Unlikely pen pals – a UNICEF Australia feature

Images of some of the letters receieved by Befriend, courtesy of UNICEF Australia.

UNICEF Australia has produced a wonderful blog post. It offers extracts from letters a multitude of Australian children wrote to the children held in detention on Nauru.

The letters resulted from a letter-writing project we conducted encouraging schoolchildren from across the country to write to the refugee children. Letters came from everywhere, from state and private schools, from primary and secondary students. This wonderful avalanche of letters of friendship and hope challenged and still challenges the ‘official’ voices of rejection and neglect.

Australian children chose empathy over enmity.


Please share the link around.

Befriend a Child in Detention

Carlton P.O. Box 1282

Carlton, Vic, 3053

Email: j.factor@unimelb.edu.au



Today is #WorldChildrensDay. This year is extra special, as it marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It’s a time to celebrate but also a time to demand action for child rights.

We will be attending this important forum discussing the rights of the child – happening today at 1:30pm at the Royal Children’s Hospital.

We’d love to hear what you are doing today in recognition of this important day.

Are all refugee and asylum seeker children now free from detention?


There are 3 children who have been imprisoned in the Melbourne detention centre (MITA) for long periods.

There is a 16-month-old girl with her mother; the infant has been imprisoned all her young life. The child’s father lives in the community.

The second child, also of preschool age, has been in MITA with her mother since February. According to a UN report, the child shows ‘signs of attachment-related anxiety and is at risk of developmental problems due to her mother’s depression and her prolonged detention’.

The third prisoner is a 17-year-old boy; he has very little privacy and receives no education.

The Prime Minister boasts that he’s ensured that there are no asylum seeker children in detention. He lies.

A letter to Mr Luke Donnellan, Victorian Minister for the Protection of Children.

From: June Factor
Sent: Tuesday, August 6, 2019
To: luke.donnellan@parliament.vic.gov.au
Subject: Child Protection

August 6, 2019

Dear Minister Donnellan,

In February 2017, the Victorian Supreme Court made what your government declared ‘a landmark ruling’. The then Victorian Minister for Families and Children noted with considerable satisfaction that the ruling confirmed that the State of Victoria ‘has jurisdiction to intervene when children in immigration detention are in need of protection’. (Media release 20 February 2017)

The media has for some time been reporting on the desperately poor and harmful circumstances that are the daily experience of two very young children (one four years old, one just two) held with their parents by the Commonwealth Government at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) since March 2018. The damage to these children’s health, both physical and mental, is illustrated by but not limited to the most recent tragedy requiring the removal of four infant teeth from the younger child because they had rotted during detention. This toddler was in great pain and unable to eat properly for months before the long delayed dental intervention. Both children have vitamin deficiencies and exhibit clear behavioural distress as a direct consequence of their lengthy detention.

I am the convenor of Befriend a Child in Detention, a community project that began in 2013, is centred in Melbourne, and has thousands of supporters in this State and across the country. We cannot understand why the Victorian Government has not already removed this small family from the environment that is so seriously damaging the children. The Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People was reported in Friday’s media as deeply distressed at the situation of the two children held in MITA, and opposed to the detention of children. We share her distress and her opposition to the detention of children, but such words need to lead to deeds. Victoria has the legal right, and we believe the moral obligation, to rescue these children immediately. 

Dear Minister, we depend on you to save the children and the good name of the Victorian Government. This is a clear matter of harm reduction – these children are in urgent need of your protection. 

If we can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us. 


Dr June Factor

Convenor, Befriend a Child in Detention Project 

P.O. Box 1282, Elgin St, Carlton 3053


Facts & Figures

An ASYLUM SEEKER is a person who has sought protection as a refugee, but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been assessed.

A REFUGEE is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.

A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

There are now more people displaced in the world than ever before. Today there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, 52% of whom are children. The United Nations helps these people find new homes by working with countries like Australia. However, not all countries will accept refugees, and others may take many years to resettle them. It is a sad truth that many refugees have spent their whole lives in refugee camps.

In keeping with The Migration Act 1958 when refugees arrive in Australia without a visa Seeking Asylum, they are sent to onshore and offshore immigration detention centres until they are granted or denied a visa.

Source: Asylum Seekers and Refugees Guide (August 14 2015).

