From June 18th to June 24th it is National Refugee Week.
My families life has been enriched by friendship with people who have been refugees.
Last year one of my daughters married a gorgeous young man who years ago came to Australia seeking Asylum. It was such a fun wedding with a huge multicultural guest list. The guests from all over our world combined to provide for us the rich and delicious celebration food for our day.
The great passion of my Son in Law is to be of service to people who, like him, have experienced the terror and heartbreaking loss of having to flee from their nation, community, family, home and country because of life-threatening persecution. He rarely talks of his experiences in his home country, or his experiences as he escaped. When he does start to talk I stand very still, not even daring to breathe, I don't want to break the spell or change the mood. It is good for him to talk, but it is also good for me to try to understand.
When you come into our store you receive your purchase in a beautiful gift bag made of out of date travel books, atlas and magazines. These pages of discarded books are sewn together into bags by a woman who fled from Burma, renamed Myanmar by the military government. Her name is Mary. She is beautiful inside and out. I love the bags because they are not plastic, they are a recycled material, the books are purchased from Op Shops so the funds go to the charity the op shop supports and Mary makes them beautiful.
She has come to Australia from a suffering country.
Her nation has been a secret country since power was taken by a military dictatorship. This dictatorship has been brutal in its governance. The generals have ruled Myanmar with a regime so harsh, so ruthless and so bloody that over one million people have fled the nation to live in refugee camps. So many have died. One of my friends from Myanmar commented to me that he had been lucky to be such a small child because when the army came to grab slave porters for their equipment he was so little that they only gave him the pots and pans to carry and so he was able to live.
Knowing these courageous people has been one of the great privileges of my life.
I watch and listen to Australian news and see people labelled as 'refugees' and seen somehow to be at fault for seeking asylum. I don't think we who live in the magical land of Australia can possibly understand the desperation or fear that makes a person leave everything behind. Nor can we understand the weariness and hunger of waiting the 20 years in a refugee camp which is now the average time on UNHCR waiting lists. With understanding, we can become an enlightened nation of welcome, and gather the strength and courage of the people who come to us seeking asylum into our national character as we have done in the past. Always we have become richer in both spirit and culture and nationhood. The challenge of this century is to be wise and generous again and once again it is us who will be the richer.
If you re interested in finding more information you can go to the refugee council of Australia's page at The Refugee Council of Australia's report for 2017.