I was born in 1977, which according to my children is ages ago, I disagree (mostly)! I grew up in a tiny place called Cockatoo Valley, in South Australia – it had only a petrol station to mark it on the map.
Several years ago I 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.
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?
If you value your own human rights, you should value those of other people.
In parts of the world, people live in war, famine or are attacked because of things they believe in, such as their religion or who their family is. Sometimes their lives get so dangerous they have to flee their home country and find somewhere else to live – these people are known as refugees or asylum seekers.
Think about how you feel about your family and where you live. Think about how it might feel to have to leave your home at the last minute, and not take any of the things you love with you – not even pets. Think about what it might feel like to be hiding inside a truck or a boat hoping the people who want to hurt you don’t find out where you are hiding and make you go back to the danger, or worse.
Every person in the world has the right to be a refugee and ask safer countries for help. It is not illegal to arrive in another country and ask to live there until (hopefully) one day it is safe to return to your homeland. Places who are lucky enough not to be suffering from war and conflict are responsible for protecting refugees and treating them with respect and humanity. Sadly, some countries are not doing this and it us up to us, as people with big hearts, to make these governments change and be kinder. There is enough food and space for us to share.
I was inspired to write A Grain of Hope after I listened to a human rights lawyer, Julian Burnside, speak about his work with refugees. I also write to an asylum seeker on Manus Island, he has been kept there for years by the Australian Government – he was 19 when he arrived and is now in his early twenties.
In my opinion, the treatment Australian Governments have given to asylum seekers has been appalling for a long time. I believe that when you see bad things happening, you need to speak up for those who can’t. I believe this with all of my heart. I want to be able to say that I tried to do something to help refugees, even though at times it feels like I am getting nowhere. I also do it for my penpal – I don’t want him to give up hope.