Befriend a Child in Detention is an organisation that started in 2014 with the aim of supporting refugee and asylum seeker children in detention, by sending them donated new books, writing material and toys. Letters from Australian school children are also placed inside the books we send, as a way of providing something more personal and connecting than a plain gift.
The Australian government, by the stroke of a bureaucratic pen, no longer describes any refugee children as being in detention, but there are still around 140 refugee children in the six regional processing camps on Nauru, even though the government website says there are only around 30.
(We did ask Minister Dutton a straight question about how to reconcile our information against his, but his answer was in one of those political obfuscation dialects too difficult for simple folk like us to decipher.)
It shows how far the government has developed and refined its policies towards asylum seekers who arrived by boat, when you consider that the first two shipments we sent to Nauru were sent with some assistance from individuals in the Immigration department and people in the company managing the offshore (at that time) detention centre, who saw what we were doing as a good thing.
Well, that's what we thought. Except that by the second shipment, the letters from Australian school children mysteriously disappeared from inside the books we sent and no one was willing to own up on the who and why.
Subsequent shipments to the children have mostly been sent via Australia Post and the letters have arrived intact with the books. Sending by post is a major expense, but since there are many generous people willing to support our work, donations have covered our costs. At least the sourcing of items, the logistics and the costs were within our control and management.
But this idyllic arrangement was never likely to last. When we contemplated our next shipment earlier this year we learned that picking up boxes from the Nauru post office will now incur a fee of $15 per box charged to the recipient. This means that the refugees from each of the camps on Nauru will incur a financial burden just to receive the gifts we send to the children.
We have just packed 17 boxes, so the recipients will have to collectively pay $255 for the items we send. Our aim to help refugees has suddenly had the effect of putting them out-of-pocket.
We did attempt to contact the Nauru Post Office to confirm this new arrangement and to try to find a way in which we could pay the full cost at both ends, but we have been unable to get a straight answer from them about what sort of charge is actually being levied, let alone try to negotiate a payment arrangement.
Naturally this invited us to explore other ways in which we could send our shipments to Nauru. With the helpful assistance of some shipping brokers we managed to find freight companies who are able to send our boxes for less than Australia Post charge. But once they arrive at the Nauru port we are unable to find a courier who delivers non-commercial items, so we would need the refugee recipients to organise transport and negotiate any customs and freight matters.
Of course the difficulties we have encountered need to be put in perspective. The harsh reality is that there are currently around 1750 asylum seekers and refugees, including 140 children, in the regional processing centres on Manus and Nauru. They are the people who arrived by boat after 19 July 2013. Some are being assessed for resettlement in America; some may eventually be resettled in New Zealand, but for many hundreds there is no clear path out of Manus and Nauru.