As we move from Refugee Week to NAIDOC week, it’s fitting that we listen to Academics Mark Brett and Naomi Wolfe as they explore the roles of guest and host in the Australian context. This piece is an edited excerpt from a NAIITS Conference paper. The full paper will be published in the NAIITS Journal later in the year.
Sarin is familiar to me. It is the same chemical weapon Saddam used against my people in Halabja. It left over 5000 dead and members of my family still are feeling the affects generations later including cancer, infertility, birth defects as well as fertile land turning into desert.
Sarin - or another deadly nerve agent like it - was used this week in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a province in northern Syria, killing at least 85 people, including 20 children. This is the kind of reality that makes someone want to flee their home country, seeking safety for their family, praying that another country may take them in.
But as I sit here scrolling through the social media posts of people who are rightly outraged, I ask myself the question, “Why do we differentiate between the kids shown in these horrific images and the kids from these same villages told by the Australian Government ‘There's no way you will make Australia home’?”
It’s almost like we want to run into these images and help these children. But why don’t we want to do the same for the kids our Government has put in detention? The photos that people are crying over - the Syrians who have had all their options torn apart - they have the exact same stories as people who our government is refusing to ever be settled in Australia, simply because they arrived by boat.
Every one of these lives is precious to God. These are children who have seen the same things indefinitely locked up by a government who threatens doctors and social workers with jail for disclosing information about their abuse. There are children locked up in horrific conditions on Manus and Nauru, abused sexually, physically and emotionally and we don't say anything that’s too confronting.
I always have a hard time with this. I try to keep my heart soft, but – please - let's not pretend there's nothing we can do when there is so much we can do.
Let's be part of the solution and actively fight rhetoric that labels these people as anything but human beings desperately seeking home and safety. Let’s not entertain or validate ideas that perpetuate anything else - it hurts them. Let’s begin by giving money to fantastic organisations and writing polite letters to our politicians. And when they still fail to deliver justice, let’s tell our leaders that they must make it right in as many ways and for as many days as it takes for justice to reign.
This Sunday, annual Palm Sunday marches for refugees will take place all over Australia. Churches, organisations, and community groups will unite in peaceful two-hour walks to show solidarity and implore our government to bring people seeking asylum people here, to Australia.
If your heart has been stirred this week over pictures of children and you’ve felt yourself wishing you could something to help these innocent people, then it would be great if you could join us (find your nearest walk here).
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Hwvar is a 22 year old, Kurdish-Australian woman who is studying social work at Western Sydney University. She is a valued member of Common Grace's Asylum Seeker justice team.