When 16-year-old Catherine volunteered at a legal centre for refugees, she came face-to-face with horrific stories of war and trauma. Now, as one of Save the Children’s 2017 Youth Ambassadors, she has a vision of how Australia should treat the people who seek our help.
When my parents immigrated to Australia, the road ahead was one of tribulation. It was hard to learn a language. It was hard to be disconnected from family. It was hard to establish the foundations of the new world they built here.
These things were difficult. But I cannot imagine how hard it would have been if they had to face what many other refugees and immigrants around the world face today.
Elsewhere, children drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Elsewhere, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters get shot and blown-up and they are assaulted in their homes. Elsewhere, there is no safety.
Volunteering at a legal centre for refugees in Melbourne has exposed me to a world where these experiences are normal. Here in Australia, there is no dignity for those who have been through so much. Humanity becomes a commodity and baseline security standards are traded off for political agendas.
Ours is a society willing to typecast those seeking asylum as part of a culture that is unwilling to integrate, unwilling to contribute, and unwilling to become a productive member of society.
But – regardless of which policies you support – no Australian should endorse the systematic abuse of people in facilities. No Australian should believe that violating our international human rights obligations is the appropriate way to confront the refugee crisis.
Save the Children’s programs around the world directly deal with these tensions. The support they have for refugees overseas, as well as those arriving in Australia, is targeted towards the needs of people who are seeking asylum. Save the Children say we are willing to try – we are willing to help refugees integrate and forge a path for their future. We are willing to help them participate in the workforce, and create a stronger future for all of us.
Engaging disenfranchised people relies on giving them agency to rebuild. Without agency - whether they are refugees, juvenile offenders or homeless - inequality entrenches itself in the social fabric of our communities. We lose the cohesion that is so intrinsic to providing equal opportunity for all individuals.
Changing the conversation
I want to see the conversation about refugees and other disadvantaged groups transcend bureaucracy. I want to see figures at the forefront of politics made aware of the people on the ground: each with their own story and their own circumstance.
I think we can all have an impact. It begins with acknowledging that everyone can make a difference. For me, that’s building links to diverse communities. I want to help their voices be heard at the highest levels of government. I want to engage with those people who we talk about, but who we forget to talk to.
Catherine is a Youth Ambassador with Save the Children Australia.
Find out more about our Youth Ambassador program here: https://www.savethechildren.org.au/about-us/media-and-publications/latest-news/years/announcing-our-2017-youth-ambassadors