AUSTRALIA: Current Statistics 

As of August 2018 there were…

1,347 People in Australian Detention Centres

376 of these people arrived via boat or air without visas

971 had visas cancelled or overstayed

 189 Refugees and asylum seekers held in the Nauru Regional Processing Centre.

361  Refugees and asylum seekers in detention centres on Manus Island.

170  Families were being kept on Nauru as of 26 February 2018, 99 of whom had 158 minors.

Some refugees and asylum seekers have been brought from the offshore detention centre to Australia for medical treatment.

On average, these refugees spend 436 days in detention centres.

Source:  Statistics — Asylum Insight(25 August 2018) & Operation Sovereign Borders and offshore processing statistics (3 August 2018).


(English)_FiguresAtAGlance_Infographic(08JUN2018)-V2.pngSource: UNHCR Global Trends 2017



A Temporary Protection Visa is a temporary visa for refugees who come by boat and claim to be seeking asylum. It provides protection for three years, but does not ensure permanent protection

 Safe Haven Enterprise Visas are another type of temporary visa granted to asylum seekers who come by boat. This visa grants 5 years protection to those who intend to study or work in regional Australia.

A ‘Bridging Visa E’ is a temporary visa permitting a refugee stay in Australia only while arranging immigration, making arrangements to leave, or waiting on an immigration decision.

Sources: Bridging visa E – BVE (subclass 050-051) & What is a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV)? (2017, September).


Between January and June 2018 in there were:


Temporary Protection Visas granted



Temporary Protection Visas denied



Safe Haven Enterprise Visas granted



Safe Haven Enterprise Visas denied



Visa E applicants, 2,916 of whom are children


In 2016-2017 there were:


Permanent humanitarian visas granted by the Australian government, excluding refugees from the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crisis



Permanent humanitarian visas were granted, including visas delegated to refugees from the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crisis


There are 18,750 visas budgeted for in 2018-2019


Source: Statistics — Asylum Insight(25 August 2018).



Nauru and Manus Island have cost the government approximately:

$5 billion


Cost of Nauru and Manus Island during the 2017-2018 financial year:

$1.44 billion


The 2018-2019 budget for Nauru and Manus Island detention centres is estimated to cost:

$759.58 million.


Between September 2013 and August 2018 there have been:

741 voluntary returns by refugees, 31 of whom left in August 2018

20 involuntary returns

In 2018, only 1 boat of 17 people arrived in Australia. The people in it were sent to Christmas Island.

Since 2010 there have been 37 deaths in Australia’s onshore and offshore detention centres, including 16 confirmed suicides.

Source: Statistics — Asylum Insight (25 August 2018).



Children In detention


Refugee children experience significant challenges when fleeing their homeland and resettling in a country such as Australia. Many refugee and asylum seeker children who come to Australia end up in a refugee camp in immigration detention.

34 per cent of children in detention have been found to suffer serious mental health issues, compared with only 2 per cent of Australian children.

Detention is an especially damaging experience for children as it deprives them of the opportunities of play, exploration, growth and learning necessary for normal development. Children in detention experience significantly higher rates of mental health issues than children in the mainstream community.

In September 2018, approximately 30 refugee children on Nauru were diagnosed with Trauma Withdrawal Syndrome, or Resignation Syndrome, a rare psychological and physical life-threatening condition causing children to withdraw from life, to the point of becoming unresponsive, unable to eat, drink or toilet themselves until they fall into a catatonic state (Baker, 2018).

The Australian Federal Court has now ruled on several occasions that children with Resignation Syndrome and other life-threatening situations be brought to Australia for immediate medical care along with their families. A recent example is the 12-year-old boy airlifted to a hospital in Brisbane with resignation Syndrome after living on Nauru for the past 5 years (Randall, 2018).

There have been increasing reports of children as young as 7 attempting suicide repeatedly. Children have doused themselves in petrol in attempts to self-immolate. Others have swallowed razors and stones. Others have attempted to overdose, jump from high places or hang themselves (Refugee Council of Australia, 2018).

A number of children are suffering from nightmares of “blood and death”, hallucinating and self-harming (Randall, 2018). It has become commonplace to receive reports of children hallucinating, socially withdrawing, becoming unable to speak or expressing the wish to die(Refugee Council of Australia, 2018).

Many of these children have spent their whole lives on Nauru. Others have spent their most formative years in these traumatic conditions.

Children-1024x612.pngSource: Refugee Council of Australia.




In 2017 52% of forcibly displaced people were children under 18 years.

Many of these children will spend their entire childhood, in countries that do not give them full human rights. They are often unable to go to school.


