Sometimes I wish I could personally tell the asylum seekers currently languishing in detention centres that we care about them. That we think about them. That we’re deeply ashamed of the way our government has treated them, and we want to see them safe and at peace.
Julian Burnside QC thinks we should do exactly that.
The barrister/advocate for refugees has started a letter-writing campaign asking compassionate Australians to write to people in the Nauru detention centre or on Manus Island. All you have to do is grab a pen, explain who you are, and send it to Julian – he’ll take care of passing the letter on to an asylum seeker.
It’s such a simple, beautiful idea.
I live my life every day knowing that vulnerable, terrified people have come to this country asking for help, and we’ve turned them away. Knowing that a government I did not vote for is acting on my behalf when it sends desperate people to dangerous places rather than allow them to settle here.
If you feel the same, pick up a pen. Write a letter. Diminish the loneliness of someone who deserves safety as much as you do.
If you’re scared or don’t know what to write, that’s OK. It’s hard to know what to say. Keep it simple, like me. Here’s the letter I’ll be sending to Julian Burnside. I’ll report back once I have a new pen pal. I feel really good about it, and you should too.
To the person this letter finds,
I’m Kate. I’m 26 years old and I’m a writer. I would really like it if we could be friends.
I can’t tell you how much it would mean to me, to get a letter back from you.
Please, tell me anything you think I should know. What your name is, how old you are. Where you came from, how you got here. The things you ran away from, the things you thought you were traveling to. What you’re doing every day.
As for me? There are things I want you to know.
I want you to know that there are Australians who care about you. There are Australians who wish they could share this country with you.
We wish you could be safe here, we wish you could be happy. We hate the way our government has treated you, and we’re begging them to change. It hurts us every day to know that you are stuck in a detention centre, not knowing when you’ll get out. We’re fighting for you. We’re thinking of you. We’re sending you strength and love.
Here are some instructions, straight from Julian Burnside’s website.
How to do it:
- Write a letter, but not directed to a specific person. Say who you are, so the recipient will not wonder whether you are acting for the government. Tell them something about yourself. Let them know that not all Australians are hostile to them. Be sensitive to their circumstances. Encourage them to write back to you.
- Write on light paper: the letter rate for international mail increases if letter is more than 50 grams. Avoid cards, attachments etc.
- Send the letter to me:
205 William St
- Enclose a self-addressed envelope. Make sure and put AUSTRALIA as part of your address. Note that Nauru uses Australian stamps. If you want to correspond with someone on Nauru, you will need to put $2.80 in stamps on the return envelope. I am looking for ways to get PNG stamps.
- I will post your letter (with your self-addressed envelope) to a specific asylum seeker on Manus or Nauru. I will explain the letter-writing programme and I will include some writing paper and your self-addressed envelope so they are able to reply.
- When you get a reply, just keep writing to that person. If you want, you can ask them for the names of other people you can write to.
People of various countries are held in Nauru and Manus Island, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka. If you prefer to write to someone of a particular nationality, let me know. If you have a preference for which detention centre your letter should go to, let me know.
It is simple.
A similar letter-writing campaign in the early 2000s was very valuable in helping keep up the spirits of asylum seekers.
If you decide to take part in the letter writing campaign, you might like to share the responses you get, and encourage your friends to write to asylum seekers.
We’d love to know if you send a letter, and we’d love to know how you go with your new pen pal. Keep us updated.