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Thirteen-year-old Imogen Senior takes it up to the PM: “It is your government that is doing this to human beings”

Thirteen-year-old Imogen Senior was in the car with her dad – known to Croakey readers as Dr Tim Senior, a GP and Wonky Health columnist – when they heard Julian Burnside talking on the radio about children so desperate that they had attempted suicide while in asylum detention.

Yesterday, Imogen’s father discovered that she had written to the Prime Minister, and he published her letter on his blog.

It is re-published here with the permission of the author and her father.

 *****

To the Hon Tony Abbott MP,

On the 31st of March, 2015, I was listening to Radio National on my way down to school with my dad. It was a Tuesday, and a normal day. On the radio, a lawyer called Julian Burnside was talking, and he caught my attention.

He was talking about the effects of offshore detention on children, my age and younger. Right now, 133 children are being held in immigration detention facilities within Australia, and 107 are held in detention on Nauru.

He was telling a story of a young girl and her family. This girl was 11 years old. To put this into perspective, she is 2 years younger than me.

She had come over from Iran to seek asylum in Australia, and had then been sent to one of our detention centres, with the rest of her family, for 18 months. She was horribly mistreated here, abused by guards and under-nourished. They came to live in Australia, because she was in such a bad way that she needed psychiatric help.

Here, the 11 year old child hung herself with a bedsheet. They took her to hospital. At hospital, no one was allowed to visit her because ‘visiting hours on Nauru were from 9am-5pm’.

If an 11 year old child is trying to KILL herself, because of what us Australians are doing, what does that mean?

Because of Australians, because we lock people away who just need safety and help, because of our law, children are trying to kill themselves.

There is another girl right now, 5 years old, who is in Darwin. She has been told that she has to go back to Nauru, back to the place where she was treated how no child should be treated. Back to her nightmare. This child is also suicidal. This 5 YEAR OLD CHILD is trying to kill herself. And why? Because of what our law has done to her.

Julian Burnside went on to remind us that seeking asylum is not illegal. Nor are these people criminals. You and your government claim that by keeping the ‘criminals’ in offshore detention that you are protecting Australia.

Do you think that a 5 year old child, who wants to kill herself, is likely to be more of a danger to Australia or to herself? Do you think that sending her back to Nauru, to ‘protect Australia’, is worth her life?

I can’t get my head around the fact that while I live my life, while I get driven to school by my dad, while I enjoy normal Tuesdays, children younger than me are killing themselves.

And there’s nothing I can do. But you can.

You have the power to save people’s lives. You can do more than I can.

It is your government that is doing this to human beings. It is your law that makes children kill themselves. It is our narrowed and stubborn minds that mean innocent people die. It is Australia that needs to save lives.

Get your act together Australia.

I look forward to hearing your response.

Yours sincerely,
Imogen Senior, (Age 13)

 

Comments 15

  1. chris jones says:

    Unfortunately, I can just see the glazed look in Tony Abbots eyes when the name ‘Julian Burnside’ is mentioned.

  2. Reechard says:

    Kudos Imogen.

  3. Philip O'Neill says:

    Dr Tim Senior – you should be proud of Imogen. You’ve raised an amazing, compassionate, smart and articulate young lady.

    Imogen – you’re gonna go far, kiddo. I’ll be an old man, but if you ever go into politics, you’ll have my vote!

  4. jmendelssohn says:

    Good on you, girl! Make sure your friends know what is happening too.

    The policies Mr Abbott and his cronies (from both sides of politics) have put in place shame our country. Sadly it is your generation who may have to live with the long term consequences.

  5. paddy says:

    Thank you Imogen.

  6. lulu2503 says:

    Well done, Imogen. And congratulations to her parents, who’ve raised her to be a good person, a citizen with good sense of justice and humanity.

  7. klewso says:

    More maturity than Abbott.

  8. David Hand says:

    Hey Imogen,
    That’s a very well written letter.

    I’d like you to consider the privileged life we have in Australia and just how few 13 year old girls in the world enjoy what you have. It is a very big problem that many people in the world are trying to solve.

    The girls Julian Burnside told you about on the radio are merely two of millions and millions who do not have your fortunate life. Tony Abbott and the government are having to manage the problem on a huge scale.

