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'I used to agree with "Turn back the boats". Then, I went on one of those boats.'

“They don’t want to ‘invade Australia’. They simply want a country to call home.”

If you had asked me not long ago what I thought of asylum seekers and refugees, I would have said “turn back the boats”.

I’m a proud Aussie and loved growing up in Australia. I didn’t want my children growing up in a country overrun by foreigners. I thought, “How can we trust these people, especially when they come illegally by boat invading Australia?” I didn’t think I was racist but just didn’t want the Australia I know and love to change.

Everything changed when I had chance to see things through refugee eyes on Go Back To Where You Came From.

We started our journey in Lakemba, Sydney. I couldn’t believe I was still in Australia. Within seconds of entering the main street I felt threatened and uncomfortable. Everyone wore hijabs and the burka and all the shop signs were written in Arabic. There wasn’t an Aussie in sight.

“Everything changed when I had chance to see things through refugee eyes on Go Back To Where You Came From”. – Jodi

Soon I found myself on a boat experiencing life at sea as an asylum seeker. I still didn’t understand why anyone would risk their lives at seat to flee their country.

Thailand was the turning point for me. We trekked deep into the jungle and stood on the flattened undergrowth strewn with torn women’s clothing. Only a couple of weeks earlier hundreds of stateless Rohingya people (often called the world’s most persecuted people) were held captive here; many tortured, raped and killed.

Two teenage boys who had escaped their captives told their stories of being beaten, watching women being gang raped and having to carry dead bodies to shallow graves. Having twin teenage daughters myself, I immediately thought of them and became overwhelmed with emotion. I just lost it.

go back to where you came from
Behind the scenes filming ‘Go Back To Where You Came From’. Image: Supplied.
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Bangladesh was like nothing I had seen before. We visited refugee camps, where tens of thousands of Rohingya had fled persecution from Myanmar. Heartbreakingly, some had been in the camps for decades.

In Myanmar it was immediately obvious that the Muslim minority group had been made social outcasts by some Buddhists. The Rohingya were ejected from society, forcefully removed from their homes and placed within armed borders. Within these walls the refugee camps were filled to capacity forcing thousands more to live in unofficial camps without any aid. It was absolute squalor.

There I met a widow who was blind and unable to support her four young children. They were starving. She wailed in desperation and despair. I told her I had two daughters and she told me she prayed for them. I wondered how someone so destitute could possibly pray for my children. I held her hand and we cried together. I will never forget that woman, and will always wonder if she is still alive.

go back to where you came from
“The journey taught me that they don’t want to ‘invade Australia’. They simply want a country to call home.” – Jodi. Image: Supplied.
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I left a piece of my heart with the Rohingya people and will always feel a deep sense of compassion for their plight. They are beautiful people. The journey taught me that they don’t want to ‘invade Australia’. They simply want a country to call home.

Since returning to Australia, I’ve struggled emotionally to come to terms with my experience. My opinions have changed completely and I want to do all I can to help, and inspire others to do the same.

go back to where you came from
Behind the scenes filming ‘Go Back To Where You Came From’. Image: Supplied.

I was connected with the Welcome to Australia organisation in Adelaide, through which I have met so many amazing people and refugees from around the world. Each one has their own heartbreaking story. I have also had the privilege of helping re-settle a Rohingya family in Adelaide, who are on bridging Visas. I visit them weekly and consider them dear friends.

‘Go Back To Where You Came From’ has changed my life. I hope viewers can feel empathy and learn through my experience. Be compassionate and understanding to people seeking asylum in Australia. Unite and say ‘You are Welcome’!

Jodi appears on Go Back To Where You Came From which airs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm on SBS.

Will you be watching this show tonight? 

For more on refugees…

WATCH: What do Australian kids know about refugees?

“Refugees are scum” social experiment is actually marvellous.

“I always heard the word refugee, but I never imagined I would be one.”

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