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As the federal election approaches, it’s important to remind people that compassion in government policies matters!

The article below, was published in the Nambucca News of the Area on Friday 14th January, under the headline “Seeking Asylum: Our Stories”. It made quite a splash!

Dear NOTA Editor,

Sandra Moon’s excellent valedictory article about the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to two outstanding journalists is both timely and important. As the Norwegian Nobel Committee reminds us, freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public, and these rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy, and for protection against war and conflict. The News of the Area has made a refreshing contribution in this space during 2021, which is admirable.

As we head towards the federal election in the months ahead, a relentless focus on truth in electioneering and on a media that is courageous enough to speak truth to power will be more important than ever. This is particularly relevant in relation to the depiction and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. For the past two decades, we have shifted from a focus on compassion and our human rights obligations to one of fomenting fear and spreading misinformation. Securing votes at elections, whatever the human cost, is now front and centre. The potential presence of refugees has preoccupied the nation – from the Tampa incident, the “children overboard” falsehood, and the demonising of asylum seekers as potential terrorists, rapists, thieves and job-stealers. In all this fog of misinformation and scaremongering, the real stories of refugees have been excluded from the national narrative.

A new book, “Seeking Asylum: Our Stories”, put together by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, seeks to redress the balance through the voices and stories of real refugees who have arrived in Australia during the past twenty years. The twenty-three people who tell their stories in this beautifully illustrated book have one thing in common, in that all of them had been forced to flee their homeland. Thereafter, each of their stories is unique and deeply personal.

When Ghofran was just nine years old, her family was forced to flee Iraq. She spent six years in a refugee tent in the Saudi Arabian desert, before arriving in Australia at the age of twenty with no English and limited education. But, like so many refugees, she was determined and resilient. She was eventually awarded a Bachelor of Science degree with high distinction, and later completed her PhD. She now works as a university lecturer, training biomedical students on their way to becoming doctors.

Another refugee, Danijel, tells us that he has gone from milking cows in a war zone to representing blue-collar workers in Australian courts!

It is important that the stories of refugees are heard. To that end, some members of our local refugee advocacy group have purchased copies of the book for our local libraries. These have now been presented to Macksville, Nambucca, Urunga and Bellingen libraries. We do hope that members of our communities will enjoy reading the refugees’ stories, which will hopefully contribute to a better and more empathetic understanding of the issues, and help us to respond with greater compassion and humanity to these people. They are seeking a hand up, not a handout, and, with support, have so much to offer to Australian society.

Let these stories be an antidote to the inevitable drumbeat of racism and fear as the federal election approaches.

Mike Griffin


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