Last Friday is being talked about as the day from hell at the Melbourne-based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Afterwards, CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis sent the following letter to volunteers:
I want to take a moment to share with you my last Friday to give you a human face to what this government is doing to asylum seekers with the indifference and lack of compassion it has shown so far. I still hold onto hope but at the moment I can’t erase last Friday….
I and two other ASRC lawyers, Maria and Sam spent the entire day telling 19 families that the Minister had said no to their case and that for most they now had to face going home.
I can still hear the weeping of one young woman from Ethiopia after hearing the news of her rejection. Having fled being trafficked and raped, the news left her sobbing so loudly that she started wailing and screaming. It pierced the walls and stopped us all. It took an hour just for the tears to stop. What comfort could I give her?
I think of the young man from Bangladesh who upon hearing the news, was stony silent but he did not need to say anything, because his face said it all, it had broken into a thousand pieces of grief and wept quietly, his numbness a resignation to hope all lost…
All day long this continued…We tried to explain to our 63 year old Grandmother of six (all grand children in Australia) why the government wanted to send her back to East Timor away from her 3 Australian citizen children and leave her to fend for herself destitute and homeless…but we were lost for words…
We sat with the father from Sri Lanka who is married to an Australian and has a child with her and tried to explain why this government wants to break up his family and send him home. We could find no reason.
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We told another young man from China who has arrest warrant out for him and faces torture if returned to China for his human rights beliefs, that this government is sending him back to this fate…
The father of one of our families who has been here 11 years rang a counsellor on the weekend (after we broke the news to him on Friday) threatening to throw himself off a bridge because the thought of return was too much to bear.
Next week, we face yet another 8 people whom we must tell that they must return. I am already thinking about one father who has already tried killing himself, that I must give the news to this week and have to somehow convince him to stay strong for his 2 kids who need their dad. I worry for the young man from India who faces torture if he returns simply because he is gay.
We will continue to fight the good fight for those in danger, and for those who may seek to kill themselves rather than face return and for those whose families are on the line.
But as I sit tonight at 8.39pm writing to you, I ask myself why do our people have to suffer so needlessly, so unjustly, so immorally, simply because they want freedom?