I first became aware of Refugees and the problems facing them in Australia in August 2001 when the Norwegian freighter, the MV Tampa, was refused permission to land hundreds of people seeking asylum onto Christmas Island. These people had been rescued from a sinking Indonesian vessel. The Australian government sent military SAS personnel to board the vessel. It was the first time a boat trying to enter Australia carrying refugees had been met with this type of military force. Thus, began what I consider one of the most shameful periods in Australia's history in my lifetime. (Our treatment of our Indigenous Peoples is also an ongoing sore).
Initially I wrote letters to politicians and donated to groups supporting asylum seekers. Once I retired, I joined Rural Australians for Refugees. This community of like-minded people has enabled me to feel supported as I try to offer support to all Refugees seeking a safe place.
I realise this is an ongoing battle as people continue to be displaced by war, be victims of persecution by virtue of their ethnicity or religion and, in the near future, be displaced by the effects of Climate Change. I realise how fortunate I am to have been born in this country, but surely that means I have to try and show compassion to those less fortunate. A country should be judged on how it treats the most vulnerable. This country seems to be failing in that respect when we look at our Indigenous people, our aged and our poor. To these we now add those seeking asylum
As a result of joining this group I have become a regular visitor to MITA – a detention centre in Broadmeadows. There I have met young people from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and I consider them friends. I have yet to meet anyone who would not be an asset to this country if given the opportunity. The fact that many of these refugees have languished in detention for periods of up to 10 years is an indictment on our system. Why would anyone prefer to be locked up for years rather than return to their country of origin?
In the time of my visiting detainees, the rules relating to visiting have become more onerous, crueller to those detained. Many are just waiting for the Minister to sign off on their Refugee status and assign them a Visa, but he seems to enjoy his power and delays any action for as long as possible. I hope the new Minister might be more compassionate, but apart from the swift action taken re the Biloela family, the rhetoric sounds similar.
Thus, I continue to write letters to politicians, volunteer at stalls to raise funds and to raise other people’s awareness of the conditions facing refugees, both in Detention Centres and outside. I have visited Canberra and joined many Palm Sunday Rallies. I have met many people from many different walks of life and learned a lot about other countries.
Overall, I have benefited more than I have given and will continue to be a passionate supporter of people seeking asylum for as long as it is required. At the moment, this looks as if this cause will be with me for the rest of my life.