Refugee children say they are living ‘in a bigger cage’

May 31, 2023
Betia Shakiba, a child refugee, addressed the forum. Still from a video on Betia Shakiba/Facebook

A Refugee Action Collective-organised forum heard from Jordana Silverstein, author of Cruel Care: A history of children at our borders and three child refugees on May 29.

Successive Labor and Liberal governments have held child refugees in abusive conditions in onshore and offshore detention. Even after being released, they have been kept on short-term bridging visas that do not give them permanency and deny them access to NDIS, early childhood education, higher education and Centrelink benefits.

Silverstein has interviewed some politicians and bureaucrats involved in running the system. They claim to care, but talk in ways that distract attention from the children’s suffering. This includes portraying refugees arrival as a “crisis” requiring harsh measures and blaming the parents for their children suffering.

Betia Shakiba, a child refugee, who arrived by boat with her father, mother and brother in 2011, addressed the meeting. She was granted refugee status in 2016, along with her father and brother. Yet, her mother was denied refugee status. Shakiba was given a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa, but it was not renewed after it expired.

Despite the obstacles, Shakiba was able to enter law school after winning a scholarship. However, she has been unable to get a job because of her status as a refugee without a permanent visa.

Another speaker, Hussein, was 11 years old when his family arrived at Christmas Island. They were transferred to Manus Island, where he was physically and mentally abused. He was hit by guards many times. He saw people commit suicide and was upset by seeing his mother so distressed.

Later, the family was detained in Darwin, then Melbourne. Eventually they were released on bridging visas, but Hussein has been unable to get a job because of his visa status.

Rocqiya, Hussein's sister, said that even after being released, she feels like she is living “in a bigger cage” because she doesn’t have permanent residency and fears she could be deported. “I hope that one day we will be part of this community.”

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