By LEILA DRUERY
Last week I visited Villawood Residential Housing – a detention facility for families in immigration detention. Officially I was there on behalf of ChilOut, but unofficially I was there as a friend of Ranjiny, a pregnant mother of two who will give birth on January 6.
Ranjiny and her two children had been assessed as refugees, spending a year living in the Australian community, but were then re-detained on the basis of a secret negative ASIO assessment, which they could not defend themselves against.
Ranjiny came out from her house to meet me on a park bench. As she walked towards me I could see the pain and discomfort etched on her face – moment’s later tears were running down her face. “There are so many problems, I don’t know what to do, no-one is listening to me.” I told her I would listen.
As we talked, her children circled around her, obviously affected by her tears. “I have to be strong for them, I don’t like to cry because I know they get sad too … They also get sick when I’m sick … Sometimes they don’t go to school as they are too worried.” And they have much to be worried about.
Ranjiny is suffering from extreme back pain and has had trouble sleeping for weeks. She also has dangerously low iron levels, but she’s unable to swallow the medication provided and it makes her sick. When she asked for smaller capsules she was told, “Everyone has those tablets so you will too.”
Ranjiny described going to the doctors as a daunting experience, “I feel like people have told my doctor I am a terrorist because that is how I am treated… this is how I’m made to feel.”
Doctors requested in writing that detention guards not wave the metal detector over her belly, as it might be harmful to the baby, which was promptly ignored. Ranjiny tells them “There is nothing in there but my baby. Please stop harming him.”
Ranjiny doesn’t know what will happen when she goes into labour or what will become of her two young boys. She has been told that “someone” will care for her children while she is in hospital. But who that someone is will be decided on the day.
She is terrified about this, “When I gave birth to my last son he was very big and it took me a long time to recover, I couldn’t walk or lift my eldest son. I am older this time so I am worried things will be worse, my children already miss out on going on excursions because I am too sick to take them. This is not fair, I feel bad for them.”
As is customary in her culture, Ranjini will remain at home for three weeks with her newborn baby. Her husband is denied access to her house, so she’ll have no help or support.
I remember her saying, “I wish they could spend time with my husband, he is a good man, and has become the only father they can remember… they need a parent to give them attention and care for them while I’ll feed and recover with the new baby.”
Next week Ranjiny will have given birth to a beautiful boy, while still being held in detention.
But she will not be able to take any photos of her newborn. When his father first holds him or when he opens his eyes to gaze at his mother for the first time, these moments will be lost. Ranjiny is denied access to a camera and no one is allowed to provide one.
Ranjiny is one of the strongest women I’ve ever met and her children are blessed to have her as a mother. I tell her that we care about her and want her in the community where she has many friends. One day I hope our children will play.
I did not cry in front of Ranjiny and the kids. I wanted to give strength and hope and not add to their sadness. I will cry tears of joy the day Ranjiny and her three children meet me outside detention. They are not a threat to Australia, but our policies and the negative ASIO assessment are a real threat to the health of this beautiful family and the future of three young lives. It’s time for the injustice to stop. It’s time for Australians to tell our leaders that all children deserve to be Born Free.
If you’d like to call for the immediate release of Ranjini and her children, and want to express your compassion and support for this beautiful family, you’re invited to join with ChilOut, Welcome to Australia and Letters For Ranjini at 11am on January 6 in Sydney and in Melbourne. Pregnant women, new mums and other supporters will meet in disused gaols and community centres in a show of solidarity and as a declaration that all children in Australia should be Born Free. Please visit the Facebook event page here for more details or email Leila Druery ([email protected]) to register.