19/02/2016 5:35 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Sending Children To Hell Without An Exit Strategy


There is a change taking place in the hearts and minds of many people in the Australian community.

For years, thousands of people who came to our shores seeking asylum have been locked up in the offshore detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru. They've been held there under a shroud of secrecy. Throughout that time the government thundered about the need to protect our borders and has demonised those kept behind bars. The media wasn't allowed in because the government knew that, once people met the children and babies who were being held on Nauru, they wouldn't stand for the cruelty that was taking place.

Over recent months and years many women, children and babies had to be brought to Australia for medical treatment, some because of horrific injuries suffered during rapes and assaults at the hands of locals and the detention camp guards. Finally, the public are getting to know some of them and people are starting to realise that abusing children is no solution.

One of the people brought here was little Baby Asha, a one-year-old girl who is still in a Brisbane Hospital after suffering serious burns in the camp on Nauru. Since Asha's doctors and nurses made the courageous decision to protect Asha and her family from return to Nauru by refusing to discharge her, thousands of people in the Australian community have raised their voice and told Malcolm Turnbull that he should #LetThemStay.

It's not just baby Asha and her family who should be allowed to stay, though. There are dozens of babies, scores of children and hundreds of adults who are all fearfully waiting to know if they'll be sent back to the desolate island camps. To an increasing number of Australians it's clear that they should be allowed to stay, so that they can flourish and integrate into the community, and that the government should close the camps on Nauru and Manus Island.

The fact of the matter is that the government has no exit strategy when it comes to the offshore detention camps. They've already sent thousands of people there, but now they don't know what to do with them. No other country is putting up their hand to take them and the countries who are hosting the camps are becoming increasingly agitated by their presence. With no exit strategy, the government has sent thousands of people to the Hell of indefinite detention on these hostile and remote Pacific islands.

To justify this absurdity, the government wants people to believe that there are only two options; either treat people seeking asylum cruelly or let them risk their lives on the open ocean. I'm here to explain that there is a third way -- a 'Solution C'.

The Australian Greens want to put a fair and efficient process in place that would see people's claims for protection assessed in the region, before they are forced into taking a dangerous boat journey. For that to work, Australia needs to lead a huge effort in our region; establishing reception facilities in Indonesia and Malaysia, operating them so that people have access to healthcare and education, funding the UNHCR so that they can assess people's claims quickly, and then bringing those that need protection here safely. And let's be honest, if the government genuinely cared about dangerous boat journeys they wouldn't tow them back out to sea, they'd fund proper search and rescue operations.

All of this could only be achieved with the type of true political leadership that has been sorely lacking from the Labor and Liberal parties of late. The moral vacuum that has been created by this lack of political courage is, however, being filled with the efforts of community members, advocates, mums and dads, teachers, doctors and academics around the country who are standing up and saying 'enough is enough'.

At the core of this issue is one of the simplest precepts of morality; that we should treat other people in the way that we would want to be treated. The push to #LetThemStay has been amazing and it's heartening to know that there are so many people calling on the major parties to treat these men, women and children with respect and dignity.

It's clear that the Australian community is growing wise to the government's spin. They're standing up and saying that stopping the boats with child abuse is not on.

I hope, for his sake and for the sake of the children on Nauru, that Malcolm Turnbull is listening.


Sarah Hanson-Young is a Senator for South Australia and the Australian Greens' immigration spokesperson.