‘Our personal stories may differ, but they are all part of one much bigger story – humanity.’
In her old life, Rasha might have been tucked into bed by her parents. She might have played soccer with her younger siblings in the market-spotted streets of her hometown in Syria, she might have excelled at maths or history at school and made her parents very proud.
“I’m so happy to be here…it’s almost normal again,” was the first thing she said to me at an event held last month in support of refugees living in the community. She seemed weary, as though she wasn’t sure whether she should allow herself to enjoy that moment on that sunny Sunday.
A good old-fashioned sausage sizzle, a playground with swings, face-painting and wrapped gifts of toys and books are what constituted a normal afternoon for Rasha, amidst a reality where her parents were collateral damage of the brutal violence in Syria. Like countless others newly arrived to Australia, most experiencing trauma, this young girl just wanted a moment of normalcy in her newfound life here.
It takes a special kind of cruelty to continue traumatising already vulnerable individuals – but that is precisely what our current leadership is doing by putting in place policies that demonise and punish asylum seekers in the name of ‘deterrence’.
Changing this will take every-day Australians like you or I to show the courage and willingness to be part of a much-needed support system; to be compassionate, and to simply say ‘welcome’. It might difficult to have conversations about this so-called divisive topic in the current political climate, but that is what makes these hard conversations with the neighbour, that family member, your colleague, a friend all the more necessary.
People like Rasha have lost so much already, yet they have the will and spirit to survive – and to build a safe new life with grace and dignity, as contributing citizens of our society, rich with cultures and abounding with opportunities.
But what is being done in our name is the very opposite of grace and dignity.
At what point do we say enough? At what point do we turn the rhetoric into a welcome? Visas and votes are not more important than human life, if indeed the very fabric of our values is kept together by preservation of human life and respect of basic individual rights.
People like Brad Chilcott, the founder of Welcome to Australia embody these values and set the perfect example in initiating “Walk Together” 4 years ago – an annual national ‘opening up of our arms in welcome’ to refugees and other newly arrived Australians to be held on Saturday 31 October in 26 towns and cites around our nation.
Organisations like the Lebanese Muslim Association – which despite constantly having to deal with a barrage of Islamophobic comments made by a minority of people on social media – show us how to open up their hearts and their community to others by holding the National Mosque Open Day alongside Walk Together.
There’s never been a more critical time for a show of hospitality and welcome. Every act of kindness is amplified, especially in light of unjust immigration policies and the ugly bigotry exemplified by the Reclaim Australia movement and their friends.
Our personal stories may differ, but they are all part of one much bigger story – humanity.
Let’s leave behind a legacy that is coloured by hope and that celebrates the resilience of humankind in the face of adversity.
Let’s #SayWelcome and Walk Together to create a future that builds unity, instead of breaks them.
This Saturday! Mamamia founder Mia Freedman features in the promotional video here and Editor-in-Chief Jamila Rizvi is one of the speakers at the Melbourne Walk Together. Find your local details here.
National Mosque Open Day locations can be found here.