I think a lot of Australians have the misconception that the refugee problem is quite a long way away from them. But they’re not; they’re a couple of suburbs over, next to townhouses and schools and sports ovals. We imagine places that we can mentally chuck into the ‘too hard, too far away’ box, places that are most visible in the media, like Cambodia, Manus and Christmas Island. But many of the refugees Australia receives asylum pleas from are housed on the mainland. These are refugees coming from across the world, from places in which bombs, torture and targeting of families with young children is commonplace. These are refugees who are seeking our help via the path of desperation, some who have had to rely on men who drive shoddy vans to dark shores in the middle of the night and put them on boats that may break up mid-voyage. Instead they end up in prison. Australian prisons (or ‘detention centres’ as they are otherwise called). My mind boggles at the possibility that anyone would see this path as a choice.
Would anyone settle on a choice where their children end up behind barbed wire, unable to stay out in the community long enough to play with friends and feel carefree and happy? Would they see the easy way out as a life separated from their children, unable to protect their fragile minds from the idea that citizens only kilometres outside that fence, living lives free of persecution and everyday violence, would see them as illegitimate people who do not deserve to call Australia home? It is a terrible reality, and the hardest thing is, it is a choice. But not their choice; our government’s choice.
Seeing the title ‘Villawood Immigration Detention Centre’ for the first time, emblazoned with the Australian government insignia across the walls of the compound, is a sad moment. After all, this is my government, and no matter which side leads, the ‘leftie’ Labor or the ‘Libs’, we still have refugees stuck in barbed-wire compounds. I’m a 22 year old university student, and you’d think, at this time in my life, I’d be full of foolhardy optimism and political zeal, and yet my two attempts at voting have stamped that right out of me. I saw Labor using the ‘people smugglers are killing people on boats’ argument to lock refugees up, and now I see the ‘new’ Coalition government using the same tired rhetoric devoid of any true-blue compassion.
This is why I Am A Boat Person matters, especially to me. Although we are small, and mostly made up of university students plus a great big audience scattered across Australia, we can do something. That something is reclaiming the ‘refugee issue’ as a human rights issue and not a political issue. This is a choice. We can make the choice to recognise the ‘detainees’ inside Villawood IDC as people; people slowly being ground down mentally by indefinite imprisonment in the middle of suburban NSW. Not just children either, it’s men and women with many years ahead of them still to live and so much potential. It isn’t just the conditions inside the camps that horrify me. What horrifies me is that there ARE barbed-wire fences. That people I know, people who smile and laugh, who live in the 21st century with me and deserve to have a smartphone and a laptop and a home among the gumtrees, are locked up for seeking help from a country that sees itself as compassionate. It’s about time we ALL started justifying that claim.
by Gemma Jamison / Communications Manager