INTO THE DEEP: Migrant and Refugee Week Reflection
It was in the early hours of the morning in October 1996 that my recently widowed mother prompted my three siblings and I to wake up, get into a van and travel a 7-hour journey from Baghdad to Zakho, where we resided for the next 20 days, before we made our 18-hour voyage from Zakho, Iraq to Istanbul, Turkey. As a family we lived in Istanbul for 10 months before we were finally granted a refugee visa to travel to Australia. On the 19th of August 1997, our Qantas flight landed in Melbourne, where my heavily pregnant sister, who lived in Australia at the time, welcomed us at the airport. We all hugged each other and wept tears of joy. We were safe, we were together again as a family, and during this time, nothing else mattered – until this day, this moment remains as the greatest memory of my life.
According to the ABC, there are now 70.8 million displaced people around the world. Often, when we think of refugees and migrants, we perceive them as individuals who possess an option; as if it is someone’s preferred choice to leave his or her home and travel to an unknown place. As a teacher in contemporary Australia routinely encountering refugee students, it is always the most profound experience. Their stories of losing their home, their friends, their education and their sense of identity compels me to pause and imagine more deeply what the human person endures when he or she become displaced. I can assure you that no mother wakes up one morning and decides to leave her home without a reason.
My family’s journey to Australia, compelled by hardship, was, in comparison to many other refugees, pleasant – at least to me, from the perspective of a 12-year old at the time. Throughout my life and important life experiences, I have come to know a little about Mary Ward, her courage and trust in venturing where God led her. Often displaced herself, Mary Ward, along with her companions, knew what it was like to be unwanted and even imprisoned. I begin to ponder what escaping a home means for refugees, the fear that sinks deep, but the courage that leads them on to the unknown; the unknown that, in time, seems more certain than the home they once loved and treasured. Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen chose the motto “put out into the deep” (Luke 5:4), as a reminder that refugees and migrants are “putting into the deep” when they leave their homes, to ultimately risk it all to find their new home.
The issue of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants moves the human heart to ask: what can I do to help? Firstly, it is crucial that we do not remain silent; Pope Francis refers to this as the ‘globalisation of indifference’. Once we become apathetic to this global issue, we, as the human race, fail to know what it really means to be human and to stand in solidarity with the suffering and plight of our neighbours. If we begin to develop a criterion for who our neighbour should be, then we begin to dispose of people. The invitation during this Refugee and Migrant Week is to not only see the face of God in all those who arrive on our shores, but to embrace them wholeheartedly.
Melbourne Teacher and Candidate with the Loreto Sisters