Over two years ago, the beginning of the Christmas period in 2010, I first stepped foot in Darwin detention centre - a place where people who seek asylum (that is, have applied for refugee status but have not yet been recognised) are held in what is essentially a prison. The crime? That they wish to remain alive and have done all that they could to do so, to keep their children safe, their family out of harm's way.
The month-long experience of volunteering in that detention centre was one that, more than the entire year I spent in europe, changed my life. I had little awareness of government policy on asylum-seekers, other than the headlines that screamed 'queue-jumpers' or 'boat people'. I was familiar with the rhetoric, the fear-mongering of the major political parties and certain media outlets and yet, there was a piercing and consistent siren going off over and over in my head that I could not shut off. It was the alarm signalling a truth I knew to be true on the most rudimentary level - it was wrong.
For those of you not from Australia, you might not be familiar with our
famous infamous policies dealing with a few thousand of the world's most vulnerable people who have braved wars and borders and treacherous seas to ask us for asylum. We lock them up, we send them offshore to other countries, we spend billions of dollars trying to keep them out of sight and out of mind.
It's not all bad news, though. There have been innovative public awareness campaigns aimed at educating the public on the truth about seeking asylum versus the popular notions born of fear that many politicians and conservative shock-jocks cling to. There was Go Back To Where You Came From there was Dumb, drunk and racist there was Amnesty International's Rethink Refugees campaign and the fairly recent organisation Welcome to Australia's efforts that include rallies, consistent social media updates and the like.
Despite this, the myths of illegality persist, the suspicion surrounding their right to be here becomes more entrenched and the fear - always the fear - of who they are, why they are here, what they want is fed by morsels of misinformation.
It's enough to make me scream, to rant, to pull out my hair, to feel physically ill, fatigued and perhaps even apathetic. History can sometimes be the surest way to lose faith in humanity by seeing what lessons we refuse to learn no matter how many lives are lost in teaching it to us; on the other hand it can be the surest way to regain courage and take up arms once again by knowing that there are those who have come before us, frustrated with a change that seemed would never come. A change that did.
I remember reading somewhere that change is like molasses. Change can take a lifetime, a generation or even a few. So in times like these, when the current Labor government passes an immoral, irrational and completely absurd bill that only a few years beforehand they had fought against when the conservative Howard government proposed it, I remember that change is coming.
It might not seem like it, the future may look bleak, hopeless even, but history was never made by those who decided that it was too hard, too long, too little, too late. It takes somebody everyday to stand up for what they believe to be right, in a million small and big ways, for change to be realised. It might be every day for twenty days, or every day for twenty years or every day of your life until it comes to fruition.
Even then, there are many advocates, revolutionaries, change-makers that did not live to see the fruition of their dreams and us here who enjoy the results of what always begins as an idea of what is right and what is wrong.
Never give up on what you believe to be right, because one day history will prove to be on your side.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." ~
Martin Luther King Jr