Wendy Harmer writes: You may be astonished to learn that 90 refugee children in detention in this country were denied colouring pencils and crayons as presents for Christmas. Sophie Peer from ChilOut isn’t.

She confronts the inhumanity of our immigration laws every, single day.

And, in the face of immense human suffering and injustice, she gets up, speaks up and does it all over again.

She does not rest. She will not. Not until every child refugee in this country has found freedom.

Thank you, Sophie for writing the following piece for The Hoopla.


“Children can’t have textas and crayons. They may draw on the walls.”

I am not kidding, this is the response that was given to Darwin families on Christmas Day who turned up to a Darwin detention centre with individually wrapped craft packs for kids who would spend the summer holidays locked in detention.

Children Out of Immigration Detention ChilOut, a very small not-for-profit organisation, raised enough money in December to ensure that every child in detention who was without a parent would receive a gift.

Our terrific supporters made this happen and books, craft items and MP3 players have been delivered to the nearly 200 unaccompanied children in detention.

With a late rush of support we were then able to send even more gifts to children detained with their families.

To get the presents in to each centre and ensure the gifts were things that kids could actually use, we worked with terrific volunteer groups based near each of the centres.

Craft items are a common and seemingly perfectly reasonable request from all centres. Especially given the six weeks of school break ahead, hot weather and lack of much else stimulating.

SERCO, the company managing the Darwin detention facilities (and all of Australia’s immigration detention facilities), eventually relented.

The gifts were allowed in to the children. Twelve days late, mind you, and having turned away the local kids and their parents who had taken the time out of their own Christmas Day celebrations to deliver the gifts.

A SERCO guard who, until being stood down, worked at the Darwin Airport Lodge ranted on his Facebook page about how these “non-Christian children didn’t deserve Christmas presents”. I won’t even go into the other diatribe he carried on with.

The reasons behind ChilOut’s appeal, the generosity of our supporters and the dedication of volunteers should need no explanation.

Just for the record, many of these children attend local schools, encounter Australian culture in many ways and history shows us that the vast majority will be accepted to Australia as refugees and settled in to our towns, suburbs and communities.

Spreading the joy of a festive season is not confined to a particular race or religion.

Each gift sent in is a sign to the recipient that someone in the Australian community cares, is thinking of them and that they matter.

Oh, and of course the promotion of wanton vandalism by the provision of contraband crayons!

For many years there have been appeals just like this and all throughout the year there are volunteers working tirelessly to bring some hope into an otherwise fairly bleak situation.

Our groups are constantly facing hurdles of bureaucracy and administration in getting items in to children and adults in immigration detention. It is an aim of ChilOut’s that these unnecessary blocks be removed in 2012 and that there is increased transparency and consistency for all of us who are engaged in this completely flawed system.

The guard being stood down and the children turned away on Christmas Day are clearly SERCO issues.

However, the fact remains that this government policy of locking up children needs to end.

No other nation who has signed the Refugee Convention subjects children, or even adults to indefinite detention.

The Government calls the Darwin Airport Lodge an “alternative place of detention”.

There is nothing “alternate” about this situation, the children are under guard, are not free to play sport, socialise, eat what they want when they want, go to band practice, hang at the skate park or whatever other activities you would associate with an alternative to being detained.

The crayon debacle is just one tiny element of how absurd it is to deny children their childhood.

*Wendy Harmer hosted the Sydney Festival HOPE 2012 evening broadcast on ABC’s Radio National this week. This is where she first met Sophie.

“Sophie’s unwavering support and advocacy for the most vulnerable and humble in our community reduced me to tears. How does she do it? Day after day, in the face of such indifference and inhumanity,” Wendy asks.

“She is such a good and steadfast person who seeks nothing for herself. She just knocks me sideways.”

“All power to you, Sophie.”


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 width=*Sophie Peer is the Campaign Manager for ChilOut (Children Out of Immigration Detention) and has long been a human rights campaigner and advocate for change. Sophie began her career working for the Commonwealth Government hoping that good people could create change from within. Since then Sophie has worked and volunteered for non-government organisations of all sizes both in Australia and overseas, her passion lies in ensuring that human rights are universally upheld and that rights holders are heard (and in practicing yoga and going to the beach).

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