Tuesday, 16 December 2014

I want to tell you a story...

I want to tell you a story of a refugee I met years ago when working in a hospital. She had given birth under emergency circumstances and remained gravely ill so was transferred to a medical ward while her baby was cared for in the Special Care Nursery.

As her medical condition improved she became a problem patient; trying to leave the ward, ignoring requests to return (she didn't speak English) and fighting like a wildcat when physically restrained. She was labelled as 'psychotic' and heavily medicated. Finally a translator was called in. She seemed almost unresponsive when he tried to speak with her and the outbursts continued.

I watched this unfold. I heard her screams as she was hauled back to her room. She was terrified. I took the time to read back through her medical notes. Her relative, with whom she was staying, had provided a detailed social history including torture, sexual assault and how she witnessed the murder of her family members. She had been granted residency quickly due to her pregnancy and was hoping her husband could join her in Australia soon.

If that had happened to me, as an Australian citizen I would have been provided with significant counselling, treatment for PTSD and an outpouring of support. She received time in a detention centre before being allowed to settle here without her husband. No counselling, no support, no psychological rehabilitation.

Is it any wonder she fought for her life when restrained by male security guards.

I organised a Pharmacist friend who spoke her language to come to the ward. With the relative safety of another female she opened up and explained she just wanted to see her baby. She thought we were taking her baby away from her. She was scared and confused. 

Within days we changed her treatment, organised frequent nursery visits and her condition improved. A few weeks later she went home with her baby.

I tell you this as I watch the aftermath of the Sydney siege tragedy. I do not want to speak or speculate about the accused other than to note his political asylum status.

Our refugee policies are murky. In some cases we don't screen appropriately, allowing dangerous and politically charged individuals to stay here. In other cases we lock desperate victims of horror in detention centres and do more damage. Rarely do we spend the time to rehabilitate them from their experiences. Rarely do they receive adequate care and treatment for all that has gone before reaching our shores.

I often wonder what would have happened to that woman if she had not had access to an educated female translator who was able to give her back her voice.

I cannot stop thinking about the man who changed the way we view our country. This doesn't happen in Australia, until it does. All those affected by yesterdays events will receive endless support and care, as they should. But this happens in other countries everyday. Every. Single. Day. And the victims have to just get on with their lives.

We have shown our goodness to those receiving unwarranted discrimination. #iwillridewithyou has drawn our people together amongst darkness and fear. We must remember this and speak up next time we see discrimination, let's make #iwillridewithyou our way of life from this point on. I am worried that we are the minority and that one of the outcomes of this tragedy will be further restrictions on immigration of refugees.

This post is not about answers. This is about not letting the actions of one person affect the fate of others. This is about changing the way we deal with asylum seekers to aid them in becoming valuable members of our society. This is about understanding the need for compassion and rehabilitation and providing it.

I have no sympathy for the actions of Man Haron Monis and I question the effectiveness of our justice system that he was out on bail when he shook our world. However as we learn more of his history it may provide answers on how he got to that place and how we can help avoid it happening again.

Please let's not tar others with the same brush.

I can see it, hear it, feel it, taste it - but I can never be on the inside of it with you. I cannot even be sure whether I really know what it is like. Is it 'like' my own? Or incomparable? Just as I can never know if what you see at any given moment is exactly the same as what I see. We look at a colour. We both call it red. But it is only because we have been taught to call it by that name. There is no guarantee - not ever - that we see it in the same way, that your red is my red.
André Brink, Before I forget


  1. love illridewithyou, such a lovely young woman who started that.

    Look, as you said, none of us know his story but I have to say, your lady in hospital was genuinely frightened and acting out, as we all would in that situation, and deserved kindness and understanding as a genuine refugee. However I think that's a different matter to what happened this week in that the situation could have been avoided had residency not been granted in the first place.

    Still, it's happened and we all have to deal with it, especially the victims, their families and police officers and people who were involved. I just hate how angry the world's gotten, it's not the country/world most of us grew up in and I'm finding it difficult to come to terms with that.

    1. I do agree with you. I think the entire refugee application process needs a rethink based on what has happened here. The victims, families and emergency services teams have been failed by our justice system and by the departments that are involved in screening asylum seekers.

      The gunman was an extremist and very likely mentally ill. I wonder if he had received appropriate care and treatment, could this have been prevented.

      I know there are some just plain evil people in the world but sometimes I think that vulnerable people get drawn to dark places because of a lack of appropriate care. It may well turn out that this man was, as some press have labelled him, a psychopath and potentially irretrievable. My concern is that there are other vulnerable people not receiving adequate rehabilitation that might also be drawn to extremist ways.

      I am concerned that political parties will use this as fuel for unfair and inhumane immigration laws. That was really where I was coming from.

    2. Re: changing immigration laws, I hope that doesn't happen either! The general feeling politically seems to be that it was a one-off event and people seem to be accepting that so here's hoping.


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