In a breach of international law, the Australian Border Force is attempting to force refugees on Nauru to separate from their families forever in order to apply for resettlement in the United States. In a series of phone conversations and emails obtained by the Guardian, the Australian Border Force has been encouraging refugees like 31-year-old Arash Shirmohamadi (who fled Iran in 2013) to cut ties with their families because single people are looked upon more favourably by US officials.
In Shirmohamadi’s case, his wife and child—a toddler born in Australia, who he has never met—are held in a Brisbane detention centre while he remains on Nauru. The ABF has informed Shirmohamadi that relinquishing rights to his daughter will increase his chances of resettlement. He has also been given the option of bringing both wife and child to Nauru, but this option makes less sense due to his wife’s chronic health issues.
“I was not allowed to be with my wife for our child’s birth and now they are saying to me, ‘You must abandon your family’,” Shirmohamadi told the Guardian from Nauru. “And they do it just to be cruel, just to cause pain to me and my family. To be heartless.
“My wife cannot come back because of a lack of medical support. And my innocent baby, there is no future for her in this hell.”
Oddly enough, the ABF denies coercion of this sort is happening. In evidence given to the Senate in October, department secretary Mike Pezzulo told the Greens that “I don’t believe that’s occurred at all … I can’t imagine that that’s occurred at all,” referring to the ABF asking families to separate to improve their immigration chances.
As the Guardian report points out, family unity is one of the fundamental principles of both international and local laws. Australia is party to the UN convention on the rights of the child, which recognises “the inherent dignity” and “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” as the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
The UN international covenant on civil and political rights also affirms the family unit as entitled to protection by “society and the state”.
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