Letter from a refugee: ‘Every day is the same, boring and hopeless’

Issue 
Refugee supporters protest outside Darwin Airport Lodge detention centre in April. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The released the statement below on June 25.

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A Vietnamese asylum seeker has written an open letter to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to mark her and her friends’ 400th day in detention.

The woman is part of a group of more than 40 Vietnamese asylum seekers, about 20 of whom are children, who have been detained since their arrival in Australia in March 2011. The youngest of the group is now seven years old, having spent two birthdays locked up in detention.

Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) spokesperson Rohan Thwaites said: “The desperation of this woman and those detained with her is clear in this letter.

“Through her words we again see the devastating affect that prolonged indefinite detention has on people. They are powerless and are crying out for help from the person who acts as both their jailer and guardian, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. They have committed no crime but have been detained for over a year by a cynical system that treats asylum seekers as political footballs and destroys lives in the process.”

Thwaites said: “No kids should not be locked up behind barbed wire. This girl has spent more than a sixth of her life in immigration detention in Australia. It is a national disgrace that a young girl, an infant, has been imprisoned for over a year. No other developed country detains children in this way.

“The Minister is aware of the harmful effects of prolonged and indefinite detention on people, including children, and needs to act immediately by releasing these people into the community.”

Management at the detention centre where the girl is detained, the Darwin Airport Lodge, have previously banned the use of crayons inside rooms and refused permission for the children to attend a number of community events.

The open letter is below.

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Dear immigration minister,

Im a Vietnamese young women who has lived in refugee detention for over one year. It is exactly 400 days from the time I put my feet to Australia. The 10th of May this year was one year anniversary when I came to Australia and also is one year anniversary in detention. Among us, there are two babies, 6 & 7 years old, who have no parents.

Four months after arriving in Australia, we asked to be moved to community detention. We have asked to be transferred to community detention many times since but have had no answer. Two months later I wrote a letter for you because we have been very depressed, sad and tired by living in the camp for a long time.

Every time I asked my case about community detention, they just say that: “We don’t know, the decision is from big boss, we can’t do anything.” Or, “the letter has reached the offìce of [the] minister, just waiting for his answer”.

We hope and wait, hope and wait but nothing happens. I really didn’t know that you have answer our letter or not, or have ever read our letter. We are still waiting to hear from you now.

How much longer must we wait? I know there was a recommendation that people shouldn’t keep the people in detention more than 90 days, especially the children. But we have been 400 days in detention but we still have no information about what will happen to us.

There have been many changes of case managers, counsellors and Serco officers, but nothing changes for us. We still are here. Sometimes we just stay in the room, crying and wishing a miracle will happen. We have counsellors in here, but we don’t want to talk any more. All of us just ask one question, “when will we get out of detention?” But nobody can answer.

I think that you are oblivious [to] us in here. You forgot that there are 43 Vietnamese including 3 babies and 20 children, still in detention for more than one year. You are a guardian for children, but there are children in detention for 400 days. How are you looking after them?

Now, we really don’t know how our future is. We just wait and count the time passing day by day. Every day is the same, boring and hopeless. I wonder if you know how my friends and I are suffering? We do not understand why and do not know when it will end.

We put our fate in your hands and await your favour. Please, no more detention for us. What is our crime that you keep us, and these small children, locked up?

I hope this letter will reach to you soon. I wish you always be happy and have a strong
spirit.