Interview - Dr Jayne Osgood, professor of early childhood at Middlesex University

Monday, February 22, 2016

Dr Jayne Osgood has written to Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister of Australia, to protest against plans to deport babies and young children held in detention. The letter has been signed by 112 early years academics.

Why have you sent an open letter to the Australian PM?

That’s a good question; why should a London-based academic consider immigration policy in Australia something of concern? Well, it’s personal, it’s professional and it’s political: I have long-established links with a wide range of early childhood academics, researchers and teachers in many countries, and within those networks I see a passionate commitment to strive for social justice to prioritise the well-being of children.

I have especially close links with academics and activists in Australia (I am visiting professor at Western Sydney University). I was prompted to write the open letter because I was troubled by the difficulties my Australian colleagues were experiencing in raising awareness of the treatment of refugees at an offshore processing centre on the island of Nauru.

What is the current situation with the detention centre?

Recent reports have revealed there are shocking conditions in the centre, which pose a very real threat to children’s emotional, psychological and physical well-being. In 2014 the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a national inquiry into children in immigration detention and found cramped, overheated, temporary accommodation with unsanitary and inadequate water facilities. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees visited the centre in Nauru in 2013 and concluded that ‘no child… should be transferred from Australia to Nauru’.

Yet families continue to be sent; conditions are so awful that many children are on suicide or self-harm watch. Clearly in this day and age, it is both shocking and appalling that refugees, and especially child refugees, should be treated in such an inhumane, dispassionate and life-threatening way.

What do you believe the Australian government should do?

Shut the centre and allow asylum-seeking families to live within Australian communities. While Nauru and the plight of young children in the processing centre require close attention, I would argue that there is a broader, global need to consider how all of us (especially those working in early childhood) view, treat and support families who have fled desperate situations. We may think that the children incarcerated in Nauru are half a world away, but as early childhood professionals (working at all levels), we owe it to all children to make their plight our concern.

• #LetThemStay, www.asrc.org.au/campaigns/letthemstay

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