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Do Children Know that Seeking Asylum in Australia is Legal?

By Yvette Vignando - 1st March 2013

image: signing of the 1951 convention on the status of refugees

This is a story about reading aloud to our 11 year old. I guess it's also a story reflecting my family's history; I'm acutely aware from my Nana's stories, of the terror of escaping from a country in which you are persecuted. And it's a story about helping children digest media.

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Last week, I was reading this beautifully illustrated book to our Mr 11 - reading out aloud, I said "If we are frightened of being badly treated in our own country, we all have the right to run away to another country to be safe. What do you think that means?" I'm quite vocal at home about my views on how we treat asylum seekers in Australia so I expected a fully informed answer - perhaps that speaks volumes on how much more I need to learn about this parenting gig!

Mr 11 was easily able to explain why being able to seek asylum is an important human right, but then he shocked me: "But not in Australia Mum, it's illegal to be a refugee in Australia. People aren't allowed to come here even if they are refugees." I was quite devastated to hear how Mr 11's exposure to media reporting of Australia's refugee policies had skewed the truth about our international obligations. I have been especially dismayed by our continued detention of aslyum seeker children.

I re-explained that seeking asylum is not illegal, and I explained the difference between seeking asylum and being found to be a genuine refugee. Mr 11 is a bright kid - he understood all that, but said "But Mum when they come here, I have seen soldiers get on the boats with guns and then they send them to prison, and some of them are in prison in horrible places..." Get the picture? I think, sadly, we all do.

There are two answers to this: one lies in the very important work that Australia's first National Children's Commissioner will surely do to ensure that human rights education is expanded in Australian schools - the other depends on all politicians focusing on Australia's international human rights obligations instead of on the polls. But this post is not about politics - it's to encourage you as a parent, to play your part in teaching your children about human rights, and about the special human rights of children.

Which country do you live in? Chances are that your country has signed an international law called The Refugee Convention. Australia signed up to The Refugee Convention in 1954 - in brief, this means that once an aslyum seeker comes to our country we agree not to send them back to a place in which they will be persecuted.

I'd like to challenge you to find out what your children understand about refugee laws and your country's obligations. You might be very surprised. 

You can buy the book We Are All Born Free and the profits from sale go to Amnesty International - you can also look on the Australian Human Rights Commission website and on the UNICEF Australia website for resources to use when talking about human rights with your children.

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