For the past two years I’ve had the incredible opportunity to tutor young migrant children living in and around the Richmond flats.
The following is a speech delivered by JRS Youth Ambassador Daniel Crowley at the 2014 Xavier Social Justice Networks’s JRS Dinner in Melbourne.
The theme for tonight’s dinner is ‘who is my neighbour’. When Jesus was asked this question by a lawyer, he responded with the iconic parable of the Good Samaritan, a story that still resonates today. Jesus encouraged us to show love, help and mercy to not only those that we know and love but everyone.
But our politicians are like the Priests and Levites. They show no mercy to the desperate begging at their feet. And in turn, Australians fail to see asylum seekers as our neighbours. They are thought of outsiders, distant figures, statistics, numbers on a page. Our politicians irresponsibly refer to them with terms like boat people, illegal maritime arrivals, consciously avoiding talking about them like people. Because they know that with every piece of news, political jargon and policy, our hearts are hardened and the people affected by this issue are dehumanised. Our politicians are keen to make this a political issue, a vote-winner, rather than what it should be, which is a humanitarian issue.
But when we do hear stories of individuals, we can’t help but feel sympathy for them and their plight. We learn that they are people just like us. They have names, they are not just statistics. They have hopes and dreams like us, they have regrets like us. They have mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. They smile, laugh and cry. They find it hard to get out of bed on a Monday morning. They are human beings.
In the film we have just watched, Mary meets Mohammad, we follow the journey of Mary and her friends in the Pontville Knitting Group as a detention centre opens up in their town in the South East of Tasmania. At first Mary is strongly opposed to the opening of a detention centre in her local community, built upon a strong fear of the Muslim detainees. She at first refuses to be a part of the program devised by members of her knitting group to knit beanies for the detainees. However she eventually decides to visit the centre, because she is interested to see the ‘luxurious life’ the detainees are rumoured to have. Mary and four other knitters decide to become regular visitors to the asylum seekers, and build up close relationships with the Hazara men inside. Mary strikes a close bond with one particular young man, Mohammad. We watch as Mary gradually becomes more and more accepting and open-minded.
A few personal experiences I’ve had that have shaped my opinions and views on this issue involve meeting some of these people. At Friday Night School in Richmond, for the past two years I’ve had the incredible opportunity to tutor young migrant children living in and around the Richmond flats. I’ve struck up a close bond with my regular tutee Anthony, and have heard all about the hardships, struggles and triumphs in his life story. Meeting and listening to Anthony has helped open my mind, and put a relatable, human face on the issue.
Another amazing experience I’ve had was meeting refugee rappers Fablice Mani and his nephew G-Storm, a couple years ago. Fablice visited my school and inspired us with his story and music. Fablice was born in Burundi, and after losing his parents at age 8 he became a child solider. He eventually escaped into Tanzania where he lived in a refugee camp, until he was eventually granted an Australian VISA as part of our offshore humanitarian program. Fablice then completed VCE in 2011, and is now enrolled in International Business Studies at RMIT. His music with a message has reached a wide audience, his last album Child Soldier recorded with iconic Australian music legend Paul Kelly. Both Fablice and Anthony’s stories have opened up my mind and heart. Our challenge is to get the broader Australian community to hear stories of individuals, because it will change their perspective. Even Mary, with her strong prejudices, was moved by hearing their stories. A quote from her perfectly illustrates what I’m trying to get across.
“I needed to have this experience rather than to be turned around by somebody else. To meet the men themselves, that’s what convinced me. There are so many lies going on out in the community.”
We need to let our politicians know that their approach of de-humanising the refugees to instil fear amongst the community, is wrong and irresponsible. Australia is currently acting like the Priest and the Levite, ignoring those in need. Our challenge is to humanise these people, think of them as our neighbours, and start acting more like the Samaritan.