Words by Ellen Kirkpatrick
Macquarie University student and LEAP Mentor volunteer, Brita Penfold has witnessed first hand, “how passionate refugee youth can be and how much they value the opportunity to gain an education.” Her experience in the LEAP program was an enlightening one, making her realise that these youth arriving in Australia have “incredible drive to take advantage of the opportunities available…”
The recent National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention found that living in detention for an extended period of time greatly hindered the ability of refugee youth to develop into healthy adults. The longer the time they spent in detention, it found, the more the trauma of their past was exacerbated. This is particularly so if they have been separated from their family.
Hamayun Qayyum, a Macquarie University student who came to Australia in 2009 as a refugee from Afghanistan, agrees. He faced a number of challenges in adjusting to Australian life but stated that undertaking tertiary education at Macquarie University was a major factor in assisting him to overcome his challenges.
“My degree and other programs at Macquarie University have allowed me to find my place in my new society through interactions with other students, staff and partners,” He stated. In particular he acknowledged University Programs such as PACE International and the Global Leadership Program, “it has allowed me to regain my self-confidence and realise my life goals .”
“I am aware of my good fortune of being part of the Australian society and as an Australian I will strive to contribute towards a progressive society in Australia that upholds equality and social justice for all”
Refugee week is an important annual event celebrating the positive contributions refugees have made to Australia. The event epitomises Australia’s humanitarian ethic and culture of a ‘fair go’ for all. But this years Refugee Week, celebrated from the 15th – 21st of June, coincided with a string of racist remarks and xenophobia across the country, spurred largely by our politicians.
Attorney-General, George Brandis, has continually come to the defence of bigotry through his attempts to repeal s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Even more concerning is the repeated comments from our Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, referring to those who arrive in Australia by boat as “illegal.” This term has long been established as a lie. Outside of politics, a recent report by Andrew Hamilton in Eureaka Street found that 71% of Australians believed that asylum seekers should be turned away.
But as Qayyum points out, “seeking refuge is a fundamental human right.” Indeed, Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“We cannot question the right of a human being to seek refuge…” Qayyum states. “However, I also believe that being able to seek refuge in a country, like Australia, is not the end of problems for refugees but rather a beginning of many others and most importantly social issues.
Penfolds agrees, concluding that many of the racists stereotypes seen in Australian media and politics would be more likely to disappear “if people became more involved with refugee youth and accepted these people are positive contributors to the community.”