There are 173,800 unaccompanied refugee children who have been separated from their families.


Source: UNHCR, (2017). Global Trends 2017





Children in Detention on Nauru.



Bridging Visa E applicants who are children


Source: Statistics — Asylum Insight (25 August 2018).



Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their countries because of persecution, war or violence. They need to seek help from the governments of other countries.

Refugees often travel to nearby countries to seek safety. These countries are often poor and do not have the money to support the refugees, and sometimes they are unwilling to integrate them into their own communities. This means refugees end up living in refugee camps. Refugees in these camps live in poverty. Most children do not go to school. Refugees live in these camps, sometimes for years, until they are accepted to live in a country like Australia. Some refugees never leave the camps.

In 2017, GLOBALLY, there were:

102,800 refugees resettled in third countries during 2017 (This figure has reduced by 46% since 2016, as forcibly displaced people worldwide increased by 2.9 million in 2017 alone.)

40.0 million internally displaced people

16.2 million newly displaced people in 2017 including…

11.8 million newly displaced internally &

4.4 million newly displaced refugees and asylum seekers

16.9 million (85% of refugees) refugees hosted by developing regions

5 million displaced people returned

44,400 new displacements every day

Source: UNHCR Global Trends 2017


Bibliography & Useful Links

Asylum Insight — Facts and Figures, (2018, 25 August). Retrieved from https://www.asyluminsight.com/statistics/#.W8aTXxMzZmA

Australian Human Rights Commission, (2015, August 14) Asylum Seekers and Refugees Guide. Retrieved from, https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/asylum-seekers-and-refugees/asylum-seekers-and-refugees-guide

Baker, Nick, (2018). SBS, retrieved from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/coma-like-epidemic-affecting-30-children-on-nauru

Befriend a Child in Detention (2016). Impact of Detention on Children, Retrieved from

Department of Immigration. (2018). Immigration Detention and Community Statistics Summary. Retrieved from, https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/ReportsandPublications/Documents/statistics/immigration-detention-statistics-june-18.pdf

Farrell, P. Evershed, N. and Davidson, H. (2016, August 10), The Nauru Files. The Guardian, retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/aug/10/the-nauru-files-2000-leaked-reports-reveal-scale-of-abuse-of-children-in-australian-offshore-detention.

Home Affairs. (2018). Bridging visa E – BVE (subclass 050-051). Retrieved from, https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/visa-1/051-

UNHCR, (2017). Global Trends 2017. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/5b27be547/unhcr-global-trends-2017.html

UNHCR, (2017). Figures at a Glance. Retrieved from, http://www.unhcr.org/en-au/figures-at-a-glance.html

Randall, Angus. (2018, 16 August), 12yo refugee on hunger strike on Nauru suffering from resignation syndrome, doctors say. ABC News, retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-16/12-year-old-refugee-with-resignation-syndrome-on-nauru/10129408

Statistics on people in detention in Australia. (2018, October). Retrieved from https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/getfacts/statistics/aust/asylum-stats/detention-australia-statistics/

Refugee Council of Australia, (2018, October). Refugee Council of Australia factsheet. Retrieved from, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Nauru_201810.pdf

Refugee Council of Australia, (2017, September). What is a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV)? Retrieved from, https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/getting-help/legal-info/visas/tpv-shev-faqs/


Nauru is No Place For Kids

From the Forgotten Children report of 2014, to last year’s Senate Inquiry, the conditions on Nauru are no distant, convoluted reality. The Australian government and people have been presented with the facts time and time again. We have seen and heard — Nauru is No Place For Kids.

In 2014 the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, headed up by Professor Gillian Triggs, brought to public attention the numerous “reported and unreported allegations of sexual and other physical assault” among asylum seekers kept on Nauru, suggesting offshore processing on Nauru may breach Australia’s obligations under international law.

Sceptics questioned Triggs’ motives and credibility, suggesting the inquiry was blown out of proportion.

But then, in March of 2015, the Guardian ‘leaked’ the Nauru files. These incident reports written by guards, caseworkers and teachers employed on Nauru, detailed asylum seeker’s reports of physical and sexual assault. Twenty-three of the reports related to sexual assault, causing former member of the Immigration Health Advisory Group Professor Louis Newman, to state that “the sexual assault of women is a major problem on Nauru,” due to “a systemic lack of processes and understanding”. Over half of these incidents, a total of 1,086, involved children.

