Refugee supporters rallied in Sydney on October 5 in solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru who held their 200th consecutive day of protest against their illegal detention that day.
Speakers included Danielle Austin, a former nurse on Christmas Island and convener of Mums for Refugees; Dr Barri Phatarfod, a convener of Doctors4Refugees; and Judith Reen, a former teacher on Nauru.
Austin spoke about the “loss of life” experienced by detainees as they spend month after month, year after year, in limbo. Phatarfod spoke about the High Court challenge that Doctors4Refugees have launched and an intimidation campaign she and other health professionals have been subjected to for speaking out.
JUDITH REEN was a former employee of Save the Children. Her moving speech is reprinted below with her permission.
Each day that people come to the fence in RPC3 to protest they take a risk.
Nauru is a country where asylum seekers and refugees are arbitrarily arrested on trumped up charges for protesting their wrongful incarceration. Charges such as inciting violence are laid and they can be held indefinitely in a filthy jail cell, only to be released without explanation, months later.
The photos you see [of the protests] are taken from a settlement camp across the road at Enuijo. People who have been deemed to be refugees and given their resettlement status are moved into a camp 50 metres away and live in the same conditions.
Each day that people protest, they do so on behalf of others who have no strength left to fight, who have slipped into mental anguish beyond our understanding and lost their grip on hope. They protest on behalf of those who live on a steady diet of antidepressants and sleeping tablets. They do so on behalf of those who don’t come out of their tents.
I asked some of my former class members if they had any messages for today, but many of them came back with answers like this: “I wish I had a button to deactivate myself. Honestly I don’t even want a future or life or anything. I don’t want to fight anymore. It seems like no force on Earth can end this and I wish everyone die in peace here.”
“Australia is a country that tortured and killed Aboriginal people for years and cleared that with ‘sorry’ — people that had been living there a long time before whites. Even today you can’t find Aboriginal people in government. How could they ever pity us?”
“I don’t think they wish for detention centres to be closed. I just think they wish that they don’t have to ever see us.”
The [immigration] minister [Peter Dutton] says he doesn’t wish to see children in detention and that’s not a lie. He really does not wish to see them and that is why their protests are an important daily reminder that their childhood, their future and their hope is being extinguished.
It is you who come out in support and say: “I am an Australian and I care about your life. I want your suffering to end.”
It is you who show your support, who rally, who fundraise, write letters and speak to friends and colleagues, who will ultimately tip the balance toward justice.
Please don’t give up on them.