This is a guest post from Polly Hemming, a mate from Darwin.
I thought about adding some homily or pious quote about the “true measure of the value of a society is how … ” or similar but thought better after I re-read Polly’s piece.
She says it all in a few heart-felt words.
On our recent annual pilgrimage to the south I had lunch with Hatif, a 19-year-old Hazara student living in Melbourne.
Since being given refugee status in 2011, Hatif has completed years 10, 11 and 12 and is now enrolled in an electrical engineering degree at RMIT.
He also works part time, sends money home to his mother and siblings in Afghanistan (who are in the final stages of being assessed for a family migration visa) and was one of the co-organisers of the inaugural Nawroz Festival in Melbourne.
Hatif is a great example of one of the ‘illegal maritime arrivals’ Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison are currently busting their arses to deter, silence, hide, send back, punish and imprison (not necessarily in that order).
When I met Hatif I was working as an ESL teacher for an NGO contracted by the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship to provide support to unaccompanied minors in immigration detention.
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I taught about 15 boys, mostly Hazara, from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, some of who had been in detention for up to 12 months.
I was really only there briefly and have mixed feelings about my time teaching.
I loved my students—I’ve never encountered a group of people with so much respect for education—and our lessons were a lot of fun, but I can’t really say it was a happy experience.
The boys were clearly suffering trauma and the ‘alternative place of detention’ (APOD) where they were detained was a breeding ground for depression and anxiety.
Ultimately the funding was cut from the ESL program as the boys were given refugee status, siphoned off to other APODS or transferred to the Northern Immigration Detention Centre when they turned 18.
I kept in touch with most of my students and a few other Hazara families and, thanks to social media, have watched as they have worked tirelessly to become part of the Australian community.
When I put this photo up on Facebook a friend commented that ‘one swallow does not a summer make’.
I suppose that’s true. But actually, I’ve met and continue to meet a lot of refugees (or swallows) like Hatif.
I’m yet to meet one who wants to convert me to Islam and/or blow me up.
Like Hatif, mostly they have been overwhelmingly optimistic and grateful to be here and have thrown themselves into work or study.
Sadly, because of the secrecy and fear mongering of both sides of government, stories like Hatif’s are muffled and we are just left with vague references to the shadowy threat of illegal maritime arrivals.
Those spiky coral-eating starfish are illegal maritime arrivals, asylum seekers are just people who want a better life.
Note: Since writing this the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has issued a new direction whereby family stream applications submitted by asylum seekers are no longer being processed and ‘will not be finalised for a number of years’.
Hatif’s mother and siblings will not be joining him any time soon.
Photo: Polly, her daughter and Hatif. Melbourne, 2013