In my class I have a new student, a-six-year-old boy who has spent the last five years in Australia’s refugee camp on Nauru.
Having grown up on an island the size of Melbourne airport and rarely left the camp ground, our school ground was one of the largest spaces he had ever navigated. Unlike the other kids who move freely around my class room, this child wouldn’t move until I invited him to.
It’s been a bittersweet experience to see him emerge from his traumatised shell. To watch other kids show him what LEGO is, to see them teach him how to do his first jigsaw puzzle. To see him eat his first cupcake -- when he first joined us he barely ate, but after a few weeks of gentle but persistent encouragement, I was able to get him to finish his lunch box.
To see him slowly emerge and start to make connections and develop a sense of belonging in our school community.
Over the years I’ve taught many refugee students. Students who had been child soldiers. A child who had seen his mother raped by militants. Students with terrifying tales of flight from wars and conflict. But as horrible as that trauma had been, it had come to an end. They were able to settle in Australia and with their families start to rebuild their lives. The children still on Nauru and the ones transferred here are still being denied that opportunity.
While benefiting greatly from attending school daily and playing with other children his own age and having the beginnings of a real home for the first time in his life, my current student is still in a cruel limbo of uncertainty.
Although Prime Minister Scott Morrison has finally conceded that kids can’t be kept on Nauru forever, his words are not being matched with actions -- far from it. The government is still attempting to challenge in the courts the validity of the medical evacuation cases that brought children like my student to Australia.
And even once here in Australia, the government isn’t showing an iota of compassion. My student’s parents are prohibited from working. They struggle to support themselves and are relying on the goodwill of our community. Each night they go to bed, not knowing whether a knock on the door will bring sudden deportation back to Nauru. It’s no way to live.
The radio shock jocks and politicians reckon we teachers should stick to our classrooms and keep out of politics, but the government’s cruel policies and inaction are affecting our classrooms and our students. It’s falling to teachers to pick up the pieces of these young lives that our government has so callously broken.
The recent headlines of a potential Christmas deadline for getting kids off Nauru -- which Morrison refused to publicly commit to --could still be a sign that the growing public pressure is having an impact on the Morrison Government. But the kids on Nauru can’t wait days, let alone months –- we need to keep the pressure on the government to evacuate them immediately.
The government has the power to evacuate all of the remaining refugees tomorrow. The sooner the children, with their mothers and fathers, are released into the community and shown care and compassionate, the sooner they will begin to heal.
I like to think that doing what is best for children is in the DNA of teachers. We know a thing or two about ‘duty of care’ and, just as is the case in the school grounds, we know the importance of speaking up when you see something wrong.
That’s why I and hundreds of my colleagues remain committed to taking a stand. On November 20, the International Day of the Child, we’ll be walking off the job in protest against the Government’s indefinite detention of refugees and people seeking asylum.
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept and I’m simply not willing to stand by while our so-called leaders play politics with the lives of innocent people. Like the doctors who have spoken out about the ongoing health crises on Nauru, I feel I have both a professional and moral obligation to do what I can to end what I believe is the government’s abuse of children immediately.
I urge all people across all professions, to do the same.
As a society we have an obligation to step up and speak out and end these policies. In decades to come, in schools like mine, the history of these years will be taught and the question we have to ask ourselves now is ‘how do we want our role in it to be recorded?’
To remain silent is to side with the politicians who are willing to leave children in harm's way for their own political gain.
READ MORE: Labor Wants NZ Resettlement For Nauru Kids
Teachers For Refugees is asking all educators to use their professional knowledge of the developmental needs of children and young people to make a ‘teacher judgement’ about what the children who have been kept on Nauru need if they are to thrive in ways they deserve.
Whatever the question our politicians are faced with, we need to ensure that the answer never involves knowingly harming children.