Home > Opinion > Journey asks John Jegasothy ; What have you learned from asylum seekers?

Journey asks John Jegasothy ; What have you learned from asylum seekers?

At the time of writing, boat people and border protection were major issues in the federal election. The world was watching.

The international community, as well as the Australian community, know the atrocities and crimes against humanity committed in countries like Sri Lanka, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma and other countries where the victims of war and persecution are fleeing.

Asylum seekers are victimised and are desperate people. The asylum seeker’s path from warring countries itself is a dangerous exercise.

Although there is a common understanding that big money is involved in paying the people smugglers, the poor victims sell or pawn their properties, jewels and borrow money from relatives, especially those who have already fled the country, to pay their “travel agents”.

They get into boats that are hardly seaworthy. Those who survive tell of the perilous journey where they almost lost their lives.

When they reach the shore, Immigration tries to do the right thing by doing medical checks, identity checks, then the application is written and processed with the help of legal aid.

Their first statutory declaration is done when the asylum seeker is still in a daze, confused and fatigued. Subsequent interviews are done when still suffering from post-traumatic stress. To prove their case where could people get evidence, especially people from countries like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Burma?

These people have been traumatised over and over again and are incarcerated and isolated indefinitely from the Australian community and the rest of the world.

Their fate remains in the hands of the Immigration case officer and members of the Review Tribunal if turned down.

Asylum seekers are real people fleeing from real danger and that is proven because most of these asylum seekers are eventually given a Protection Visa.

Asylum seekers are prepared to take risks to find a safe place to live, and have the potential to make their contribution to the country that opens the door and treats them like human beings and real refugees.

But how long to find the safe place and how long to be given asylum is an ongoing anxiety which has led some asylum seekers to attempt suicide to end their life in detention.

Rev John Jegasothy is part-time minister at Rose Bay Vaucluse Uniting Church, Sydney, and minister of the Tamil congregation and Mission to Refugees. In 2009 he received a humanitarian award from the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Victims for his work supporting refugees.