This weekend, Amnesty International Refugee Network and Road to Refuge team up for Paths to Change – a full-day conference which will arm young people with information about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. The conference covers everything from the specifics of mandatory detention to take-away facts that will be useful prompts for discussion with mates and family.
Presenters are drawn from a well-qualified panel, including Amnesty, Swinburne Institute of Techonology and the Asylum Seeker Refugee Centre.
Speaking at the conference will be Paths to Change facilitator Roj Amedi – editor, writer and activist, who was also an Iraqi Kurdish refugee.
Roj, why you are passionate about issues facing refugees and asylum seekers?
I was a refugee from Iraq and I am a Kurd, a member of one of the largest displaced peoples in the world. However, I am passionate about the rights of those seeking safety because I'm Australian and I expect better from this country. I don't want our government to be torturing people in our name, with the aim of deterring people from seeking asylum. Anyone, anywhere, is allowed to seek asylum and we don't have any right to imprison people for seeking that very basic right.
What makes you most angry at the moment when considering the plight of refugees and asylum seekers?
Two things. First, that the current political climate was established over 15 years ago and neither Labor nor the LNP has refuted the false premise upon which our asylum seeker policies are based, namely, that we don’t have a responsibility as a developed country to look after those who are facing the consequences of war, oppression and statelessness.
"Anyone, anywhere, is allowed to seek asylum and we don't have any right to imprison people for seeking that very basic right.”
Secondly, the current discourse has made the general voting public believe that people would risk everything and undergo horrific circumstances, but be led to self-harm and sickness because of opportunism. Young children do not have suicidal thoughts because they are opportunistic and their parents and families do not force them to harm themselves so that they may gain access to Australia. These are terrified and desperate people who deserve better.
How can everyday folk help?
Question everything and listen to the voices of people who are seeking safety, namely asylum seekers and refugees. The reason that the media has had practically no access to our offshore processing centres is because the government does not want those voices to be heard. To be stateless and left to languish in subsistence circumstances is inhumane.
Is there anything we shouldn’t be doing?
Don't dehumanise those who are seeking safety and don't make them symbols of their humanity – they are not merely defined by this one experience of statelessness, fear, anguish, degradation and isolation. They are people with passions, strengths, weaknesses, memories, culture, history, and hopes and dreams.
"Young children do not have suicidal thoughts because they are opportunistic and their parents and families do not force them to harm themselves so that they may gain access to Australia."
The program for the conference describes Australia’s immigration policies as an anomaly. Why is this the case?
Australia is still the only country where immigration detention is mandatory for all unlawful non-citizens (including asylum seekers). Also, the various laws that have been enacted over the past 15 to 20 years have resulted in the criminalisation of reporting child sex abuse, for example, with a penalty of over two years' jail. This is a huge contradiction when it's also an offence not to report such negligence and abuse.
Tell us about the systemic discrimination facing women applying for asylum
Women bare the brunt of violence caused by displacement, terrorism, warfare, domestic violence, disease, forced marriage, homophobia, transphobia, human trafficking, slavery, rape, and statelessness. Even when women do get resettled and are successful in obtaining asylum in a new country, they are often the ones that have to manage the trauma that they and their families have experienced. You can only imagine how women have to fight facing this level of violence and oppression and how much harder it is to survive, while still managing the very convoluted process of seeking asylum.