Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dreams of the Freedom Bus

I am dreaming horrific and sad dreams about refugees at the moment. This is mainly because I am currently writing a University paper about the Refugee Freedom Bus journey that I took in 2002.

I feel a weight of responsibility regarding the stories of many people that I was handed on that journey and subsequent journeys.

I am once again feeling the shame of being a citizen of country that imposes such cruel policies.

We had a lecture last week by the amazing and inspiring Eileen Pittaway about her role in transforming UN policy to recognise rape or gender related violence as a war crime and hence grounds to be recognised as a refugee. I asked in this lecture how she was able to sustain her passion and motivation while hearing the harrowing stories of many women and families to take to the UN. How did she not breakdown? I'm not sure that she really answered my question as she related experiences of coming back from refugee camps and her family telling her that she was crying out in her sleep and her growing love for Gin and Tonic.

I don't think that I 'burnt out' as much as realised that I needed sleep.

I was speaking to many refugees till three and four in the morning as they couldn't sleep or they had been put in isolation as 'punishment', I was doing this many nights and trying to finish a degree and save money for another trip to the outback detention centres. Many of these conversations I probably benefited from as well as or more than the refugees. Sometimes I could only agree that yes, things did seem hopeless. I cried with one friend who told me once that despite his tough exterior, he really missed his mum. I cried with a mother who's son had been raped in detention and was sleeping about 2 hours every night and I laughed with a friend who only wanted to talk about food as food made him happy.

All my friends are now out of detention centres on Temporary Protection Visas and are facing the recovery of both their trauma in their country of origin and trauma that they experienced in Australian detention centres.

Did you know that if an asylum seeker is granted Permanent Protection Visa that they are required to pay back a debt for costs incurred in their time in detention. One friend of mine is facing a 'new life' in Australia with a $90,000 debt for the three years he (unnecessarily) spent in detention.

Here is a link to a doco that was made about the Refugee Freedom Bus trip - Waking Up the Nation

1 comment:

nicole said...

i work with a woman who grew up in mainland china and who used to do some work at villawood as a translator. she was telling me about it last week; she said that she was horrified at the conditions (physical and psychological) that people were being forced to live in - she said that until then she had always thought of australia as a free and good place...

i didn't realise that asylum seekers had to pay back their 'debts' - it all just seems too cruel and sad to be true.

ps you are an amazing and compassionate woman (yes, really).