I have a pen pal, no ordinary pen pal. A nine year old girl, but no ordinary girl. She lives in Australia and she is known as Identification Number NRO-003-359. She does have a name, a family but no freedom. Narges Hussaini is a refugee from Afghanistan seeking asylum in our country. She spends her days in a detention centre in Nauru waiting, waiting, for freedom.
Narges’ story is that of a typical asylum seeker. They are people who leave their country because they fear for their safety and their lives, and the lives of their families. Perhaps the country they live in is in civil war, or they are being persecuted.
These sorts of people feel they need to leave their country, often in a hurry. Some have time to organise an entry visa to Australia and they arrive as refugees. Others flee without a visa, often by boat, and are sent straight to a detention centre. Like Narges’ family, they are seeking asylum, safety in our country but we put them in a prison.
I write to Narges in Nauru but find it hard to understand how she must feel, a mere number not a name. She will stay there until our Government decides their future. This process is long, complicated and frightening. She could be behind bars for years.
A genuine refugee seeking asylum in our country arrives with confused emotions, few possessions and afraid for their future. They must face a tribunal hearing to prove their claim for refugee status. They don’t understand this process, they often can’t speak a word of English. Most of them, sadly, are denied a claim.
Does that sound fair? Aren’t we the nation who proudly sing in our national anthem “for those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless space to share”? Yet, those asylum seekers who come across the seas in boats to find safety in our country we put in detention centres. Is it fair that innocent 9 year old girls are held in detention?
The United Nations Convention says that children should be placed in a centre only as a last resort. Why then, do we have over 100 children in Australian detention centres at the moment? These children are the innocent party.
I feel bad that my country is doing this to children from other countries. I feel bad that my country has put my pen pal Narges behind a barbwire fence. She deserves more than an identification number and years in a detention centre.
I think that there should be special rules for asylum seekers with children. I’m sure Australia could find accommodation for them somewhere or give then help with English and the law to write a decent application for a visa from the Tribunal. The better we treat these asylum seekers while they are getting their refugee status, the better citizens they may make in our country. So we are just letting them stay here and not really live here – is that helping them?
I thought Australians were bought up to believe in equal rights for its people and fair opportunities to live and work. People are more than identification numbers aren’t they? We should remember that Asylum seekers are people first, and refugees second.