Motivated for Change
In the end, coming to understand the situation of asylum seekers in Australia is not so much about policies, procedures and politicians as it is about people. People with dreams, hopes, and aspirations held at bay by violence and persecution. Men, women, and children flee to Australia for safety, finding support from non-profit groups such as the House of Welcome, an accommodation, support, and referral centre for refugees and asylum seekers.
I have worked with refugees for more than 30 years, beginning in the West when the Vietnamese and East Timorese were arriving and later on in the East, in the diocese of Parramatta. Throughout my time at Parramatta, I noticed a real issue surrounding the release of asylum seekers from Villawood Detention Centre. They were released with little warning (24 hours) and expected to find their way without further assistance. This injustice prompted the local Anglican Priest to contact me, and others, to respond to the needs of the people being released from Villawood. For some years, we ran the House of Welcome under the auspices of the NSW Ecumenical council. The Franciscans bought an old butcher shop in Carramar, which was converted into the House of Welcome centre in 2001.
Some families seeking support from the House of Welcome lived in our Normanhurst Community. Darain*, a small-time union leader and activist, received death threats against himself and his family. With the help of his extended family, he and his wife, Anadia, scraped together enough to flee to Australia on tourist visas. On arrival, they sought asylum. With four teenage children, little money, and limited understanding of Australian immigration laws, they were referred to the House of Welcome.
With Darain almost crippled by a foot condition, Anadia pregnant with twins, no progress on their visa application, and a pandemic bringing further fear and isolation, life was bleak. The House of Welcome, with the help of religious congregations, settled them, initially, into the second house at Loreto Normanhurst before they moved to a home able to accommodate six children. The House of Welcome, which receives funding from Mary Ward International Australia, organised schools and medical attention for Darain and Anadia and enabled them to access their food bank.
In October last year, twin boys, Faizan and Hamiza, were welcomed into the world. Such a welter of emotions accompanied the birth of these baby boys – overwhelming love and absolute delight, with the older boys and girl vying for turns at carrying, cuddling and feeding, as well as anxiety in the face of uncertainty.
I have always been motivated from a position of justice and continue to advocate for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. We need to remind our government that Australia is a country of immigrants. Innocent people who would give their hearts and souls to their new-found country and are justified under international law to seek asylum should not be trapped in insecurity for years, living in suspension.
I now volunteer my time to House of Welcome as a board member and continue to visit the families who stayed in our community at Normanhurst. Faizan and Hamiza, their brothers and sister, deserve a future – a future which could be readily available in wealthy Australia.
* All names changed
Author: Sr Libby Rogerson ibvm