Over fifty men, women and children gathered in Ryrie Park to bear silent witness in support and solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers. Brother Brian Berg from St Bede’s opened the gathering. He read the poem ‘Everyone has the right to seek asylum’ by journalist Greg Foyster. Taken from lines in letters written by asylum seekers in detention it was a powerful and moving statement. The first part detailed reasons for fleeing home and country to try to come to Australia. The second part - detailing arrival and incarceration in offshore detention, was read by Wendy McMahon Bell. The poem ends ‘I am a human being/Please treat me like one’. The Circle then formed and silence fell.
‘Circles of Silence’ have been held elsewhere in Australia following Pope Francis’ designation of Sunday 28th August as ‘Refugee and Migrant Sunday’. The Braidwood Circle was initiated by the ecumenical Braidwood Social Justice Group and the Braidwood Branch of Rural Australians for Refugees but many participants were from the wider community sharing the common concern.
It should be mentioned that half a dozen dogs had accompanied their human companions to the circle. The recent publication of the ‘Nauru Files’ in the Australian Edition of The Guardian drew attention to the systemic abuse suffered by people in detention there and subsequently to government reluctance to apparently believe or act on these allegations. If these animals were treated the way the Nauru detainees are apparently treated the RSPCA would intervene.
It is hoped people of goodwill will contact their MP and the Prime Minister urging a change of policy based on humanity and basic decency; reminding them as Christians to ‘do unto others as you would have done unto you.’
The following poem was read by Brother Brian Berg.
EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO SEEK ASYLUM
I was born in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
I was born in Kashmir, between India and Pakistan. I was born in Iran.
I was born in Iraq.
I was born in Sri Lanka.
I worked as an architect, building up my business.
I worked as a negotiator, liaising with the government. I worked as an engineer.
I worked as a veterinarian.
I worked as an accountant.
I am a member of the Hazara ethnic group.
I am opposed to the government's occupation of Kashmir.
I am a firm believer in women's rights.
I am a whistleblower for government corruption.
I am an ethnic Tamil.
I was held down while I watched my father beaten to death.
I was kidnapped by the government and taken to an interrogation room.
I was knocked out with the butt of a rifle.
I was shot three times.
I was arrested and put in a camp.
They kept me in a solitary cell for four days without food or water.
They drove a nail through my thumb and put fresh chilli in the wound.
They beat the soles of my feet with canes.
They pulled out my fingernails.
They placed a metal roller on my shins and applied pressure until I screamed.
I bribed a guard to help me escape in the middle of the night.
I fled through the mountains and a farmer smuggled me across the border.
I hid underground for five months.
I sold my property and used the money for a plane ticket.
I cut a hole in the wire fence and crawled through the jungle to a safehouse.
I got on the first boat I could, wherever it was going.
I paid a man $7000 to take me somewhere safe, but he left with my money.
I spent months in Indonesia hiding in the forest.
I was dumped in the middle of the ocean and had to swim to shore.
I arrived on Ashmore Reef and collapsed from thirst and heat exhaustion.
I was so relieved to be in Australia!
I was happy to be safe from the militia!
I was alive,
I was overjoyed,
I was finally free!
I was then locked up on Christmas Island for three years without a lawyer.
I was put behind bars and razor wire in the middle of the desert.
I was called by a number not a name.
I was kept in an isolation cell.
I was beaten and abused by the guards.
Why am I locked up if I haven't committed a crime?
How can I be in prison without a trial?
Why can't they treat me like a human being?
Why am I kept here all alone?
Why haven't I been told when this will end?
I am depressed and have constant headaches.
I am frightened and wake up screaming.
I am losing my mind.
I have sewn my lips together.
I have tried to kill myself.
I didn't want to be a refugee.
I didn't want to come to your country.
I didn't want to leave my family.
I didn't want to lose my house.
I didn't want to have to start again.
I am not here to get rich.
I am not here to receive charity.
I am not here to steal your job.
I am not here to cheat the system.
I am not here by choice.
I am here because otherwise I would be dead.
I am here because the militia threatened to kill me and my family.
I am here because I was shot.
I am here because my house was burned down.
I am here because I have nowhere else to go.
I was born in a dangerous land.
I was persecuted for who I am and what I believe.
I was tortured in an interrogation room.
I was dumped in the ocean.
I was locked up in detention.
I am an asylum seeker, every asylum seeker, and this is my story.
I am not a 'queue jumper'.
I am not an 'illegal arrival'.
I am not a 'political issue'.
I am a human being.
Please treat me like one.
Poem by Greg Foyster is a freelance journalist who's written for The Age, The Big Issue, Crikey and New Matilda. The above stories are based on letters from asylum seekers in detention
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