Thursday, April 24, 2014

The letters I'd love to write - letters to asylum seekers

The recent GetUp! letter-writing campaign to let asylum seekers know that we care, and that we disagree with how they are being treated, caught my eye. Not just as a regular letter-writer, but as a human being.

I eagerly read the instructions for the campaign, and was discouraged when I realised I couldn't take part.

Letter-writing for a purpose: you're doing it wrong. It starts well:

1. You're asked to write a letter to a non-specific asylum seeker: obviously fine.
2. You're asked to say who you are and make it personal, so the recipient knows that you're not acting on behalf of the government: also fine.
3. You're asked to include a self-addressed envelope so the unknown person you write to can see exactly where you live: this is not fine. If the person you are writing to is randomly assigned, wherever they are in the world and regardless of their status, this is problematic.
4. There are no details provided as to whether your name, address, details of your letter, details of who receives your letter, whether they respond to your letter, etc, are recorded by Julian Burnside, any government agency, or the companies running camps on Manus Island or Nauru. This is problematic.

As a long-time letter-writer to both private penpals and charity letter-writing programs, I'm both sad and annoyed I can't take part in something that could be much better organised with a bit more effort.

This is why, for example, child sponsorship charities have a very careful system of letter-writing - you write to a general office, and your letter goes through this 3rd party which strips the letter of your address on the way. It's not a particularly difficult system - and if, as with charity systems, it would cost me the price of an overseas stamp then I would take up my papers and write and write and write to asylum seekers who I wish could be treated better, and tell them how it fills me with disgust that they are treated in such a revolting way in our country's name.

But with this program, to say it again - you're doing it wrong.

Letter-writing charities have been doing it right for decades - if you can do it right too, I'm happy to pay double for the stamps. Sign me up.

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