Today, on World Refugee Day, I received the best message – the news I’ve been waiting to hear every day now for almost a year: “My family is finally getting off Manus Island!” my young friend told me.
Overjoyed, she asked me to pass this on to you: “Thank you to all the Australians who haven’t abandoned us on the forgotten Island.”
She is the young asylum seeker who earlier this year revealed the appalling conditions in the Manus Island detention centre during an exclusive recorded interview with us. Thanks to GetUp members, her message reached millions all over the country.
In that interview she shared her grief for the very young children who felt like they were being punished for something, but couldn’t figure out what. She recounted the heartbreaking story of a young boy, only 8 years old, who would lie down next to the fence and stare off into the distance, wishing he was a dove so he could fly away. She feared for his mental health. I feared for hers.
But today, I’ve heard news that my friend was one of the sixty-five asylum seekers who were removed from the notoriously inhumane facilities on Manus Island detention centre. It’s because of you – and refugee advocates everywhere – that Manus is no longer ‘the forgotten Island’. Our movement rallied together – sending postcards, emailed MPs, and ran TV ads – sharing the stories of the children on Manus in order to ensure that these families would not remain out of sight, out of mind. We did it.
You might remember the moment in the campaign, back in March, when the children saw their drawings on this website and learned their stories were being told on TV. She contacted me on that day and through tears of happiness said the children were literally dancing with joy. They were dancing because they felt that if we could hear their stories, they wouldn’t be forgotten. We’d have to help them. They were right.
Today, on World Refugee Day, we should all take a moment to feel proud about what our movement’s actions have done to bring about the release of the most vulnerable people out of the shameful and inhumane facilities that make up the Manus Island detention centre. It’s a hard fought and long overdue victory.
This is a big step, but it’s not yet over for the kids and families we’ve fought so hard to free. There are still some families – including children – who will need to wait until June 30 before they are released from Manus. Most of those whom have been released were transferred to Christmas Island, where the facilities are so overcrowded that we’ve heard families are crammed into the dining room. Processing has been stalled so numbers continue to rise.
But for now, we should congratulate those who made it happen. Today would not have happened without the sustained and tireless campaigning from amazing people and groups in the refugee space including, but not limited to, ChilOut, Amnesty International, Sarah Hanson-Young and the Greens, retiring Liberal MP Judi Moylan and the countless other refugee advocacy groups. A big thank you!
Today is a moment on the Manus campaign we can all be proud of, but the fight for a more humane system for processing asylum seekers and refugees who flee to Australia – including no child in detention – is one that we’ll continue to fight and continue to update you on.
Leila, for the GetUp team
PS – Did you see coverage of the GetUp Manus campaign on the home pages of the Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age this past weekend? If not, make sure to check it out!
PPS – In the coming months GetUp will endeavour to keep tabs on what is happening with the children who have left Manus Island, including visiting them in their new facilities and advocating for them to receive the support they need after what they’ve endured. If you would like to chip in to help us continue the campaign click here to donate: http://www.getup.org.au/great-news-from-manus. Watch this space – we’ll be in touch soon