20 June, 2010

Refugee week starts today!

I stood on a balcony with my dad yesterday, and looked over the inner city suburb of Melbourne he grew up in. I asked him to describe what things had changed since he was a boy. What I saw was the number of cafes, the graffiti, the fast pace of shoppers, the cars, the massive twenty-storey high rise housing estates. But his first observation was the number of Asians and Africans. He was not being racist, and felt no despair that such rapid cultural changes had occurred. Rather he merely observed that this really was the greatest difference in his lifetime.

Time moves very quickly, and the changes imposed on us can jolt us into a longing for the security of the past. Unfortunatley for many Australians, this jolt can sound and look very much like racism.

It is refugee week this week, and it is an important time for those of other cultures living in Australia to gain some much needed advocacy and attention. I encourage you to take a moment to consider the following scenario and questions.

Imagine you have arrived in this country at last, having fled from persecution and war. You have managed to bring some, but not all, of your children with you to safety. You don't know how your remaining family members are faring back home. You are used to living in a small village, and you have never been exposed to the level of drug and alcohol abuse you see now. You have never lived on the 14th floor of a very noisy and unsafe building. The police and government officials you once knew were corrupt and untrustworthy, and yet now, you must visit Centrelink every few weeks and divulge your personal details. There are social workers who want to meet you in your home and tell you that you are no longer allowed to shop for your daily needs on a daily basis, and that instead you must always have tins of prepared food in your cupboard. When you go outside, people look at you like you are either bad, or stupid, and many people talk so loudly to you. You were once able to go to friends for work, for company, for support...but now you know nobody.

1. How would you feel if you lived in a place where you could not speak the language? How would you cope practically, and emotionally?
2. How would you feel being separated from the majority of your friends and family, with no prospect of being reunited any time soon?
3. How would you feel being looked at as though you were not a safe person to be near. Would you smile at others, would you try to talk to them?
4. How would you feel looking around and seeing nothing familiar, no childhood memories that can be jogged.
5. How would you cope with the thought of people judging you, and the way you raise your children? And how would you feel when your children started to adopt the bad behaviour of the local children?
6. How would you feel knowing you can't go home, while not feeling welcome in this new place you must make your home.

While at times anglo and indigenous Australians can feel despair, anger and frustration toward refugees, it is important to remember that refugees are experiencing loss and sadness and loneliness. They have not come to 'take over' Australia. They simply come to find a safe life for themelves and their children. They are no more violent, no more lazy, no less intelligent. And while struggling with a range of issues caused by forced migration, refugees need us to be patient and supportive though their settlement. We can offer so much to refugees, and we must do that with an open heart and mind. Why? Because they are you and me.

Check out this article from The Age on the experience of Africans living in Australia:


Just Salvos live will be discussing refugees and asylum seekers on Monday 28th June at 6.30pm. Tune into http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/sstv/


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