I sit here writing after being at a Light the Dark rally in Perth last night. It was good to do something to help, to maybe change a few minds and offer solidarity to those suffering around the world. And here in Australia.
The current Syrian refugee crisis has been a crisis for a long time, with over 60 million people displaced either within their own country, or in other countries. These people are not just from Syria but from all over the world where there is war or persecution. Many of the countries taking these refugees, but particularly the Syrian refugees, are the smallest and the poorest. One wonders how that can be!! What about us.
I have become involved with refugees via Amnesty International, but have long been very uncomfortable with the rhetoric and the policies not just of this Australian government but governments before them. Stopping the boats seems to have been the prime focus, without due thought to what happens to the people on the boats, or in the countries where the boats are leaving from. The silence surrounding the policy means we never find out what is really happening. By limiting the information, by using numbers instead of names, it is easy to forget they are people just like us, who want security, peace, homes and a life with and for their families. It seems to me that compassion and love for our fellow human beings doesn’t win votes.
I have been visiting people in the Northam detention centre for the past year or so as part of friendship visits organised by a friend of mine. Not too many, about 10 men, fairly young and from different places, mostly in the Middle East or Pakistan. They came to escape persecution, certain death, or both, but now find themselves in prison, for that is what the detention centre is, without much hope of release in the foreseeable future.
They have been held in detention for between 1 and 4 years, not all at Northam. It seems there is an active inertia on behalf of those who should be processing their claims, such that their hope of a resolution seems so very far away. Regardless of their refugee status, and most would or have been declared a refugee, they are locked up for years.
They speak English, most of them, and our visits can vary from reasonably light hearted to confronting when they reveal a little of what they or their families have gone through. Or when their real feelings show through. They try to engage with us but often despair and anger and frustration overwhelm them. When that happens the visits can be soul destroying.
The other day was a bad day for everyone…
I had not visited for 7 weeks because I had been overseas on a holiday. Moving from country to country freely, seeing the sights and enjoying the different cultures.
How could I tell them that I had been to Rome, visited St Peters, and swam in the Mediterranean with my two sons, similar in age to them?
When they felt isolated and alone.
How could I tell them that I could leave as I wished, with a passport not only accepted but welcomed by most countries, ah you are Australian, come in…come in…
When they felt abandoned, that no one cared whether they live or died.
How could I tell them we had just been enjoying the warm weather of Spain, the beautiful Camino walk where pilgrims hope to find direction for their lives?
When they felt caged, like criminals (which they are not) with no future.
How could I tell them of the beautiful Cathedrals, the amazing food, the beautiful coast line and the long summer nights in Spain?
When they felt deprived of all that is good in the world, what they loved and enjoyed.
How could I tell them about London, the amazing British library, and the cricket (although that wasn’t so amazing)?
When they are silenced, and unable to tell their stories.
How could I tell them about Dublin, the green and lush countryside, the incredible cliffs and the wild ocean?
When they are angry at the policies that have taken any hope of a new life from them.
I couldn’t. In fact to talk about our lives, even our ordinary everyday lives seems cruel and unusual punishment. Their lives are on hold, their families are on hold, and there is little we can do about it until our country and our government finds some heart and soul. Visiting these men seems a very small act. Let us not forget them and the others, on Manus Island, Naru and Christmas Island in the coming days and weeks.
They too deserve our compassion, now.
Thanks Eric Bogle, for the title and for the song! Look it up as I can’t upload it, but here is a taste…
“Won’t you throw me down a lifeline for the ship is sinking fast
And I’m afraid that I might drown before the storm has passed
And oh, what if I’m set adrift upon the raging sea
What will become of me? What will become of me?
Won’t you throw me down a lifeline and help me climb on board
Then together we”ll all sail to find our golden shore
Peace and joy are waiting there when the weary hearts come home
But we can’t find it on our own. We can’t find it on our own”