I was a stranger and you welcomed me
– Gospel of Matthew
This week I was delighted to attend the Lions Club of Australia Youth of the Year competition, as Rachel Parsons, our school Social Justice Captain, was one of the six finalists in that round. Rachel won the round with this inspiring and insightful speech which invites us all to ponder not only the vulnerable status of refugees coming to Australia, but how our own response to them may in fact lead us into our better selves.
“We often find ourselves surrounded… Engulfed, by a wall of noise.Social media, news, politicians, emails, sports teams, friends, family – without awareness, our lives are transformed into an unconscious response to the demands and distractions of modern life. Is it any wonder we lose touch with our best selves and the values that we hold important. Our aspirations for what our lives will stand for and stand against are lost amidst the noise. It has become easy to surrender that important reflection to the forces willing to enslave our opinions and recruit our will to their purpose. To leave that thinking to others, allowing ourselves to adopt the bias of articles and statements, without criticism or questioning.Tonight, among all the noise, I would like to let in a little music. In offering this to you, I would like for you to consider it, let it dwell with your best self and then let it rise when the noise reaches peaks. What I speak of gives voice to the voiceless, whose experiences would touch your heart, would cause your better self to rise in action but whose voices have no means to be amplified.I am referring to those whom justice and equity is denied. I am not going to attempt to recruit you and so become yet another noise adding to the din. Rather, I invite you, when you hear reports and strident opinions about the perils of immigration, the welfare for the undeserving- consider it. Don’t blindly accept the bile that refers to Refugees as “queue jumpers” and “illegals”. Let the music rise. Be reminded then, that these people, are like you and I are people. But people with no other choice. Remember, these issues are not black and white but complex. Let your true self emerge and truly consider what you believe is best. What views, supported and espoused by you would have and leave the kind of society to which you are committed?For years Australian society has engaged in fierce debate, polarised by the issue of refugees and asylum seekers, particularly asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Today, this debate has culminated with panic and mistrust and misunderstandings about the plight of these people.These people, whom we often do not really understand. Perhaps it is an increasing perception of asylum seekers and refugees as synonymous and regarded as ‘queue jumpers’, ‘illegals’- a burden on the taxpayer. Regardless, it seems we have lost sight of the human dignity of people seeking Asylum and the common humanity we share. According to the Universal declaration of human rights, which Australia ratified in 1948 “everyone has right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. This is regardless of how they arrive.Refugees, despite common misconceptions are different to Asylum seekers. Refugees are those who have been forced to flee their country due to persecution, war or violence whereas Asylum seekers are those seeking protection whom have not yet been granted refugee status.In 2014 alone there were almost 60 million people displaced due to persecution. If these tens of millions of displaced people were a nation they would constitute the 24th largest, 3 times the population of Australia. Consider, your parents, close relatives, friends, neighbours all caught in a tempest to which there is no escape. Then multiply that number by 3. Your possessions gone, your sense of belonging crushed, forced to travel great distances for safety, and even once reaching refugee camps conditions remain uncertain, and in some, living conditions are inhumane.What if Australia became a conflict zone? What if your family were threatened? Would you stand by frozen or would you act, fight for your life and a home which was not wrought with conflict? Would you be compelled to flee?To be granted refugee status you are an extremely vulnerable positionIn enacting change, it is all our voices as one that have an immense impact. It is in the way that you speak that makes a difference. It is the views that we propagate, which will be those of the future. So, when given the opportunity, see the noise for what it is and let the music rise. Acknowledge the fundamental human rights which you value and only give oxygen to those things which will have a legacy.” – Rachel Parsons (Year 12, Social Justice Captain)
Also this week, we heard inspiring words from Sarah Dale, a lawyer who advocates for unaccompanied minors arriving in Australia as refugees.
“For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share” – Advance Australia Fair #SingThe2ndVerse
“O n 23 February I, along with seven other Social Justice Leaders and two teachers, attended the Abbotsleigh Breakfast Club for a talk on Refugees and Asylum Seekers. This talk was given by Sarah Dale, a lawyer representing children seeking asylum in Australia and a Human rights Award nominee in 2015. She is part of a NSW organisation, RACS (Refugee Advice & Casework Service). This is a non-profit legal service specifically for refugees. RACS provides advice and financial assistance to refugees. Sarah advocates for unaccompanied minors coming to Australia as refugees. She works particularly with teenage boys on Nauru. Personally, it really opened my eyes and gave a confronting insight into the legal side of what a refugee has to face as they are never permanently an Australia citizen, nor do they have a permanent visa. These refugees are born into a harmful environment depending on their nationality, ethnicity, religion, political opinion or social group. The speech was so inspiring and gave many statistics and facts as well as positive outcomes that they have helped achieve and how many lives they have saved and made better. Refugees arriving by boat, are sent to Christmas Island and from there they can be sent to Naru. RACS helps to prevent these refugees from getting sent there. When a refugee arrives by plane, they are automatically let into the country and are guaranteed a visa and are able to stay here. Our speaker emphasised and reminded us all that it is in fact legal to seek asylum but it is Australia’s political decisions that influence the fate of these people.” – Stefanie Musumeci