Seeking refuge, seeking reason, seeking hope

Real Australians Say welcome

This adorns the wall of a shop near my home.

This weekend we vote. I still don’t know how I will check those boxes. The issue I feel most strongly about hasn’t featured strongly along the campaign trial. I am appalled at how this country treats people seeking refuge. If you want to read a couple of great, well researched blog posts on this topic, try this and this.

Rather than making my own impassioned plea to reason, I thought I’d share a story with you from my past…

I was terrified. Seventeen and embarking on my first over-seas trip. And it wasn’t any old trip. I was to make my way down to Sydney to meet with a group of like-minded Christian souls and then onto Greece together to work with missionaries and asylum seekers for a month.

Ah yes, the obligatory white girl saves the world trip. It was twenty years ago and my memories are hazy. Assisted by photographs. The kind taken on film. I remember my team mates. Phillipa with her long dark hair and blue, blue eyes. Nathan, with his fancy digital camera. I had never seen one before. It was huge and needed to be charged every few hours.

I remember we stayed in a seedy part of town in a seedy hostel. There were no doubt budget restrictions, but our parents would have been appalled. We had a large room with mattresses on the floor — no beds. There were comings and goings through out the night. In my teenage innocence, I had no idea what they meant. I can look back now and take an educated guess. It was run by a nice man with a clichèd moustache. He made us tea in the morning and would always put the milk in first. I still don’t know whether that was particular to him or the Grecians. I was held in thrall by all of it. The first sparks of a travel bug lit. A world, entirely different to my own, to be immersed in.

We spent our days teaching English to kids that couldn’t go back to their homes. Even back then, Greece was home to so many displaced people. We asked the American missionaries if it would be easier for the children to understand us if we adopted American accents. A heavy and incredulous drawl came back “You guys can speak without accents?”  It became the running joke of the trip.

But what has stayed with me, with crystal clarity, is the way people seeking refuge were treated in Greece. We spent a couple of days within camps. There were no fences. No guards. No guns. People had made shipping containers and large crates into homes. You could tell the families that had been there a while. The ones that had furnishings and things on the wall. Children’s drawings and wind chimes. There were shared bathrooms. It was sub-standard living. It was in no way permanent. But there was community.

People weren’t guarded or made to feel they were criminals. No-one was making money from tragedy. And it didn’t seem to cost the Greek government exorbitant amounts per year to break spirits. This was temporary and poor, but it was not a prison. It was not without hope.

I talked with the families. Many spoke beautiful English, in addition to their native language and often one or two others. My heroine complex fractured. These people knew a lot more than I did. People that fled their homes and found themselves impoverished. But they did not start there. They were well educated. They had enjoyed good jobs. If home existed, they would return in a heart beat. But home no longer existed and they looked forward to rebuilding with admirable resilience.

There was a small school house in the camp with a playground fashioned out of things others had thrown away. The children laughed. It’s a sound that carries over continents. Children playing and laughing sound the same no matter where you are.

Twenty years on, I wonder if the children that have sought to make Australia their home laugh and play.  Whether that universal sound can be heard in the Nauru detention centre?

Arrow 2

What’s your big election issue?


Linking up with Essentially Jess and IBOT


23 thoughts on “Seeking refuge, seeking reason, seeking hope

    • Robyna says:

      I don’t really like the queue analogy because if I was fleeing my home for fear of myself or my children being murdered, raped or tortured, I wouldn’t be interested in any “queues”. I think Greece probably has a different attitude because they tend to be a gateway for people looking for new homes. When we talk about the “queue” in Australia, we are really talking about places like Greece. I just think we have more to offer as a country than cruelty under the guise of saving people from drowning.

