The idea to promote racing on the sails of the Opera House has given momentum to the #KidsOffNauru campaign.
A crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to project the faces of refugee children on Nauru onto the sails of the Opera House has gained momentum.
The online campaign has raised in excess of $80,000 in two days – just short of the $100,000 target set for the cost of permits, security and image projection.
The first $50,000 was raised in less than 24 hours.
Melbourne-based Simon Holmes à Court started the crowdfunding campaign on chuffed.com, saying he was distressed by reports that refugee children as young as seven had attempted suicide on Nauru.
“I’m sick of feeling helpless and ashamed about what Australia is doing to children under our care,” he said in a message appealing for donations.
“No human deserves to be treated as these children are, and it is totally within our power to end the suffering.”
Refugee advocates say 85 children are detained under Australia’s offshore detention policy on Nauru.
Mr Holmes à Court was inspired by the move by Racing NSW to use the Opera House to promote The Everest horse race.
“Our iconic Opera House was turned into a billboard for a horse race,” he said on the crowdfunding platform. “I’m asking for your help to secure Australia’s “biggest billboard” to help get the #KidsOffNauru.”
The plan went ahead on Tuesday night, with the sails of the Opera House lit up for 20 minutes. More than a thousand protesters used torchlights to disrupt the promotion.
‘A much more important issue than betting on ponies’
Mr Holmes à Court said he has already to spoken to Sydney Opera House staff about his proposal to project images of children in detention on Nauru to raise awareness.
“I have approached the Sydney Opera House about using their wonderful canvas to raise awareness of the children in detention on Nauru - a much more important issue than betting on ponies,” he said in the message posted on the crowdfunding platform.
“I don’t want to sell a product, I want to tell this important story, to make a public service announcement that is surely above partisan politics.”
He said since he raised the idea on Sunday, dozens of Australians with the expertise to make the project happen have contacted him and offered their help.
“It won’t be easy, but since I raised the idea on Sunday, dozens of talented Australians with the required expertise have reached out to help me make this happen, hundreds have offered to help fund it and more than 10,000 have given approval to the plan on social media,” he said.
The push comes ahead of Universal Children’s Day on 20 November – the deadline NGOs have set for the evacuation of refugee children on Nauru.
A coalition of over 300 groups - including World Vision Australia, St Paul's Anglican Cathedral and ChildFund Australia - have backed the #KidsOffNauru campaign.
A petition started by World Vision Australia as part of the campaign has collected more than 122,000 signatures.
Two-year-old refugee child George is one of the faces that could potentially be projected on the Opera House. Permission has been granted to use his face and those of other refugee children.
A video shot of him on the island playing with a plastic cup outdoors on an empty bed frame has been posted on Twitter.
Kids exist a semi-comatose state: MSF
The Nauru government last week ended the provision of mental health services for refugees on the island provided by Médecins Sans Frontières.
The organisation’s Paul McPhun said the decision will have devastating consequences.
“Over the past 11 months, MSF has treated dozens of men, women and children trapped in a vicious downward spiral of despair.” he said on Wednesday.
“Shockingly, of the refugee patients we treated. At least 78 had attempted suicide, had suicidal thoughts and had inflicted self-harm.”
“Many children are suffering traumatic withdrawal syndrome, exist a semi-comatose state, unable to eat, drink and talk.”
Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, said on Wednesday that any move to resettle refugees on Nauru in Australia would only encourage people smuggling trade.
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).