Kafka comes to Nauru



It seems that no good deed goes unpunished, as this modern Kafkaesque tale will illustrate.

Chris Johnston cartoon has Peter Dutton in military garb blocking books from being thrown to asylum seeker childrenBefriend 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.


"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."


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.



Harold ZwierHarold Zwier is part of the leadership team of Befriend a Child in Detention.

Topic tags: Harold Zwier, refugees, asylum seekers



submit a comment

Existing comments

Harold the plight of the children and refugees is not Dutton's concern. Dutton is in politics for Dutton and the inhumane notion of turning back the boats and stopping Indonesian people smugglers is a great way for him to stroke, inter alia, his ego. Department of Immigration say 64,000 visa entries, with China at the top of the list, have overstayed their Visas and melted into the Australian populace, so the Manus and Nauru problem represents 3 percent. Its not about stopping the boats but how you get here that matters.
Frank Armstrong | 01 June 2018

I agree with the following reported tweet by TV Reporter Paul Bonjiorno: "We are a sad country when we think indefinitely detaining refugees and their families is a vote winner. Sick, disgusting and immoral." The cruel, largely bi-partisan refugee policy has resulted in our major party politicians losing their personal reputations, our country losing its international reputation and many desperate people losing their lives or their psychological well being. Seven asylum seekers have died on Manus Island alone and the psychological damage to those detained on off-shore 'hell-holes' for years will be very long-lasting. I appeal to all our major party politicians to get together and devise a humane bipartisan refugee policy. Taxpayers pay you a very good salary and surely expect you to act with integrity and humanity. Suicide bombers act on the principle that the end justifies the means. You should not stoop so terribly low by adopting this same principle! There is no excuse whatsoever for such abject cruelty as keeping asylum seekers detained indefinitely! The boats can easily be stopped if they start up again, so using the issue of the boats starting up again is just a red herring. Politicians, quickly bring the remaining asylum seekers here to Australia to settle. Start having some humanity on this issue! I am disgusted at your current cruel refugee policies!
Grant Allen | 01 June 2018

How callous and outright cruel this is. Even these harmless acts of kindness and warmth are not allowed to reach the children trapped on Nauru. It's heartening to know that good people like you keep trying, Harold.
Paulette Smythe | 01 June 2018

In 2001 I spent 10 hours in the office of former senator Meg Lees packing toys for kids in Woomera, thousands and thousands of them. People came in a steady stream during the day with huge gifts, and all day I was there working voluntarily for the Democrats and Amnesty. A couple of young girls came in with $1,000 of new toys, another woman gave $300, the public were appalled that hundreds of kids would be in Woomera for the day. At 9 o'clock that night I sat on the steps in Meg Lees office for AD member Sandra Kanck when the department rang and said the toys could not be delivered because a couple of men played up, we wept. I have photos of the day they handed out small parcels to each of the kids, they were under guard and the ACM staff stole the best of the toys. This Kafka/Machiavelli game has not changed since. I now have another way around it all, I make free clothes for the kids and trusted groups like ASRC and Freddie Steen with mums for refugees hand them out. I gave some to an ALP front group 3 yrs ago when I started but they sold them, they don't get them anymore.
Marilyn | 02 June 2018

I have personally spoken to Bill Shorten and he has promised that he will have all refugees settled as soon as possible out of the detention centres should he become Prime Minister. I know him to be a man of his word.
Judi Griffith | 02 June 2018

I agree wholeheartedly with Grant Allen and Paul Bongiorno. I, too, am disgusted by the miserable, self-serving attitudes of our political leaders.
Jim Slingsby | 02 June 2018

One small step at a time we are walking a path to Fascism
Kathryn Alexander | 02 June 2018

Harold, Your experience of the charging of refugees by Nauru post began three years back when the first Somali women were released from the camp to live in shancks in the Community.One woman who had children in a refugee camp back in Africa was desperately looking for away to make money to send to her mother caring for her 4 children. She saw that there were no clothes or fabric available on Nauru for the refugees to buy so she sent home to Africa for a few boxes clothes, trinkets and stuff. She then sold these on the island and sent money back. The system was that Nauru refugee postboxes were sent to Australia first checked by Customs here then forwarded to Nauru. Other women saw this opportunity and followed. One box had 15 bottles of perfume- the penny dropped with customs and nauru post and they started charging all refugees for parcels. C,est la vie. Every attempt by people on Nauru to make a living was stymied by Australia and locals.
pamela | 03 June 2018

Thank you Harold Zwier. Unfortunately, it seems the majority of voters in Australia support the government's detention-without-end policy. People like you, and us, just need to keep talking and writing and contacting politicians until we turn the tide. So far it has been a slow, slow process . . .
Janet | 04 June 2018

Another shameful chapter in the history of Australia's maltreatment of refugees. Goodness, the Red Cross used to deliver needed material and letters to POWs during war: is it worth contacting them? But maybe Dutton's minions would not be bothered about stonewalling the Red Cross too.
Llewellyn Davies | 04 June 2018

I want to say "thank you" to you Harold, and Marilyn, and to so many others who recognise what is going on here and respond practically. It's your dogged humanity which keeps lifting the lid on this continual victimisation. The current withdrawal of support for asylum seekers within Australia is part of the vindictive effort to divide, exclude and punish. I don't say it's "unAustralian" because the dominant culture has been doing this since arrival. A fearful population is easily manipulated into perpetuating the scapegoating process.
Susan Connelly | 04 June 2018

Tragically Kafka has been on Nauru, and Manus Island, at least since July 2013, if not before!
Ian Fraser | 04 June 2018

Janet most Australians are disgusted with the treatment of refugees, but do not know what to do to bring about a change of behaviours of politicians.
Gabrielle Jarvis | 04 June 2018

No one with a conscience or a beating heart could possibly justify this malicious, appalling behavior. We have Kafka, Orwell and McCarthy's "The Road" all rolled into one disgraceful chapter in this country's history. This will take years to wipe clean, if ever.
Mike Yewdall | 04 June 2018

I think from an international viewpoint, preventing citizens from voluntarily offering donations to refugees should be considered a crime. Do we need to punish the people who have hearts as well as the already detained?? Dutton has proved he has no heart.
Julia Bates | 05 June 2018

Just how low can Australia sink in the punishment of refuges for political gain? Having stopped the boats there is no need to fear a huge influx of asylum seekers. When will there be a wave of revulsion in the general population to force a reversal of our gross inhumanity?
Margaret Hetherton | 07 June 2018

I live and work amongst a section of the population sadly unsympathetic to these tragic victim's plight,so I know that those protesting men, the 140 or so not found to be refugees yet refusing to leave, the Sikhs for example, have done a world of damage to the plight of them all. They are now all seen as opportunists and their Greens supporters as dupes. Sad but true, I hear it daily. The majority of the populace are NOT sympathetic at all.
chun | 08 June 2018

Generosity should be shown towards the detainees as human beings but by the taxpayer as coordinated government foreign and domestic policy, not by private individuals practising freelance foreign policy against that of their government. The fact that western-style democracies allow their citizens to play little jimmy carters says much about the virtue of western democracy but less about the assumptions of virtue of the little carters.
Roy Chen Yee | 09 June 2018

Could this story be sent to a wider audience such as the national newspapers and ABC or SBS?
Jude Lee | 11 June 2018


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up