Speech by DASSAN advocacy coordinator Natasha Blucher

Circle of Silence, Darwin, Sunday 28 August 2016

Thank you for coming today. Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge that the land on which we gather today belongs to the Larrakia people as the Traditional Owners of the Darwin region. We pay our respects to the Larrakia elders both past and present.

My name is Natasha Blucher, and I’m the advocacy coordinator for DASSAN. I have also worked as a Senior Caseworker on Nauru, providing support to people seeking asylum in the regional processing centre for families on Nauru. Two of my former colleagues are standing here with me. Tara Pollock was a child protection caseworker in the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, and Karli Brokenshire was a child and youth development worker. They both have a petition that some of the children on Nauru have asked us to get signatures for – please find them afterwards to sign.

We are gathered here today because over the past two weeks, utter horror has unfolded in front of our eyes. For any of you who have looked through the more than 2000 incident reports on the Guardian website, you are well aware that there is now overwhelming evidence of the abuse of men, women and children in offshore processing centres.

These reports were horrifying in their banality and their merciless documentation of immense human suffering. And those of us who wrote those reports are well aware that what you have seen is not the half of it.

Behind every objective description of complete loss of hope, the desire to die, or the sexual and physical abuses inflicted on people – there is a person. There is a person who came to Australia fleeing persecution, with great hope of worshipping freely, opening a hairdressing salon, or just safely walking their child to school. And systematically, every single one of those people have been broken by what our government, sanctioned by us, is doing to them.

Their mental health has deteriorated to the point that they are already almost beyond rehabilitation. They are setting themselves on fire, or they are thinking about it. There are children who think that if they kill themselves, they will achieve peace, or safety in Australia for their family.

Every moment that we wait is a moment when one more person might die, or one more person might cease to cope and lapse into psychosis. This is not an exaggeration. The situation is dire, and has reached crisis level. They must be brought to safety immediately. I know this, because in my role with DASSAN I speak with them on the phone regularly, and it is excruciating. Have you ever had someone cry and repeatedly beg you to do something that you have no power to do?

For those of us who have seen this suffering with our own eyes, it is burned into our retinas. We wake up crying and sweating in the night. Sometimes we simply burst into tears for no reason. The faces and voices of people we have left behind to suffer are in our minds every waking moment. We cannot, and we will not, forget them. And we beg you not to rest until they are safe.

Please – stand together with us until we Close the Camps, and our government agrees to Bring Them Here.