Recently, my family and I reveled in a five day holiday. I had one of those freeze frame moments when I was watching my two girls and husband laugh together as they splashed in the hotel heated pool. My youngest daughter waved her fairy wand around- giggly with too much pink lemonade. This pure joy is the stuff of being a kid. Surely those magical moments are a right for all children? But not, it seems, if you are a refugee desperate enough to flee your country on a leaky boat for the chance of a better life. What is the crime in that? I know as a mum I would do anything to save my children. I would beg, borrow, bribe, steal and buy my way on to any transport if it meant rescuing my family from famine, violence and war.
I’ve never understood some people’s venom against refugees. As a journalist I have always aimed to be balanced and objective. But there are times when my personal feelings have influenced how I’ve covered a story. I don’t think there’s a problem with that – I believe there are some matters you need to take a stand against. I remember getting into strife with a former boss for being too strident with a particular government minister. During the course of the interview I asked him how he felt about having children behind razor wire in Australia. I still reckon that was a valid question. I was told to back off if we wanted to have that politician on the program again.
However the issue of keeping children in detention is something that I will never back away from. And since having babies of my own I feel even more strongly about how we treat young asylum seekers. So it’s with increasing shame, anger and frustration that I watch as our government wants to send unaccompanied children back to Malaysia to face an uncertain and dangerous future. According to the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, deporting unaccompanied children is illegal. It’s hard to comprehend
the psychological damage such a journey would have on young refugees. And in my gilded world I fret about separation anxiety my girls might have when I go to work. How pathetic!
The way our country treats new arrivals seems at odds with the image Australia has of an easy- going and compassionate nation. As a mother and journalist I have felt powerless when I watch images of young children and families arrive here with nothing but hope and brave, big hearts. Pretty quickly their optimism turns to shock, anxiety and depression when they find themselves locked in detention. Recently a former Immigration Officer told me she resigned after being told she was going to Christmas Island. She had enough of the pain and desperation and knew she would see more at that particular detention centre. So I vent my rage with like minded people but somehow it doesn’t seem enough.
That’s why I decided to become an ambassador for Welcome to Australia. (@welcome2aussie on Twitter). It’s a new organisation that grew from a bunch of friends talking about how they could change the misconception many Australians have about refugees. I heard about it through my twitter pals. What I love about this organisation is the way it plans to break through the political rhetoric about asylum seekers and connect with people in a more positive and meaningful way.
The organisation’s founder, Brad Chilcott, says: “People may never be convinced by an argument around immigration policy and facts and figures but that when you make an authentic relationship with a new Australian and hear their story, you can’t help but have your opinion softened.”
One way Welcome to Australia is hoping to build those new relationships is by encouraging people to hold ‘welcome parties’ in their homes, schools, offices, streets. Already the party pies, sausage rolls and fairy bread has been broken with communities across the country. If you want to host your own party you can register at www.welcometoaustralia.org.au . But if that’s not your thing there are other practical ways you can support new arrivals. The website can point you in the right direction. It’s also just begun a campaign with the exquisitely talented singer Katie Noonan to get musical instruments to people in immigration detention as well as recently settled refugee families.
I know the Australia that I want my girls to grow up in, is a place that is generous, compassionate and multicultural. A twist of fate, like the wave of that fairy wand, meant my daughters were born in a safe and democratic country. Surely it’s not too hard to welcome other families and children to this land of plenty. Don’t we all want the same thing- those freeze frame moments of pure, innocent joy for our babies? With plenty of pink lemonade to go around.
Here’s the promo for Welcome to Australia..
How would you welcome a migrant or an asylum seeker?