More than 60 Australian writers – including Nobel laureate JM Coetzee and Booker prize winners Thomas Keneally and Peter Carey – have written to the prime minister and immigration minister condemning the government’s offshore detention policies as “brutal” and “shameful”.
The Turnbull government has faced intense backlash over its offshore detention policies this week in the wake of a high court ruling paving the way for 267 asylum seekers – including 37 babies born in Australia – to be returned to the remote island of Nauru.
Following Wednesday’s high court ruling that it was constitutional for the government to send asylum seekers to the islands of Nauru and Manus in Papua New Guinea for processing, church leaders have openly defied the government, risking jail time by offering sanctuary to asylum seekers, while paediatricians have also risked prosecution by revealing conditions in detention and condemning them as “toxic” for children.
A series of protests, under the banner of Let Them Stay, have been held across the country, including sit-ins at the office of the prime minister.
Both Nauru and Manus detention centres have seen consistent reports of physical and sexual abuse of men, women and children, as well as acts of self-harm and attempted suicide, including by children as young as seven. Two asylum seekers have died in offshore processing since 2014.
The open letter was sent to the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the immigration minister, Peter Dutton. Its 61 signatories include: Coetzee, a South African-born novelist and naturalised Australian who won the Nobel prize in 2003; Booker prize winners Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally; Helen Garner, Gail Jones, Michelle de Kretser, Alexis Wright, and Frank Moorhouse.
The writers asked the minister and prime minister: “do we wish to live under a government that routinely treats other humans cruelly? Can we be sure of our own immunity to cruel treatment when such practices are, we know, obviously common, no matter how secretive immigration authorities are about the entire detention system.”
“Not only does our current system bring shame to Australia, in its demonstration of brutal government power and disregard for human dignity it brings shame on us as a nation. We express our outrage at this in the strongest possible terms.”
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