Why focus only on children in detention and not adults too?
Ultimately we would like to see all people out of immigration detention and released into the community whilst they await the results of their refugee claim. Australia is the only country with indefinite mandatory detention, and we deplore this unfair and damaging practice for both children and adults.
It is universally acknowledged however that children are especially vulnerable, and that detention can have more serious and long-term effects on their mental health and development. We believe that getting children out of detention should be the first step in introducing a fairer and more humane refugee policy in this country.
How will you get the books and letters to children in detention, especially after the recent return to Julian Burnside of 2,500 unopened letters sent to people detained on Manus Island and Nauru?
This has been an ongoing challenge for us from the beginning, and we have worked hard to connect with a range of individuals, organisations and MPs to assist us. We have met constant barriers, especially in relation to children detained on Nauru, and it is revealing the disturbing level of secrecy around children in detention and the seemingly deliberate practice of isolation and deprivation for these children. It is currently easier to write to a prisoner in an Australian jail than it is to someone in immigration detention.
We intend to lobby the Government and the Department of Immigration to open up communication between the Australian public and people in immigration detention, and to ensure that the books and letters from the public are received and read by those they are intended for. We are also encouraging the public to assist us by writing to their federal Members of Parliament to alert them to the fact that letters are not being received and distributed, and to ask for their support in getting books and letters delivered to asylum seeker children held in detention.
Why the focus on books? And why do they have to be new books?
We decided to make books a vehicle for letters from the public for a range of reasons. The first most practical reason is that they are a wonderful resource for learning, especially for children whose schooling has been interrupted or stopped completely. On a more symbolic level, we feel the book is a universal medium for communication, storytelling, imagination and learning. We believe stories are an integral part of growing up and an important part of the lives of children all over the world. We want children living in detention to experience the same joy of opening a brand new book bought especially for them that our own children experience on birthdays or Christmas. It is a simple gesture and we feel that it is abhorrent that it has been so difficult to get these books to young children.
Can I send gifts, clothes or other things?
The Befriend a Child in Detention project is run entirely by volunteers and depends on funding from the community to enable us to send books and letters to children. Thus, we cannot accept any clothing, gifts or other material donations as we simply cannot fund the delivery costs. We are attempting to connect with local organisations to explore whether material aid can be sent directly to children from community members, however at this point in time it has been difficult to confirm. We understand many material donations are frequently ‘lost’ or have not been delivered to asylum seekers in the Nauru detention centre. Our response from the Department of Immigration was:
“The Government of Nauru is responsible for managing all aspects of the operation of the RPC, such as providing appropriate arrangements and support to meet the needs of transferees. The Australian Government provides assistance through funding and contract management for the delivery of services.
Third party contributions or donations, including books, can be directly posted by a third party, at their expense, to transferees at: Nauru RPC, PO Box 298, NAURU.
Upon receipt at the Nauru RPC, a risk assessment will be conducted on the donated goods, prior to any distribution. “
I don’t live in Melbourne, can I still join together with others to visit children and their families in detention in my state?
The Befriend a Child Project is based in Melbourne and for the time being we don’t have any visiting teams in other states. But there are wonderful organisations doing similar things all around the country! See below for a project in your home state:
NSW – Villawood Vollies
QUEENSLAND – Buddies Supporting Refugees
TASMANIA – Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support
WESTERN AUSTRALIA – Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD)
Is Befriend a Child in Detention a registered organisation?
Befriend a Child in Detention is a community project run entirely by volunteers. We do not recruit or train participants – rather we provide information and resources and act as best we can as a platform for the community to take independent action. We are not an incorporated association, we do not have any paid staff and all funds raised go back into the project.
Are there any risks involved in visiting or writing to people in immigration detention
Because people in immigration detention will have experienced trauma and are in a vulnerable situation, any contact should be made with sensitivity, and an awareness of the need for self-care. Stories and experiences shared may be confronting or distressing, and working closely with trauma can result in vicarious harm.
We endeavour to provide relevant information and resources to assist you to deal with any issues, and we encourage all participants to familiarise themselves with the Refugee Council of Australia’s ‘Advocates Help Kit’. We particularly encourage parents or teachers to inform themselves before involving children in any activities. Ultimately however, it is the responsibility of participants to manage their own self-care.
It is also extremely important that the privacy of people in immigration detention is respected and protected, and that any information shared is kept confidential unless the person providing the information gives their consent. Individuals in detention are in a vulnerable situation, and information inappropriately divulged may adversely affect their refugee claim. It is however fine for anyone to share their own experiences (rather than the experiences and stories of others), as for example discussing how it is to visit people in immigration detention.
We also encourage anyone having contact either by letter or through visits not to provide advice that they are not qualified to give, and never to give immigration advice. It is important to act respectfully and ethically when communicating with people in immigration detention – especially children.