What happened to the thousands of letters sent to detainees in Nauru?

Thousands of Australians tried to show support. Not a single letter was received.

In May last year, Melbourne barrister Julian Burnside organised a campaign for letters of goodwill and support to be sent to immigration detainees in Nauru.

The purpose of the letters was to remind asylum seekers in detention that they were not alone, and that not every Australian is hostile towards refugees. Each letter contained a self-addressed stamped envelope, giving the detainees the option to reply to the sender if they wished.

Mamamia got behind the campaign, encouraging our readers to participate in the excellent cause.

But according to The Guardian, today brings the awful news that of the thousands of letters sent, not a single one reached its intended recipient.

And that news is simply devastating.

Of the thousands of letters of support sent to asylum seekers, not one reached its intended recipient.

Burnside became aware only weeks after the letters had been sent that no replies were being received from Nauru. When he attempted to follow up with then Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s lead service delivery officer at the Nauru offshore processing centre, Nikki Keirven, he was assured that the letters were ‘arriving and being distributed to transferees.”

Asylum seekers are offering to donate their organs to Australians, for a truly tragic reason.

Yet, when replies still failed to come – unusual, given that past asylum seekers had always responded eagerly to messages of support – Burnside continued to press for information.

On 11 August, he wrote to Keirven:

“I am disappointed not to have received a reply. You probably do not need to be reminded that it is a serious offence to interfere with mail. People held on Nauru have written letters in response to letters from members of the Australian public. Those replies are not being sent out. You are aware of the blockage. I have offered to put them in the Australian postal system if the reply letters are returned to me in bulk: they all have Australian postage stamps on them.”

But there was no response.

Two more asylum seekers have attempted suicide on Manus Island

On 22 December, three large boxes were delivered to Burnside. The boxes contained almost every single letter posted to the asylum seekers – unopened, and marked ‘Return to sender’.

It has not yet been made clear why Burnside was told that the letters were “arriving and being distributed’ when this was never the case.

The Department of Immigration has failed to comment.

You can read the Guardian’s full article – and see a picture of the returned letters – here.

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