opinion

#MyDoorIsOpen: Let's tell the government our homes are open to refugees from Nauru.

“My door is always open”.

It is something we often say to a person in their time of need.

More often than not, we really mean it. Offering up the spare bedroom, sharing a home-cooked meal, or even just pouring someone a cuppa is what humanity is all about. It’s extending your hand, your home, your safe place, to someone who needs it.

Australia, why is our door not open?

I have asked far and wide for personal opinion on the matter.

From the ethnically diverse streets of Melbourne to the sun-baked suburbs of Brisbane, the crowded beaches of Bondi to the leafy streets of Sydney’s North Shore; I am still yet to meet an Australian who has said their door would not be open to refugees. Common sentiment following the death of Omid Masoumali this week was, ‘If only I could have helped.’

So today, as our nation’s heart collectively breaks into a thousand pieces with another – another – person on Nauru setting themselves on fire, I cannot understand why our government keeps our door so firmly shut.

Hodan Yasin is 21 years old. At an age that most of us were sitting through university lectures or happily swigging beers; Hodan had escaped deadly conditions in her home of Somalia, to risk her life trying to reach Australia. Instead of freedom, she ended up alone and frightened in a refugee camp on Nauru.

Hodan tasted her freedom, briefly. She spent time in Brisbane being treated after a serious motorcycle accident on Nauru late last year. According to reports, Hodan was so distressed at the thought of returning to the camp, she had to be carried out by her arms and legs as she squirmed and struggled, screaming to please, please, please be allowed to stay.

When she returned to Nauru, she tried to kill herself. She was unsuccessful.

So yesterday, she set herself on fire.

Despite the horrific details, we remain numb to the horrors of what we’re hearing – drowned newborns, orphans arriving in the hundreds, suicides, swallowed razorblades, sexual abuse, children spending their whole lives in camps – the life of the refugee has become abstract to us.

They are ‘the other’.

Well, it is time to make their problem, our problem. Is your door open?

What if, on your doorstep one morning, stood Hodan? A beautiful young 21 year old Somalian woman; who was frightened, alone, and without any hope for her future. Would you open your door to her? Would you offer her your spare room, a home cooked meal, a cuppa tea, a hug? Would you tell her that it’s a big world out there, and that nothing stays terrible forever?

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Of course you would.

There is a mythical Australia that lives between the lines of a Banjo Paterson poem, in the speeches that roused us at dawn on Anzac Day, in the national legends that we cling so desperately to.

We were always the ‘lucky country’. A wide brown land of mateship, and never leaving a man behind. Of pats on the back and a cheeky grin in the face of adversity. Putting yourself in the line of danger to help out a fellow human being. We were brave, and we were proud.

Our door was always open to someone in need. What happened?

Glimmers of this attitude glint through in recent days. A GetUp! campaign to let the 267 asylum seekers stay in our country gathered 82, 878 signatures.

“Among the 267 people are young babies born in Australia and kids currently going to local primary schools.” said the campaign’s page.

“There are cricket fans and accountants and cooks, who fled war and terror to seek safety in our community. Some of the 267 are women who have been sexually assaulted on Nauru and now face return to their abusers.”

Despite the support, the High Court ruled all asylum seekers must return to their island hell, with our door slammed shut behind them.

I read in The Guardian in February this year that “…paediatricians have reported children as young as seven attempting suicide in Australian-run detention centres,” with one father noting that his two-year-old boy played with cockroaches in detention “because he has no other toys”.

Make no mistake. Nauru is hell.

Amnesty International travelled to Nauru, and describe a grim scene:

“Asylum seekers are staying in army tents. These tents offer absolutely no privacy, and barely have any room between the stretcher beds.

When it rains, the camp quickly floods. Every single tent observed had at least one leak, with bedding and clothing was soaked.

In the camp temperature reaches over 40 degrees in the compound and 80 percent humidity. The heat means people can’t stay in their tents during the day. Rodents and insects problems in tents are common.

Most find it hard to sleep in the tents – either because of the extreme heat, the dampness, or because of men crying during the night. This all exacerbates the deterioration of their mental health.

During the visit one man tried to hang himself from a tent pole.”

Amnesty International. 

Naura is scrambling to shift the blame, with this morning’s statement attempting to throw a blanket over the flames, defending the conditions of the camp.

Shockingly, they are also asking for us to step down and stop offering hope. Yes, to stop offering hope.

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“Refugee advocates must stop giving refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru false hope and stirring up these protests,” read the statement.

“They are making the situation worse and must take responsibility for their actions and words.”

For women like Hodan, the lack of hope was exactly what drove her to set herself on fire.

Please, for one moment, close your eyes and consider what that must have been like for her.

And Omid. And the hundreds of other refugees who have swallowed dishwasher detergent and razorblades, who have hung themselves from trees, who have tried to suffocate themselves – because they have lost hope.

In her short life, Hodan Yasin has lost any belief that things would one day be better or that she would one day be safe. She has crossed oceans, endured 3 years locked in detention, and tasted her freedom only to cruelly have it ripped away.

She has been silenced: without a voice, how else could she ask for help?

Nauru 4th days protest after Palm Sunday #letthemstay #closenauru #closemanus #freerefugees

A photo posted by حمايت از پناهندگان ايراني Aus (@aus.ir.refugee) on Mar 23, 2016 at 5:25am PDT

I am not a political reporter. I am not a news journalist. I am not a social activist. I am just like you: a young Australian woman who is deeply scared for the state of our country, desperately searching for answers.

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Because we have silenced the people of Nauru, it’s high time we raised our voices here in Australia to start offering help to those who cannot ask.

So, is your door open?

If it is, I implore you to share this piece. Let’s start letting the people in power know that our door is open, even though they keep preaching so confidently that it is in fact shut.

Clashes between guards and families at Nauru. (Post continues after video).

Video by Refugee Action Coalition Sydney

Let’s stop asking ‘how can I help?’ and start thinking practically, with visions of action.

Let’s look to people like Icelandic author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir, who, is 2015, set up a Facebook group with an open letter to the country’s welfare minister, Eygló Harðardóttir, asking her to allow people to help. Far from an empty offer, she offered people she knew who were able to open their doors right then and there.

Over 11,000 people jumped on and made similar offers.

“They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soul mate, a drummer for our children’s band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman and television host,” she wrote.

“People of whom we’ll never be able to say in the future: ‘Your life is worth less than my life.’”

I am not an expert in foreign policy – far from – but I am grossly aware of the privileged position I hold in Australia. I am a white, educated, middle-class woman, and I have a voice. So do you. And if that is the only tool we have at the moment, let’s damn well make it count.

Let’s make sure the people of Nauru know that we have not forgotten them, and that we as a people will not stand behind our Government’s ‘closed door’ policy. Our door is open to them.

And hopefully one day very soon, we’ll come good on that offer for a cuppa and a home-cooked meal.

Share this story with the tag #MyDoorIsOpen to join the conversation online.

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