By Ian Escandor:
On February 3 the High Court ruled that the Coalition government had the right to deport babies and women – who had been sexually assaulted – back to offshore detention in Nauru. This cruel government policy has sparked an important new wave of opposition amongst many.
The doctors and nurses at the Lady Cilento Hospital in Brisbane, who refused to discharge baby Asha unless they were satisfied she would not be deported back to Nauru, have inspired so many. This form of defiance resonated with the public, as it is known that the government policy towards refugees and asylum seekers is objectively one of the worst in the world. In many ways, the movement for justice for refugees has been a slow and difficult one.
From the dark days of John Howard (“We will decide who should come to this country”) to the Labor Party’s decision last year to make turning back the boats at sea policy, it has been hard to build a movement for refugee rights due to the similarity of policy between the two parties. The plight of baby Aylan – or Alan – washed up on the shores of Turkey – has also served as a reminder that desperate people need our help and Australia, a rich country, is not doing nearly enough. ‘Aylan’ and ‘Asha’ have helped humanise the refugees’ plight: The hundreds of people who went to the vigil outside the Lady Cilento hospital in Brisbane to make sure that Baby Asha was going to remain safe, have helped people think differently about refugees and asylum seekers.
The #LetThemStay campaign has now spread across campuses, including our own, with the medical students at Campbelltown campus and others doing photoshoots. The terrible clips of babies being born in the muddy tents at the border of Greece and Macedonia because they have been stopped from entering Germany are so heart wrenching — they force us to examine why this is happening.
More people are asking why, if wars are started with Australian government support, the government has the audacity to look away when the refugees that wars inevitably produce ask for help.
That’s why the case of Baby Asha has become so important: It has “humanised” refugees and led to more questioning about Australian government policy. Baby Asha is now in community detention with her parents in Brisbane. However, she and the other 267 asylum seekers who are currently living in the community could still be deported back to Nauru or Manus Island. This is why we need to keep protesting and organising, to force the government to abandon its inhumane policies.
WSU — where so many former refugees study — could take a lead. Since the release of the video retelling Deng Adut’s experience as a refugee in Australia has gone viral, public expectations are high and must be met by the university to deliver on substantial initiatives that support refugees. The university has done well so far with the existing Joan Reid Scholarships for Refugee Women, the WSU College Refugee Scholarships and facilitating an accumulation of more funds for future programs. However, the university has the capacity to do much more in supporting refugee rights, especially as it frequently claims to be a university that caters for those marginalised in our community. Why doesn’t the university offer free English courses to those Syrian refugees who are coming to live in Sydney? Even better, why doesn’t WSU provide free bridging courses for those people who want to go into higher education?
If you are interested in exploring some practical ways in which WSU can take a stand in support of refugees, please get in touch with Resistance member and campaign organiser Ian Escandor at firstname.lastname@example.org