Chalk in freedom
By UTE SCHULENBERG
WHEN eight-year-old Lily Batley was let loose with the chalk on the pavement in Bellingen on Saturday in celebration of World Refugee Day, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.
With the theme of 'courage', she chalked up an image of a young girl 'standing up' to John Howard.
"She is not happy because he is putting her in a refugee camp," Lily said. "She is from Iraq and she is brave to not run away from him."
Lily was one of about 20 children of all ages who spent some hours creating their pavement art in support of today's World Refugee Day.
The event, organised by Bellingen Rural Australians for Refugees and the Bellingen Community Arts Council, aimed to raise awareness of refugee and asylum seekers.
Mother of four Ann Nickle said she brought her children along to have a voice in their small way.
"They ask questions about what they see on the news, like 'why is that child banging its head?', the issue of refugees is coming into their reality," Ms Nickle said.
"I try to answer but it is often hard to explain about these people coming from somewhere else, escaping horrific events and tragedy."
When it came to talking about refugees worldwide she felt speechless. "It is not possible to comprehend the vastness of the problem," she said.
Controversial Big Brother political evictee Merlin Luck was special guest at the event.
Since appearing on national television last year with his mouth taped and displaying a sign which said 'Free the Refugees', the 25-year-old has continued supporting the refugee cause.
He said Saturday's creative event was a powerful way for kids to connect to the issue of refugees.
"Kids are more about feelings ... this lets them connect to those emotions through their creative expression," Mr Luck said.
Commenting on the announcement by John Howard on Friday that the Federal Government would be dramatically liberalising the immigration detention system, Mr Luck said it was a huge step in the right direction.
"So many people have been working so hard for change. This is a positive step which will hopefully lead to significant change."
Bellingen GP and refugee advocate Dr Jane Deegan was also pleased to hear of the recent developments.
"The changes are most welcome and long overdue but we will wait and see what transpires," Dr Deegan said.
She said she felt ongoing concern about children in detention and long-term detainees. "Even if these people are let out tomorrow, they have permanent psychological damage, to Australia's eternal shame."
She said it was ironic that doctors are legally obliged to report child abuse and yet these children were suffering institutionalised abuse, condoned by the government.
"All professionals should be reporting this."