People To Celebrate

Refugee Week falls in June each year. I am reading a book titled Going Back: how a former refugee, now an internationally acclaimed surgeon, returned to Iraq to change the lives of injured soldiers and civilians. The author is Munjed Al Muderis, with Patrick Weaver. 

Al Muderis now works in Macquarie University Hospital, Sydney, and has led the world in a procedure called osseo-integration. He implants titanium rods into the human skeleton and attaches robotic limbs. This gives the patient much more mobility and comfort that earlier prosthetics did.

I can’t help thinking what a loss it would have been to Australia—and the world—if his refugee application had been refused. What if he’d been imprisoned indefinitely, even without being charged as a criminal? Instead, he has been able to lead the world with his skill.

He fled Iraq in 1999 when working as an orthopaedic surgeon in the Saddam Hussein Medical Centre in Baghdad. One day some Republican Guards demanded all surgeons stop what they were doing. Three busloads of army deserters and draft dodgers were outside. Saddam Hussein had ordered the surgeons to cut off their ears as punishment. If they refused they were shot. Al Muderis hid, then escaped to Australia. 

In 2017, at the request of the Iraqi government, he returned to Iraq to show what could be done to help amputees and others. It took courage to return but he did and has since returned regularly.

I’m sure being a politician is difficult especially when a decision has to be made that has a profound effect on someone else’s life. It must be hard to choose between what is morally right yet politically a drawback. 

In the name of ‘Border Control’ people looking for safety have been sent by relevant Ministers to Manus Island or Nauru, with no hope of ever being released. This is wrong. 

Another book I recommend is No Friend but the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani. 

He is an Iranian-Kurdish journalist who got his master’s degree in Tehran. He joined the National Union of Kurdish Students which was outlawed in Iran, so he was watched closely. When he and his friends published a Kurdish magazine, the Iranian authorities were angry. One day when he was not in the office, eleven of his colleagues were arrested. The arrests were posted on-line, and the news spread quickly. Boochani went into hiding. On 23 May 2013, he fled Iran. He has been on Manus Island since August that year but has continued to write and stand for human rights.

In January 2019 his book won Australia’s most distinguished prize for literature. Boochani had to use a mobile phone to send his writing, sentence by sentence, as a text message to his friend Omid Tofighian in Australia. Omid translated it from Persian to English.

In his acceptance speech, Boochani said, via video, ‘I truly believe words are more powerful than the fences of this place, this prison.’ He also said, ‘I don’t have the right to celebrate because there are so many people around me who are suffering.’

Boochani is in his sixth year of imprisonment without charge. He doesn’t want to come to Australia. He just wants to be free. Imagine what a contribution he could make if his freedom was here. 

How many other highly skilled, good people are there in detention? What contribution could they be making here? How long will they be denied the opportunity? And is this fair? Is it moral? 

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