Opinion: Seeking Shelter from the Refugee Storm

The High Court of Australia has ruled Julia Gillard’s proposed ‘Malaysia swap deal’ unconstitutional and boat people continue to be smuggled into Australian waters. A local Auburn resident who has been caught up in the political refugee storm is left wondering, why all the fuss?

Maya* sought refuge with her family eight years ago in an attempt to escape from the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein. Born in Iraq, her family fled their homeland in search of a safe future.

With her dad highly vocal about toppling the regime, the family feared they could be persecuted and so fled to nearby Syria: “Saddam was ruthless and my parents feared for our lives. My dad was a massive supporter of a revolution and an end to the dictatorship.”

Living in a makeshift house on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Damascus, Maya’s parents saw no future for their young family: “It was such a place of distress. I mean why would we stay there? We had no future.”

Maya and her family were determined to become Australian citizens and to contribute to Australian society: “‘Smuggling’ ourselves into the country was the only way to secure a prosperous future. With my father being a doctor and my mum a nurse, we felt like we had so much to offer to the Australian community.”

Maya argues that in a matter of life and death, paying people smugglers was a justifiable decision and that anybody else would have done the same thing: “It’s survival of the fittest, and I apologise for putting this so bluntly but that is the case. If you… had the option to take a direct route as a refugee into Australia, you’d take it up in an instance.”

So if the act is legal, why is the Gillard government so determined to stop boat people? Maya believes it’s a way to answer media hype and flailing polls: “Boat people make headlines, of course they do and this Malaysia solution is an attempt to stop them. It’s cowardly of the Gillard government, it’s an attempt to increase poll numbers and satisfy the thirst of the media.”

Maya believes that Gillard’s proposal and current legislation to stop boat people should be reviewed, as it is a way to answer media hype and flailing polls: “The government should be more accepting of refugees. Especially those who are considered legitimate by the United Nations.”

Federal Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen is determined to implement the Malaysian Solution: “This is where the elegance of the Malaysian transfer arrangement shines through – turning back people in a safe and orderly way and providing a massive deterrent for people considering that dangerous boat journey.”

Critics of the Malaysia swap deal are quick to point out that it hasn’t deterred smuggling operations with another boat arriving earlier in the week.

Despite the criticisms of the Malaysia deal, Maya and those who share her refugee experience are all united by their collective desire: “We just want a place safe from famine, from guns, from militia, from running. We just want to build our lives again, to prosper again and to fit into the place we now call home; Australia.”

*Name changed with permission

Arzu Cidem, Leanora Collett and Helen Chong

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