‘Are you dog people?’ asked the young woman having a coffee at the next table, her dog underneath. I replied, ‘We enjoy other people’s dogs. Every Sunday we walk along the dog beach at Woorim. It’s the happiest place! The dogs are overjoyed to be let loose and they run around, glad to see each other.’
Being free! Allowed off the leash! Their joy reminds me of four men who came to live in a house we had at The Gap. They were Afghan Hazara men who had for been in detention on Nauru from 2001 until 2004.
I’d corresponded with one, sending resources for learning English. His expression of joy and the way he hugged me the night we went to Brisbane to meet him after his release is among my favourite memories. The UNHCR had decided he was a genuine refugee and could be flown to Australia. At that time we respected international law: everyone has the legal right to seek safety.
Genuine? The Hazaras had been persecuted in Afghanistan for many years. They looked different and were Shia, not Sunni. Our friend’s father had been tortured and killed, his older brother killed and another kidnapped by the Taliban. Being the youngest at 19 years, his family decided to raise the necessary US $4000 to send him to somewhere in the world where he would be safe. They sold their shop and land to raise the money.
His journey included Pakistan, Singapore, Indonesia, Christmas Island and Nauru. The first time he saw the sea it terrified him. But, conscious of the sacrifice his family had made for him to survive, he never gave up hope of finding freedom and safety.
Three friends arrived in Brisbane with him, all traumatised by their escape from danger but filled with gratitude, hope and the determination to make a contribution to the Australian community that had accepted them.
They have all kept their promise to Australia. They’ve done this through study, setting up successful businesses that employ others, speaking publicly on radio and in public places such as Christian churches, and by eventually becoming Australian citizens who have been able to bring their wives and children here.
The oldest daughter of one of the men is now at university. She wants to be a doctor so that she can help others.
There are many refugee children still on Nauru after five years. Most have severe mental health symptoms. Many are suicidal. They have no permanent safe home, no certainty of the future.
Social worker Fiona Owens, who was employed by International Health and Medical Services told ABC News (27/8/18) children were desperate and wanted to end their lives.
“The only thing a lot of the children are thinking about is how to die,” Owens said.
Until October 5, Doctors without Borders worked with these children. Now these doctors have been expelled. No longer needed! They were given 24 hours to leave by Nauru’s government.
Thousands of Australian doctors have called for our government to act. Is money the answer? Nauru gets paid well by Australia for each refugee it accommodates. According to Amnesty International, the Government of Nauru “has received substantial benefits for permitting its territory to be used to hold refugees and asylum-seekers.” In fact, Nauru is guaranteed minimum $35.3 million annually by Australia.
We’ve stopped the boats. Stopped drowning kids. Instead, we’ve killed hope. We’ve killed the will to live. Is there no alternative to cruelty as a deterrent? Have we have no compassion?
Gift from the mother of one Hazara friend. Embroidered Hankerchief