Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement that all refugee children will be removed from Nauru by the end of the year demonstrates that the refugee rights movement is winning.
The campaign has been building over the past months and sentiment in favour of kids and their families being evacuated from Nauru has penetrated deeply into Australian society.
The presence of prominent personalities like Jimmy Barnes at the Sydney refugee rally on October 27 was a reflection of the breadth of support for refugees, as was the large number of people who were at their first refugee rally because they felt they “had to do something”.
Public opinion has swung sharply in favour of getting children and their families off Nauru.
An August poll commissioned by World Vision found that 66% of people agreed that indefinitely detaining children on Nauru is cruel and damaging to their health and welfare.
A more recent poll showed that some 80% of voters supported accepting New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Nauru.
The poll coincided with the release of leaked documents, obtained by ABC’s Background Briefing, that exposed the mental health crisis among children on Nauru. The documents also show that the government was fully aware of the situation and could have prevented it.
The government, of course, is trying to spin the decision in its favour.
According to Morrison, 30 people have been taken off Nauru in the “past few weeks” and the government has “been getting on and doing it like a responsible and compassionate government should”.
But this is just deception.
Guardian Australia has confirmed that 135 people have been brought to Australia from Nauru since October 15, including 47 children. Of these, just 49 were moved by the government without legal intervention by advocates or lawyers representing asylum seekers.
Senate estimates revealed that the government spent $275,000 in the 2017-18 financial year on legal challenges to prevent the urgent medical transfer of sick children and adults from Nauru and Manus.
Morrison’s real motivation was to avoid an embarrassing defeat on the issue in parliament, with the threat of Liberal backbenchers Russell Broadbent and Julia Banks crossing the floor to vote against the government.
Morrison is also attempting to undercut court action by refugee advocates, who are seeking orders to have the children removed from Nauru.
This win for the refugee rights movement should be rubbed in the faces of the likes of former PM Tony Abbott, who told 2GB radio shock jock Ray Hadley on October 29 that children on Nauru are "very well looked after" and described the country as a "very, very pleasant island".
The refugee rights movement needs to celebrate this win and ensure that the government keeps to its commitment. We also need to keep up pressure so that all refugees are evacuated from Nauru and Manus and brought to safety here in Australia.
It is not yet clear what will happen to the children and their families on arrival. Following medical treatment, they could end up in community detention or in an onshore detention centre.
So we need to continue campaigning to end the cruel policies of mandatory detention and boat turnbacks.
So far, there are no signs that Labor is about to abandon its support for these policies.
In his address to the Lowy Institute on October 29, Labor leader Bill Shorten made it clear that his party is committed to maintaining regional processing, stopping boat arrivals, turning boats back and fully resourcing Operation Sovereign Borders.
But you can count on Green Left Weekly to be there all the way to the end. GLW will continue to advocate for an end to the cruel and inhumane treatment of refugees and help build the campaign to free the refugees.
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