Today, I thought I’d write about a little sewing enterprise of mine. I know what you’re thinking – “not another sewing blogger monetising their blog! Soon she’ll be announcing her exciting collaboration with Sprout Patterns”. Don’t worry, Lilu & Bey is something entirely different.
Some years ago, my friend Beth started a business called Lilu & Bey, where she sold beautiful, Tilda-style handsewn softies. When her second child was born, her business was put to the side – until 2014, when she reopened Lilu & Bey with the intention of raising money for UNHCR for Australia (the Australian branch of the United Nations Refugee Agency). I offered to sew a few aprons to help out, and soon found myself deluged in my own handmade aprons, accessories and softies – toy-making is just that addictive.
Beth and I are childhood friends – you might have seen the clothes I’ve sewn for her own children on this blog. We often have conversations about the inhumanity of the Australian government’s refugee policy of indefinite detention, and express our desire to effect positive change for refugees. I do not intend to turn this into a political blog. But the personal is political, and to explain how Lilu & Bey began (again), I must also explain a little about Australia’s refugee policy.*
Content warning: following contains mention of suicide, abuse and politics
Australia maintains one of the world’s most restrictive immigration detention systems. Asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Australia are immediately transferred to indefinite, offshore detention, in an attempt by the Australian government to escape their obligations under international law. The conditions are “unsafe and inhumane”, according to the UNHCR, and claims go unprocessed. Asylum seekers who arrive by boat have no chance of being settled in Australia.
This is a separate issue to the refugee crisis sweeping the world – one which began in the 90s with the Keating and Howard governments, and is in numbers disproportionate to the rest of the world. Despite Australia receiving relatively few boat arrivals, the panic surrounding “boat people” has made harsh refugee management a widely supported policy of both major parties.
I find it difficult to stand idly by while consecutive Australian governments commit gross human rights breaches, including their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Convention on Refugees. Australia is a spacious, wealthy country, with “boundless plains to share”, as our anthem proclaims. That such a vulnerable, tiny population would be subject to what Amnesty International classes as torture just so they cannot share in our riches is hardly consistent with our national ethos of a “fair go”.
It is deeply disturbing that what began as an aberrance has become a model. Australia’s harsh refugee policies have found favour with Neo-Nazis in Germany, and the current Australian government supports the US ban on immigration. Discriminatory immigration policies which may seem novel to the rest of the world have been practiced in Australia for years.
So Beth and I channel our pain, our frustration, and our love for those in detention into Lilu & Bey.
When I sew toys for Lilu & Bey, I sew them for Reza Berati, the 23-year-old Iranian man who was beaten to death in riots led by detention guards, PNG nationals and police. I sew them for Hamid Kehazaei who died from a cut to his foot, after being denied life saving medical intervention. I sew them for those we have lost to suicide in detention, and for those who are currently being denied a home on the basis of their religion or the colour of their skin.
Beth and I have been pleased beyond our expectations by the money we have raised, and humbled by the support of our friends, family and customers. It is heartening to know there are others who are so willing to offer their love to those who have so little. It is my hope that the kindness and open-heartedness of Australians, and indeed all peoples, prevails over the cruelty of those who would be willing to make innocent people pawns in their political games.
You can find Lilu & Bey on Facebook, our website (not as frequently updated) and Instagram. We have stock at The Goodness Bureau in Thornbury and Enique Eco Store in Warrnambool. If you are concerned about the status of refugees, whether in detention in Australia or worldwide, I would urge you to support UNHCR (Australian or worldwide) or any refugee agency.
NOTE: there is an urgent situation on Nauru, where a pregnant refugee who suffers from pre-eclampsia is at risk of death because the Australian government refuses to transfer her to the mainland for adequate medical care. Doctors insist she needs an emergency C-section performed in Australia to save her life, yet the government refuses to release her from detention. This situation is CRITICAL – please call and message your local representatives if possible.
*This is a very simplistic explanation of Australia’s refugee policy. The actual history and current situation is more complex than I have space for here, starting with the White Australia immigration policy of 1901-1974. If you are interested in learning more, SBS has a good overview of recent history, and Amnesty International’s publications have more in-depth reports of the current situation in detention centres. The Monthly’s “Why Australia Hates Asylum Seekers” explains the deep roots of Australia’s racism and xenophobia – and the fact that many Australians still genuinely fear foreign invasion is telling.