Several years ago I did two things.
I began writing to a refugee on Manus Island, a young man called Kamran who arrived when he was 19 and has now been detained there for 6 years (2019).
I also attended a ‘Festival of Hope’ about refugees. It was run to educate and to inspire action and one of the guest speakers was Julian Burnside QC, a prominent figure in the world of refugee advocacy. His speech was both shocking and galvanising. One particular comment he made was ‘In Australia we treat animals better than we do refugees’. This remained in my thoughts for days afterwards and so I began to write ‘A Grain of Hope’ in an attempt to appeal to people’s consciences and inspire them to demand better from our Government.
A Grain of Hope follows two stories – a young girl named Hanan and a dog named Dok. Their tales show family, love, fear, sadness and journeys. The stories mirror each other…until the end.
It was illustrated by the talented Aldy Aguirre who uses hauntingly gentle images in watercolour and pen.
100% of any profit made from sales will be donated to Rural Australians for Refugees.
My thoughts on refugees
I have always believed that people need to be treated with respect and dignity, for without it we lose what makes us human. I am also saddened that our politicians and some newspapers have spread misinformation and fear when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, it has allowed the harm to continue for far too long.
The idea that people arriving by boat were ‘illegal’ began back in 2001 with the Tampa affair. In August 2001 the Norwegian ship the MV Tampa rescued around 430 refugees floating in distress in a dilapidated Indonesian fishing boat. The refugees asked the captain to take them to Christmas Island, the Tampa was warned by the Australian Government that if it entered Australian waters, the captain would face huge fines and possibly jail. The standoff ended when the Australian SAS boarded the Tampa and forcibly removed the refugees and after weeks of detention on the HMAS Manoora, and took them to Nauru. During this time, the Australian Government, lead by John Howard, introduced offshore processing laws (The Pacific Solution) and began referring to refugees arriving by boat as ‘illegal’ which they are not under international law.
Seeking refuge or asylum in another country is not a criminal act, as outlined by the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees. Australia is a signatory of the convention.
All asylum seekers are potential refugees until their case has been determined by the UNHCR or a government.
More refugees arrive in Australia by air than by boat, yet boat people have been far more persecuted by governments and the media than their flying equivalents. This is partly because many air arriving refugees hold valid visas and seek asylum upon arrival. Because they have valid visas, they are not detained. If they do not have a valid visa they are detained within Australia or in community detention whilst their claim is assessed.
Interestingly air arrivals are far less likely than boat people to be recognised as refugees. Around 45% of air arriving asylum seekers are determined to be refugees. Compare this with boat arrivals classified as genuine refugees which since 2009 has been approximately 90 per cent.
What can you do to help?
- Donate to refugee charities such as Rural Australian for Refugees or the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the UNHCR or many other refugee charities.
- Volunteer your time at these organisations. Rural Australians for Refugees has many groups in local towns where you can get involved as much or as little as you would like.
- Write to politicians demanding change in refugee policy and that those in Nauru and PNG should be brought here and resettled, they have lived in limbo and distress for far too long for us to palm them off to other countries or force them to return home to countries who regularly violate human rights
- Keep writing to politicians, the more correspondence the better…even organise to talk to them in person
- Attend rallies
- Learn some basic facts about refugees so that you can help correct the misinformation spread by years of political scaremongering. Sometimes gently giving the facts to people can be enough to make them stop and think
- Read some accounts of refugee lives, there are some astounding biographies and autobiographies out there. There are many out there that I haven’t yet read, but I can recommend The People Smuggler by Robin De Crespigny, The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya, No Friend but the Mountain by Behrouz Boochani.
If you value your own human rights, you should value those of other people.
Here is my recent launch at Readings Bookshop in Hawthorn, with the wonderful Julian Burnside QC there to help…
100% of any profits from book sales will be donated to Rural Australians for Refugees.