In 2016, thousands of protesters rallied across Australia to protest against the Australian Government’s decision of returning 270 asylum seekers, including 30 babies back to Nauru. This group of asylum seekers were transferred to Australia for medical treatment, and #LetThemStay was born. A movement that fights for refugee rights. The movement has grown which includes the high profile case of a Tamil family with to Australian born children, from Biloela.
On 22nd January 1954, Australia signed the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The convention details the rights of refugees, and what constituents as a refugee. The 1967 protocol of the convention lifted the geographical and time constraints from the 1951 Declaration due to its background – the declaration was written in the wake of the end of World War Two. Using the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which Australia has both signed, protesters use these declarations as an argument against the inhuman treatment by the Australian Government towards asylum seekers and refugees, as well as Article 14, which states, “…the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
The debate has seen asylum seekers interchanged with refugees. The United Nations has defined a refugee as “a person forced to flee their country because of violence or persecution”. 67 per cent of refugees come from five different countries – Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. They also define an asylum seeker as “when people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum”.
UNHCR has actively condemned the offshore processing in Papua New Guinea and Nauru by the Australian Government. This condemnation was from numerous reports of children having psychological problems resulting in attempted suicides and self-harm. While doctors have pleaded for their patients to be moved to Australia, despite the medivac bill, it has been ignored for up to five years. However, since the medevac bill was introduced, up to 40 people were transferred to Australia for medical treatment. Since 2014, twelve people have died on Manus Island and Nauru. Last year, doctors from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) were ejected from the detention centre. Nauru Detention Centre was initially opened by the Howard Government as part of the Pacific Solution, only to be suspended in 2008 and reopened in 2012 by the Rudd-Gillard government.
The current unfolding case of the Tamil family, Priya and Nadesalingam and their two Australian-born children has been heartwrenching. Both parents came separately by boat and their bridging visa expired in March 2018. Both parents contributed to their country town of Biloela. The mother suffers from diabetes and has had a lack of access to medication for the illness. The United Nations, as well as Tamil Refugee Council and Refugee Action Group, have expressed concern for sending back Tamils to Sri Lanka in the past year due to safety concerns. Sri Lanka Civil War ended in 2009, only ten years ago, where the world ignored the brutality against Tamils. There is still reports that Tamils are still tortured and targeted in Sri Lanka. In the final months of the civil war, 70,000 people have been thought to have died.
#LetThemStay has been a powerful movement in Australia, highlighting various issues of Australian policies in regards to immigration. The movement shows that not all Australians are racists or approve of the bipartisan agreement by both major parties that those who arrive by boat will not be settled in Australia and be sent to a third country to be assessed and resettled somewhere else. It provides a space where people discuss how the government treats refugees and asylum seekers and those who come from certain countries.