (RAC) is circulating a petition calling upon Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt to offer sanctuary to the 267 asylum seekers on the campus of the ANU. The full text of the petition is available on the RAC’s Facebook page, and can be signed by emailing your full name and university number to firstname.lastname@example.org. After a “Let Them Stay” photo is taken in Union Court on the 17th of March, the petition will be presented to the Vice-Chancellor. This will be followed by the Palm Sunday rally for refugees three days later.
This action may seem simply symbolic, but the value is in the message that it will send, one that the ANU community embraces what the petition labels as “the values of humanity, inclusiveness, and tolerance”.
In signing the petition you would be pledging, alongside fellow members of the student body, that you agree to do your part in preventing 267 men, women and children who have committed no crime, from being sentenced to what asylum seekers imprisoned on Manus Island have vividly dubbed a “gradual death” within Australia’s offshore detention centres.