Tuesday, April 14, 2015

NEWCASTLE WRITERS FESTIVAL: The Treatment of Asylum Seekers

The Treatment of Asylum Seekers: Australia's Heart of Darkness? was a panel discussion hosted by Felicity Biggins.

The panel consisted of Georgina Ramsey, an anthropologist; David Manne, a human rights lawyer; Rosie Scott, author; and Munjed Al Muderis and Aran Mylvaganam - both actual refugees.

This was a very intense session and I will admit to being in tears for most of, especially when Munjed and Aran told their stories.

Georgina Ramsey was a young anthropologist. She has spent time in Uganda, and spoke about how they had thought Australia was difficult to get into but found there were no queues. This was a subject matter raised again and again by the panelist, these mythical, scare mongering queues - they simply do not exist.

David Manne is a human rights lawyer who helps vulnerable people from life threatening harm, "there is a simple beauty in that."

Aran Mylvaganam was a refugee, escaping the Sri Lankan military at 13 years old. He was at school in 1995 when seven bombs hit. He witnessed his own brother being killed, cut in half by shrapnel. He also had cousins killed by the same strike. His uncle rounded him and his cousins that survived and sent them away. They were in Villawood for 3 months. This is part of his story, one can only imagine what this tragedy has done to him. Aran assists other refugees now, using his experience as a positive example.

Rosie Scott edited a book with Thomas Keneally on refugees, in hope of bringing these issues into the mainstream. They had many famous Australians collaborate with them.

Munjed Al Muderis fled Saddem Hussein's regime because, as a surgeon, he did not want to amputate ears as part of torture. He is now a well respected surgeon dealing with robotics for prosthetics, in particular knees and legs. I will also add he is my brother-in-law's prosthetic leg surgeon and a much loved figure in our family. I knew he was a refugee but I had no idea his background was so traumatic. He was the most eloquent man but you could feel his devastation when speaking, not his story, but the way refugees are being treated now. He also reiterated there is no queue. He feels this is the biggest crisis since WWII, and we all need to grow up and be part of this society.

Aran reiterated that to stop the boats, we really need to stop the terror the people are fleeing from. And that the Australian government aided the Sri Lanken Army with tanks etc - we need to stop aiding them.

David Manne said it was not as simple as good and evil or dark and light, there are many layers to this problem. 

And then conversation turned to children.

Munjed said we are all involved whether we like it or not, and that he didn't "think anyone on earth should prevent children from education for one day." Europe don't detain people like we do here, and there were explanations on their processes which sounded fair and stealthy enough in terms of capturing anything untoward. Munjed has translated for children who had been molested when he was in his 10 month stay at detention. He didn't go into detail, he didn't have to, the look on his face, and the tone of his voice said it all.

David Manne spoke about "deprivation of liberty of a child in this society."

I felt totally gutted by this session, I guess it was nothing I didn't know already, but to hear these stories, especially Munjed and Aram's, they were the epitome of soul destroying. Yet here were these fine, intelligent, beautifully spoken men helping educate us, and having strong and important roles in society. To me, this is the best advocate for the cause. It helped ease my pain and the huge supportive crowd also helped soothe my soul.

But what more can we do, at a grass roots level?

We need to educate those that do not have the facts, and explain what is happening, and help turn them around and the more people we get through to, to larger the cause is and that might just get through to our government.
Kindness and understanding for our fellow humans on this precious planet...that is all...it really shouldn't be difficult at all!

After the session I bought Munjed's book for my brother-in-law, and headed over for him to sign it. I introduced myself and mentioned my brother-in-law, he knew who I meant immediately and asked after him, my sister and their children. We had a lovely chat and he wrote some beautiful words in the book, too personal to mention here, but when I read them in private later, tears came to my eyes. Imagine if he had not been able to escape, imagine all the lives he has helped since arriving here, not just with his skills as a surgeon, but with his kindness. It's too painful to think about.

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