  1. Renee Wilson says:

    I feel for those on Nauru. I hope laughter can still be heard, but I’m not so sure it can. What an experience for you as a 17 year old. I still need to read through all of the facts for the election. It’s coming up a little too fast.
    Renee Wilson recently posted…Settled into schoolMy Profile

  2. Lydia C. Lee says:

    As I’ve written before, I don’t think we have a right to turn away refugees – there are over 60 million people fleeing violence. We have a responsiblity as citizens of the world. For me I think Health and Education funding cuts are terrifying and we will end up with huge remorse if the vote goes a particular way. But even down to the jerk move of treating the LBGTQI community like sub class citizens. And by the way, Cory Bernardi et all, your antiquated personal Christian hate filled views have no place in GOVERNMENT. You may think it, but those rules shouldn’t be imposed on a country filled with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, other Christians and everyone else you exclude in your narrow world view. (Even Pope Francis doesn’t agree with you!). Shame on our current government for not reminding him we’re secular.
    Lydia C. Lee recently posted…Little thingsMy Profile

  3. Min@WriteoftheMiddle says:

    I am appalled at how our country treats people seeking refuge too Robyna. They are not criminals. They are humans in a desperate situation seeking a better life (and safety!) for their families. They should be treated with compassion, respect and dignity. The fact this is not happening in our country is shocking and it breaks my heart.
    Min@WriteoftheMiddle recently posted…Taking Stock – June 2016My Profile

  4. Rachel says:

    Australia’s refugee policy is downright disgusting. Human rights abuses at every level. We should be ashamed! People are people, no matter where they’ve come from, we have no right to treat asylum seekers like animals.

    • Robyna says:

      It’s just so sad. I don’t think it even matters where you stand on welcoming people into the country — clearly we are treating people in an inhumane way. I do think tough questions will be asked in future years and the history lessons won’t make our government look pretty.

  5. Vanessa says:

    Fairly selfishly, healthcare is the biggest issue on my mind this election. We scrape for suitable care as it is in my house, and it scares me if we go down a US style medical set up. Everyone should be able to afford to get medical care.
    Vanessa recently posted…The Value Of A SunriseMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      Oh my goodness yes. It such a strong feature of the Australian culture that everyone has access to good quality care. I can’t understand tearing that up.

  6. EssentiallyJess says:

    This whole issue hurts my heart. I don’t know know how it can be ignored like it is, but at the same time I can imagine it’s a mammoth task trying to work out logistics.
    I do hope though that whoever runs the country next takes asylum seekers seriously. We need some more humanity in our government.
    EssentiallyJess recently posted…Quite the Year #IBOTMy Profile

  7. kit@lifethroughthehaze says:

    I really feel that Australian governments started a long time ago to put money before people. We constantly get told that we can’t afford x, y or z and yet we can afford for multinationals to not pay tax or for the big end of town to avoid tax. Perhaps if globally we started to think in terms that people and humanity is far more important than money we would all be better served.
    I wish I had the answers but what I do know is that those in government who purport to hold religious values don’t appear to live out those values in their public office.
    Seems the election was on lots of minds today xoxo
    kit@lifethroughthehaze recently posted…It’s a coming …My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I have noticed that difference as well. I would be nice if the government placed more emphasis on tolerance, kindness and long-term thinking and less emphasis on helping richer people get richer.

  8. Amy says:

    This whole issue breaks my heart. How can we turn our back on people in desperate need? I always try to imagine how I’d want to be treated in that position and I’m ashamed of how we treat refugees and those in search of a safer and better life. Election issues are tough and there’s a need to find the right balance but I think it should be done with humanity and compassion.
    Amy x (visiting from IBOT)

  9. Collette says:

    My two big election issues are Gay Marriage and Refugees.

    In our comfortable, safe houses we can never truly understand what refugees face when they flee their homes. But the fact that they leave, often with only the clothes they are standing in is enough to show that things are desperate; it is life or death. The complete absence of compassion is frightening; this othering that the has become part of the vernacular is so disturbing. When people say ‘they should wait their turn’ – do they think it’s like a queue in Coles? Waiting their turn would mean torture and death for so many. I recognise the logistical difficulties that are involved in housing refugees, but we are a rich country that can afford to offer humanitarian assistance – not treat these people like alien invaders.
    And as for gay marriage – what difference does it make to anyone else? Again, it’s a fundamental human right. Why do the mainstream get to choose for the marginal? It’s just not right.
    Collette recently posted…My Morning Routine – In Real Life (this is a ‘no aspirational high-achievers’ zone).My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I find it interesting that both of those issues go to basic human rights and somehow the people in charge use their “Christian” values to defend their standpoints. Definitely not right.

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