A Letter To Young Australians About The Refugee Crisis

Osman Faruqi is a Sydney-based writer, political campaigner and hip-hop nerd.

Approx 5 minute reading time

Dear fellow 90s kids/Gen Ys/Millenials,

We have a lot in common. We grew up with the golden era of ABC Kids, we got to watch the rise and fall of the Spice Girls, S Club 7 and the Backstreet Boys, and we enjoyed Harry Potter before it was a mega-commercial franchise.

But there’s something else we have in common that’s much more depressing than our (excellent) taste in pop culture. As we were growing up and moving from primary school to high school, maybe to university and eventually getting a job and paying ridiculous rents, our government was slowly and deliberately establishing the most brutal regime of immigration detention, targeting people seeking asylum, in the developed world.

So what actually happened?

While we were watching Round the Twist in the early 1990s, former Prime Minister Paul Keating was introducing mandatory, indefinite detention for all refugees who arrived by boat.

In 2001 when we were (sort of) celebrating Powderfinger winning 5 ARIA awards, Prime Minister John Howard established the “Pacific Solution” – relocating people seeking asylum to detention camps on remote islands in the Pacific Ocean.

While we were crying about the demise of Cheez TV in 2004, the High Court ruled that indefinite detention of people seeking asylum was legal under Australian law – even though it was inconsistent with international law.

When we became adults things didn’t get better. In 2013 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that no asylum seeker who arrived by boat would ever be settled in Australia.

And just yesterday the High Court confirmed that our militarised “border protection” regime that sees the Navy regularly turn back asylum seeker boats, children and babies locked up behind razor wire on remote Pacific Islands indefinitely, sexual assaults occurring across detention centres and eight deaths in detention in the past two years is completely legal – thanks to special retrospective laws passed by both major political parties. As a result, a five-year-old boy who was allegedly raped on Nauru will be sent straight back to his alleged rapist.

What does it have to do with us?

It’s easy to pass this issue off as a problem that our parents and grandparents should deal with. After all, we didn’t make these policies, we were just kids! But I think it affects us directly in a number of ways.

It affects us because we are the first generation that has never known another way. For our entire lives, Australia has bucked the international trend, broken international law and created new ways to humiliate and punish desperate people seeking a better life.

It affects us because those kids in detention, who doctors have described as “the most traumatised children they have seen”, those young adults being sexually assaulted on Nauru, those refugees who will never be settled in Australia, those queer refugees forced to live in a country where homosexuality is still a crime, could have been us, if we just happened to have been born in a less fortunate country.

It affects us because it’s happening right now, in our names. Australia isn’t a dictatorship. The government isn’t forcing us at gunpoint to support these laws, in fact the vast majority of young Australians are willingly voting for parties that support these policies. We’re also paying, with our hard-earned money, for the system of offshore detention that costs taxpayers $1.3 billion a year. That’s money that could be spent on schools, TAFE, hospitals or other essential services. It’s happening in our name, with our support and with our money.

But most importantly it affects us because we are in the best position to do something about it, if we want too. Older generations are quick to write off young people as lazy and apathetic. We know that’s bullshit. We study hard, we work hard, and it’s much more difficult for us to get a job or a house than it was fifty years ago.

We care about issues – we have and will continue to fight for same-sex marriage, we pushed climate change to the top of the political agenda because it impacts us the most. Throughout history it has always been young people who have helped build and drive campaigns for equality and social justice, be it against the Vietnam War or for civil rights.

What we can do

Now it’s our turn to do the same thing on the issue of refugees. We’ve seen the worst of it. We’ve got the reports and the inquiries that show that our system of punishing refugees is hurting kids, abusing women and killing people. It won’t be easy, but it’s too important a fight to ignore.

We can start this year. 2016 is an election year – that means politicians from all political parties will be desperate for our votes.

Enrol to vote, and make sure your friends are enrolled.

Write to the candidates in your electorate and tell them there is another way.

Tell them you won’t vote for them until they promise to end indefinite, offshore detention and commit to a compassionate approach that complies with international law.

Research their positions and vote for the ones with the best policies for refugees.

But don’t stop there. Talk to your friends, educate them about the issues.  The Human Rights Commission has heaps of resources on exactly what’s wrong with the current system and what needs to be fixed.

Attend refugee rallies. If there aren’t any in your neighbourhood or town, organise them yourselves. This guide tells you everything you need to know before you get started.

We’ve got the skills and tools that no other generation has had before in terms of mobilising and organising campaigns. Campaigns and elections can be won or lost on Facebook, Instagram and even Snapchat.

Young people have changed the world before and it’s time we did it again. We have to make sure that when our kids are growing up, it isn’t against the same backdrop of harsh policies we experienced.

Let’s work together to make sure we’re the last generation where this happened in our name.