Mehdi arrived in Australia seeking asylum in 2011 at the age of 15. Here he shares his experience as a refugee and the long journey towards healing, holding onto hope and finding community.
As a proud Wuthithi and Mabuiag Island woman Safina Stewart reflects on the women in her life whose experience of displacement and courage have helped inspire, teach and ground her in the preciousness of people, the importance of belonging and privilege we have to offer the gift of welcome.
May I tell you the story of three mothers who inspire me?
One Aboriginal, the other an asylum seeker, and another, a Jewish refugee.
My great, great, great grandmother, Para Pablo, fled our Wuthathi homelands, on the North Eastern coast of Cape York Peninsula, with her baby daughter, Granny Tidja, to escape trackers hunting and removing Aboriginal children under the Aboriginal Protection Act.
She faced unthinkable decisions, extreme loss and danger leaving family and homelands to keep her daughter safe. Fleeing north on foot, they were given secret passage into the Torres Straits. They were given immediate protection by the welcoming Torres Strait Islanders.
It is through her risky courage and this gift of welcome, that our family line has survived and now boasts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage. She’s a heroine and urges me to find strength and courage to defend and welcome others.
One of my dearest friends, Gomathy is another strong and courageous woman who inspires me. She was a young Malaysian Indian asylum seeker who had just moved into our town, when I met her almost seven years ago. I recall her tenderly nursing her four-month-old son. We fumbled at correctly pronouncing each other’s names, yet we knew innately that we could trust each other with the weight of our stories.
Our friendship has deepened over the years. She teaches me how to protect and hold with dignity; how to be strong while remaining soft; how to chase freedom in full faith. Her depth of insight astounded me. She is a woman of character and resilience with unending horizons of compassion and wisdom. Gomathy is my sister, I have adopted her and she has adopted me. Respect, caring and sharing proves our two-way loyalty and sisterhood.
I identify with Gomathy’s story because it resonates the same courage of my Ancestors. I am also reminded of Mary after the birth of Jesus, fleeing Bethlehem and the targeted violence of King Herod. Gutsy women reaching for safety for their family. Loving and protecting. Refugee, asylum seeker, displaced traditional owner. My Soul Sistas. I have only respect and admiration for these heroines for the way they faced injustices.
As a Christian and as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman, I count it my responsibility and privilege to offer welcome, safety and belonging to the oppressed, marginalised and displaced. My Ancestors have passed down wisdom about the preciousness of people, sacredness of place and importance of belonging. It fits with my faith and urges me to pass this wisdom down to my children. Am I living out and modeling this wisdom?
The other day, while preparing to write this reflection, Gomathy and I asked our children how they viewed each other. All four echoed similar messages.
One of mine said “He is cool. We love our playdates.”
Another said “When we see him, we feel proud.”
But then came the clincher, the confirmation heartbreaker -
Both my three and Gomathy’s eldest son said in unison “They are my family. We have become family”.
May we walk with the welcome of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ancestors and Children to be the People of hope-filled grace and loving justice.
"Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
May we remember the risks taken by so many people seeking asylum and hold their hopes and prayers for a safe future in our own hearts.
May we see our offer of welcome and safety as a privilege.
May we all feel a deep sense of belonging.
Take action and join the conversation
Take action this Refugee Week by sharing this series and connecting with your friends, family and faith community to talk about how we can all help contribute to a country and communities that always 'seek to heal and never to harm' those seeking safety on our shores.
Share your reflections from this post, prayers and join the conversation by commenting on today's Common Grace Facebook, Instagram or Twitter post or write your own using the hashtag #RefugeeWeek2022.
Safina Stewart is a proud Wuthithi and Mabuiag Island woman who grew up cross-culturally in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Safina is passionate about culture, education, the arts, justice and faith and supports and contributes to the work of Common Grace as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Consultant.
Gomathy came to Australia seeking asylum in 2012 at the age of 21. She is passionate about business, cooking, education and community. She lives on Bunurong Country with her husband and two children.
On building connection with refugees and asylum seekers, Gomathy says: “Everyone is human, and they all belong to the land. No matter where they are from, remember they are for protecting their family. That's why they are moving to other countries to save their family. They are brave in each stage. Life is beautiful if you love, live and see the opportunities.”