Grandmothers Against the Detention of Refugee Children
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Grandmothers Against the Detention of Refugee Children

Stories/345 , Issues/Refugees , Issues/Youth , Issues/Human Rights
Sydney NSW, Australia
6th Sep 2018
Grandmothers Against the Detention of Refugee Children
A team of gutsy grandmas are speaking up for children trapped in both onshore and offshore Australian detention centres.

A team of energised and gutsy grandmothers are challenging the status quo by protesting the ongoing systematic detention of refugee children by the Australian government.

Instead of winding down in their autumn years, the action group Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children protest around the country at venues including the Women's March and regularly outside Sydney's QVB.

It is indisputable that the Australian government has been keeping children and minors in detention centres both on mainland Australian and offshore on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and the tiny island state of Nauru.

In August, stories and photos of children born in the offshore detention centres, set up by the Kevin Rudd Labor government and used by all subsequent governments to date, were published in News Corp papers. At the same time a young 12-year-old boy was evacuated due to life-threatening medical issues.

Grandmothers Against the Detention of Refugee Children (GADRC) is the result of citizens taking action against the Australian government's strict and according to the UN, inhumane, border control policies. They are a group of more than 400 grandmothers aged from 40 to 90 who lobby, protest and speak up for the children trapped inside detention centres.

Gabby Judd is the NSW GADRC Coordinator and founder of the group. She said was driven to organise after a visiting Villawood detention centre in south-western Sydney six years ago.

"I visited all of the different compounds at Villawood but was particularly distressed at seeing children locked up. I saw children that had been born to mothers in detention," Mrs Judd said.

Around this time, Mrs Judd became a grandmother. She struggled with the realisation that despite being born in the same country, her grandson and these children born in Villawood would never share the same basic human freedoms.

"I could not reconcile the freedoms he (her grandson) enjoyed in this country, purely by birth, with the lack of freedom and opportunity of children in detention. I became even more distressed about refugee children on Manus and Nauru and their state of limbo," Mrs Judd said.

In Australia, politicians on both sides of government continue to claim that people seeking freedom and shelter from persecution are doing so illegally. According to Mrs Judd, these narratives are both false and insidious.

"Politicians and the media say asylum seekers are illegal, but this is a lie, Australia has signed the UN Convention of Refugees, this states that it is legal to seek asylum. Over 90 percent of asylum seekers to Australia are found to be refugees, but still we lock them up in Australia, Nauru and Manus," she said.

GADRC demonstrates across NSW on a weekly basis, sharing their messages and their frustrations. In Sydney you can often find them protesting outside the Queen Victoria Building on George street, underneath the large statue of the former Queen herself.

On a blustery winter's afternoon, school children walk by the crowd of rowdy grandmothers in pink beanies chanting about children in detention, just outside the QBV. These school kids appear blissfully unaware that less than 30 kilometres away children just like them are locked up in detention centres.

GADRC doesn't just use traditional methods of protest and occupation of public space to get their message across. Further challenging age-related stereotypes, Mrs Judd uses a range of social media channels to amplify the message of GADRC and recruit more members to her group.

"I send out social media and email updates with information about the current situation for refugees in our region to our members on a regular basis for our readers to learn and pass on to others," she said.

For many members, GADRC is more than just a protest group. It is a place where people can go to share like-minded ideas, socialise and get out for a day in the city.

There are monthly meetings in Pitt Street where members meet and share ideas. Every second month GADRC holds an event with a guest speaker, who talks to members about a range of refugee issues.

When passersby see the grandmothers using their right to protest in the streets of Australian capitals, Mrs Judd sometimes wonders what people think of her and her all-female group.

"I think some see 'wise' women with life experience and respect what we say. Some see a group of older women meddling in an issue we should ignore," she joked.

Somehow, when it comes to the opinions of passersbys, I doubt this gutsy grandma really cares.

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