After a stimulating Perth Writers Festival I joined writers Thomas Keneally, Rosie Scott, Debra Adelaide, Linda Jaivin, David Marr, Antony Loewenstein, and publisher Terri-Ann White at the Perth candlelight vigil for Reza Berati, the young Iranian asylum seeker who was tragically killed on Manus Island.
It was an understandably emotional event, as I’m sure were the countless other vigils going on around Australia in public places and private homes. We are shocked and ashamed of the way our government is treating asylum seekers: inadequately and cruelly. We can and must do better.
In Perth, we experienced a minute of silence and then a heart-wrenching traditional Persian song. We were all very moved by the speech of Sarah Ross, from the Refugee Rights Action Network, which is available on the RRAN website. Here’s the opening, and I encourage you to click through and read the speech in full:
I visited a friend in Curtin detention centre in December of 2013. I flew into Broome from Perth and rented a car. I drove that car halfway from Broome to Derby and camped overnight in what was insufferable heat in the middle of the bush. I drove an hour through the gateway into the Kimberley until I reached Curtin Detention Centre—one of the most remote and inaccessible detention centres in Australia.
I visited a man there who emanated an air of gentility and humility that still resonates within me so many months afterwards. He had been brutally tortured in Sri Lanka several times before finally fleeing. He sought asylum in Australia coming here by boat. He arrived in September 2012 and was then sent to Nauru Detention Centre where he witnessed rioting, abuse, self-harm and suicide. He was then transferred to Curtin Detention Centre where he was left to wait for months, and months, and months.
What is the point of this story? I got a phone call last week to say that after 16 months in detention, after surviving torture at the hands of a brutal regime in Sri Lanka, incarceration in Australia and abuse on Nauru, he would be getting released from detention next week.
When I told him that I had received the call we had both been waiting for, he was so happy. Even after 16 months in detention and everything that he had been through, he told me that his dreams and his future were coming ‘so soon’.
When he was in detention, I asked him if he’d like to study something when he got out. And he said, ‘Yes, I want to become a magician. Is there a university for magicians in Perth?’ He wanted to make children laugh. That is the type of person he is. I could now be at peace, knowing that if he still wished to do so, he was free to pursue his dream of becoming a magician.
Through all of the horror stories I have heard about people’s particular stories—news of his release struck a particular chord within me and I realised it was because I have a profound faith and belief that people can overcome their suffering.
Read the rest here.
If you are a writer, you may consider adding your voice to Writers for Refugees.
A Country Too Far is an anthology edited by Rosie Scott and Tom Keneally featuring writings on asylum seekers by some of Australia’s best authors.
And if you want to learn more about the private companies which run our detention centres, Antony Loewenstein’s Profits of Doom is a good place to start.