Dear Minister For Immigration Peter Dutton, And Whoever Else Will Listen


Stunned by America’s ‘travel bans’, and outraged by Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, Olivia Congdon has penned an open letter to Peter Dutton.

RE: Ending the suffering we cause asylum seekers

Yesterday, a customer at work sent me an email that sparked me to try to be heard amongst the rabble of voices that exist. This email was from an American woman who wished to express her concern about American-Australian relations—and apologised on her new President’s behalf for his “rude actions toward your Prime Minister”.

She didn’t know many Australians, the lady explained, but wanted to share her love for our countries’ friendship and history as allies. I felt this was a sweet gesture, and find comfort in knowing that not all Americans agree with the outrageous actions and policies of the Trump administration.

But, I personally, and the general Australian population, don’t deserve this apology. She should — we should — be apologising to the refugees across the globe, people who have no power even to elect those who decide their fate. They’re at the whim of these major powers; their lives depend on the decisions of some old men bickering through the phone-lines.

If we were writing to anyone, we should be writing to the refugees. This, then of course, reminds me that a mere sympathy letter will do no good.

Which leads me here, writing to you. To telling you that, I believe with all my heart (and with all my rational mind) that we, as Australians, have a responsibility to take on as many refugees (of any creed) as we can; to provide asylum seekers decent care while in detention — as any human being deserves — and reduce the indefinitely long and horrible detention process.

Asylum seekers on Nauru protest their indefinite incarceration.
Asylum seekers on Nauru protest their indefinite incarceration.

Australia, ‘the lucky country’, should not be locking children in detention centres that are in worse conditions than our prisons, should not be driving those unlucky enough to live in war-torn nations to starve themselves or set themselves on fire in an attempt to garner paid attention, should not be ignoring the physical and sexual abuse suffered Manus Island and in Nauru and inadequate medical attention on these offshore detention centres. We are better than that.

The responses from your colleagues, Mr Dutton, our government’s officials, explicitly revealed a racist and dehumanising attitude towards immigration. Now I understand that this response was rooted in an attempt to be diplomatic to the US, but you can refrain from ruffling feathers without going as far as Scott Morrison did when he implied that Trump’s travel ban was “catching up” to Australia’s immigration policy.

I’m devastated that Australia could be considered the pinnacle policy of tight-border protection to look up to. Besides, it seems to forget that the Australian government blatantly ignores the advice of international human rights organisations, academics and international convention.

While I’ve been sitting at home becoming enraged by America’s outrageous disregard for certain sectors of society, our own issues on the home front always come back to me. Australia sticks by similarly racist and cruel policies — just with more concealment and a higher sense of normality. We’re not quite Trump-alternative-fact-outlandish, but there’s still reason for concern, and we’ve been causing this suffering for too many years.

Now, I know that me telling you my thoughts is pretty insignificant — but if you listen to all of us telling you the same messages, you’ll already know that I’m not the only one who feels that Australia needs to take a much more humane approach to immigration; one that is entrenched in what is right and in addressing real risk factors, rather than one based on fear-mongering and discrimination.

I hope that our democratic system can hold up, and that all voices can, not only be heard, but allow what is right to prevail. Please help end the suffering.

With hope, regards,
A girl who feels helpless

Olivia Congdon works in publishing sales and promotion in Canberra. She has written for The Riot ACT, ACTWrite, Southern Riverina News, Conservation Careers, Togatus and Global Hobo. Olivia studied Journalim, Media & Communications and Zoology at University of Tasmania. Find her on Twitter: @liv2411