    There are no easy answers. Get your dad to take you to have a look at how children live in Asia and Africa and you’ll see just how much they want to come and live in Australia and enjoy the sort of life you have.

    You may not see much of a link between the plight of these two girls in detention and the global problem I’ve described but I just ask you to think about what it might be.

  9. Dogs breakfast says:

    Bravo Imogen.

    And well done David Hand, could you be more patronising?

  10. VictorGee says:

    Hi Imogen,
    Congratulations on your letter to Tony Abbott, however I very much doubt that on its own, it will shame him into doing something meaningful to solve the plight of these unfortunate children.

    But if you were to start a petition with say Avaaz.org which has 80 million members around the world, many of whom live in Australia, you might well succeed in creating such an avalanche of support for your very insightful plea, that Tony Abbott will simply be unable to ignore it.

    All you need do to start your own petition is to contact Avaaz and have them circulate your fantastic letter to it’s members and then watch and see what happens.

    I’m age 75 so I probably won’t be around to watch and see the great things that you will do in future years. You may even decide to follow in the wonderful Julian Burnside’s footsteps.

    Best of luck Imogen

    Contact: http://avaaz.org/en/petition/start a petition

  11. The Pav says:

    Hi David Hand at #8

    Yup there are millions of kids suffering around the world and Tony Abbott can’t help them all and it is a hard problem but please explain to me and Imogen how perpetuating cruelty where we have total control is in anyway sane, humane, reasonable or helping all those other poor kids where we have no control.

    Just asking you know

  12. David Hand says:

    Hey doggie,
    Read all the posts again mate. I think mine is far less patronising than most of the others. Akl those pats on the head are quite patronising don’t you think?

  13. David Hand says:

    Pav,
    The problem is that we don’t have total control. We don’t control who gets on a boat to try to come to Australia. The children’s parents have not succeeded in persuading Immigration that they are genuine refugees. The risk is that when Tony Abbott helps the children Imogen has written about, their parents, will be released into residency in Australia as well and those families will quickly be replaced by others. It is only the border protection measures implemented by the government that is stopping this.

    The humanitarian disaster unfolding in the Mediterranean is what happens when you lose control of your borders.

  14. Tim Senior says:

    Thanks for all your comments.
    I like the Avaaz idea, VictorGee and will let Imogen know.
    David Hand – I’m not quite clear of your point. You seem to be saying that because Imogen has a privileged life that it’s OK that children in the care of the Australian government self harm. I don’t see the logic.
    For what it’s worth, Imogen, and the rest of our family, are aware of our privileged position in Australia. Rather than justifying cruelty, we think that mean we should try to use that position of privilege to advocate for those less privileged.
    Asylum policy is complex, and this isn’t an argument for open borders. Whatever policy we advocate, people shouldn’t be treated cruelly under our care, especially children, whether that’s dying at sea or being at risk of abuse in permanent detention. I’d suggest this is true whatever their refugee status – because that’s what human rights means – but 74% of boat arrivals have been determined to be genuine refugees as at March 31st according to the government’s figures. (That’s under fast track processing without appeals allowed.)

  15. David Hand says:

    Hey Tim,
    I’m not surprised you fail to see my point. It has been a continual failing of refugee advocates for years, to acknowledge the enormous push from developing countries for visa free entry into the first world. Border control, which you support, means that a struggle is inevitable by people trying to get in versus the authorities trying to control the border.

    The parents of the children Imogen wrote to Tony Abbott about, have failed to gain entry into Australia and your and Imogen’s advocacy for the children is in policy terms, advocacy for their parents. Their case is certainly problematic or else they would not have spent nearly two years at least in detention.

    The heart of this problem, as we are seeing on the Mediterranean Sea today, is that there is an enormous demand for uncontrolled visa free entry into first world countries and the refugee convention is used for this purpose. The refugee lobby automatically says such migrants are genuine refugees as a matter of faith – faith not shared by governments of either side of politics or the governments of the EC which I see are mobilising to stop boats leaving Libya.

    It’s a good thing that the government has stopped the boats because if not, there would be an eternal stream of migrants using their children to put pressure on our government to give them a visa free entry into Australia. It is that eternal stream that I was commenting about.

    The government’s strategy is clear. They have stopped new migrant arrivals and are now dealing with the shrinking number of asylum seekers under their care.

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