Recently, I accompanied my son, Ben, a human rights activist, on a visit to meet two young Iranian couples at Wickham Point Detention Centre in Darwin.
It was an interesting experience and was not at all as confronting as I had anticipated. I went expecting to be shocked and intimidated by the physical aspects of the centre, the personnel and the asylum seekers.
I was not.
I had been prepared for the electrified barbed wire fences and very close supervision of our visit.
The young couples were delightful and so appreciative of our visit to them. They looked just like any young couples you may come across anywhere here in Australia or overseas.
I felt sincere compassion for their situation but when we came away somehow I felt that things might work out for them. I felt there was an air of paranoia that pervaded both staff and inmate behaviour, but, given the circumstances, I was not surprised.
I promised my son that I would write something for him about my impressions. A week went by and I did not what to say… until today.
I just heard that one of the young women we met, tried to commit suicide. I am distraught. This young woman was the spokesperson for the group and is intelligent, articulate, spoke English well and was the principal carer for her husband who, on arriving at Christmas Island last year, sustained head injuries after falling and hitting his head.
Even so, she seemed to have it all together. I learned a little of her story about their escape (yes escape) from their home country from my son. They were not complaining about their situation but desperate to learn how they could end their detention and start to live again in a place and a way that the rest of us take for granted.
She was a lovely and inspirational young woman.
What happened that she could lose all hope in the space of a week?
Well, the psychiatrist she saw last week recognised her desperate plight and how depressed she is. Who would not be, after 14 months?
Ill health, the burden of caring for others, limited access to help and being shunted from detention centre to detention centre with no idea how long this would go on, takes it toll.
But the IHMS psychologist disagreed with the specialist. He said that the young woman and her seriously ill husband were faking their symptoms to get released into community detention.
The reason her husband is ill is because his epilepsy medication was confiscated when he arrived at Christmas Island. As a result of a fit, he fell and sustained a serious head injury that affected his vision and his balance. He is a shadow of his former identification photograph.
What a catch 22 position. Dammed if they are and dammed if they aren’t.
I have always supported my son, but by and large I have sat on the sidelines, as over the last two years he has worked tirelessly to help individual asylum seekers, raise issues in the press and pressure the government of the day to make a decision about how to humanely settle them.
Like many others he has done this without any remuneration.
Sadly, the situation for asylum seekers has not improved in that time. Most politicians and mainstream media outlets in their coverage, reports and comments, feed public xenophobia.
We, the lucky country! We have political intransigence that allows dispossessed men, women and children to live in degrading and inhumane physical and mental conditions that our worst criminals do not live in.
I will not sit by on the sidelines any longer. It is time for all of us to come together to try and find a compassionate solution for the people who have come to our shores by boat in the last year, and still languish in detention.
Forget the rhetoric and inflammatory commentary and think what you would do if your life, your family and livelihood as you know it were about to be destroyed, with precious little time to make plans and no safe havens such as embassies or UN offices to apply to.
Let us be positive and look at what we can do and gain with our humanitarian policies, rather than looking at what we will lose.
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