The files revealed the psychological turmoil suffered by refugee and asylum seeker children held on Nauru. There were children attempting self-harm and suicide, and suffering from nightmares of “blood and death”. Former Medical director of mental health for Australia’s Immigration Detention System, Dr Peter Young, has stated “self-harm and suicide attempts increase steadily after six months in detention” caused by a deep sense of “hopelessness which is known to be the strongest predictor of suicide”.

One woman, discovering she would have to give birth on Nauru, pleaded in tears “I give my baby to Australia to look after”. She does not want to raise her baby “in this dirty environment”.

In February 2015, after reports surfaced of detainees as young as 16 sowing their lips together, cutting their forearms, or swallowing detergent, the government established The Moss Review, under the then Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison. The Review looked into reports of sexual and physical assault of refugees as well as allegations that Save the Children Staff were enabling and/ or encouraging self-harm and protest.

Despite the government’s scepticism regarding reports, the Review reflected much of the sentiments expressed in The Forgotten Children inquiry, including the confirmation of at least 3 rapes in the detention centre and numerous other instances of sexual and physical assault.

According to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton the Government implemented all 19 of Moss’s recommendations. The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection insisted it would continue to “support the Nauruan government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees in Nauru”, insisting that “a range of health services” are already available in Nauru “including general practitioners, psychiatrists, counsellors, mental health nurses and specialists who provide clinical assessment and treatment in-country”.

However, in 2017 The Senate Inquiry Report Into Serious Allegations of Abuse, Self-harm and Neglect of Asylum Seekers in Relation to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, and Any Like Allegations in Relation to the Manus Regional Processing Centre investigated and confirmed the ongoing horrendous conditions for the refugee and asylum seekers held on Nauru, and continuation of issues identified in previous reports.

Last December the Royal Commission 5 year Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse addressed serious claims of the abuse of the children held on Nauru once again. This report recommended that the Department of Immigration regularly audit the implementation of the child safety standards, appoint qualified chid safety officers, and establish an independent visitors program. Ultimately, it urged that detention centres meet the child safety standards identified by The Royal Commission.

Despite all these reports, no response to, let alone implementation of, recommendations have been made.

It is clear that Nauru is no place to detain refugee and asylum seeker children. These children are being tormented by their environment. Psychologists cannot simply treat them while on Nauru, one Save the Children Worker noting “the risks of harm to children are endemic to the environment, but you can’t remove them from it” (the Australian, Aug 24 2018).

We cannot shut our eyes to the realty of the children’s suffering. We must no neglect their safety in the name of protecting our borders. Nauru is no place for kids; it is time we brought these #KIDSOFFNAURU.



The Psychological and Physical Impact of Nauru

Reports of sexual, physical and emotional abuse on Nauru have flooded in from social workers, medical professionals and refugees alike. While 31 children have recently been rescued — on several occasions the Australian Federal Court ruling that a child be removed due to a medical emergency despite the resistance of the Office of Home Affairs — there are still over 90 children stranded on the 21 km2 Island.

30 of these children are suffering from resignation syndrome, a rare physiological condition that causes them to completely withdraw from life, refusing food and water until they slip into a comatose state. Regarding one of these children who was transferred to Brisbane in a comatose state last month, the President of Doctors for Refugees, Dr Barri Phatarfod, stated, “this particular child, like many other children, has just completely lost all hope.”

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called for “urgent intervention” in ensuring health care for children on Nauru. AMA President Dr Tony Bartone stresses that the conditions of Children on Nauru is Australia’s responsibility and independent Australian health professionals must be allowed to visit and examine asylum seekers on Nauru, given adequate time and resources to ensure physical and psychological support. The AMA urges National Medical Associations and physicians oppose all legislation and practise that oppose “this fundamental right”.

A physician on Nauru until August 2017, Nick Martin, who served in the British Royal Navy for 16 years, stated seeing people “locked up” on Nauru was “more traumatic than anything I’d seen in Afghanistan.” Martin reflected he left his position frustrated by the opposition of non-medically trained government officials ignoring Medical recommendations with “no reason given”.

And still, nothing has been done to address these concerns. How long will it take for the government to be convinced of the horrific mental and physical toll offshore detention is taking on those who have come to us seeking asylum? How long will we watch on as their mental and physical states deteriorate?

It’s time we stood up and said enough is enough. It’s time we brought these #KIDSOFFNAURU.