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Australians want to open their homes to locked-down refugees. The government should let them : The Guardian

"by Craig Foster

I’ll take them.

At a time when real decisions are being made about social worth, of who will be left out or left behind, it is refugees and asylum seekers along with international students and migrant workers who capture the ugliness of “us and them”.
Working every day in essential services to feed the vulnerable exposes the true nature of our response. Students who prop up our universities, kids whose parents entrusted us with their academic futures and immediate wellbeing, left destitute and hungry. A million migrant workers, who toil to keep the country operating, going without. You’re only good for what you provide to us, after all, we’re not real friends.

But it is not only they who suffer, it’s our own concept of self. A virus that reduces humanity to one, that penetrates all artificial barriers, brutally exposes the differences that we refuse to overcome.

Similarly, the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is not an abstraction that relates to a group of humans here and offshore, it’s central to the very concept of Australia. It’s the true test.

Everything we have done to the thousands of people on Manus and Nauru, in Villawood and Mantra, speaks directly to me, you, us. Do we protect their rights, see ourselves in them, recognise the commonalities between all races, minorities and human beings?
Treating each other well, our families and children, friends and colleagues, doesn’t validate our humanity, that’s easy. Child’s play. There’s social pressure to conform, workplace legislation and anti-discrimination laws to force compliance, our own social and economic interests directly impacted.

The real test is when there’s no social capital, no personal gains to make. When speaking up for marginalised people will cost friends, business, social influence, will we stand by and let people die? Will we pen them for seven years and continue to turn a blind eye?
Now as we, like they, are detained, will we acknowledge the hypocrisy of what we’ve done? While they fled for their lives and we said “that’s not right, they should get in line”. When threatened, we punched on for a bog roll. How exactly did we go with “lines” and “queues” when our loved ones were at risk?

While they sit in small rooms for 23 hours a day, locked up for seven years for no crime, in fact for asserting their human rights, we talk about our mental health and how suffocating it is to be caged. Will we still look away as they rot, day after day, from the inside out?

We talk about using our time to learn, reconnect with family, educate ourselves and prepare for our next assault on the economic dream, when they scream just to walk free, without guards at their door.

And when we assess worth in a stimulus package and talk about keeping others safe by staying home, we’re not talking about everyone, are we? We’ve let prisoners out into the community because they’re us gone wrong, but refugees, who are at the most severe risk with chronic health conditions and compromised immune systems, well, they’re different. Like the students. And migrant workers.

But no, they are us. The truest version. Australia is not Sydney 2000, America’s Cup, our bushfire response, or our togetherness against Covid. We are asylum seekers and refugees, we are the damned because we’ve damned them, we are the medicated because we’ve ruined them. We cannot take pride in the way we help those who reflect us, if at the same time we ruin those who are condemned by the concept of who we purport to be.

Refugees in Port Moresby told me that they imperilled their loved ones’ lives because they believed Australia to be a place of democracy, human rights and of people who care. An El Dorado of egalitarianism. Where people struck out in pursuit of humanitarian gold, and died in the attempt.

I still believe passionately in who we are, and what we sell. I’ll never give up on that dream. But we’ve proved them wrong for seven years. It’s time we proved them right.

Like the 9,900 members of I Have a Room who have offered to house all those detained in immigration centres around the country at severe risk of infection, I will give my house to people that have become our national conscience.

I will fly Mostafa Azimitabar and Farhad Bandesh, two Kurds who’ve endured hell for seven years that we have turned into husks of people and who are my friends, to Sydney at my own expense, house, feed, clothe and take responsibility for them during Covid-19 and recently made this offer to the Australian government.

I’ll pay a bond if necessary, and they’ll live exactly as they should. As my brothers. Family members. As equals.

And I call on the Australian government to release the 1,440 immigration detainees into the care of fellow Australians who feel the same way.

Because that was the vision that you and I inherited for Australia, and for which they risked their lives.

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