Social Justice Day
On Wednesday 18 November, 9 Year 11 students attended the Catholic Schools Social Justice Day at Southern Cross Catholic Vocational College, Burwood. This year the theme surrounded the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. It was focused on this year’s Social Justice Statement released by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Australia, entitled “For those who’ve come across the seas: Justice for refugees and Asylum Seekers”. The day gave us an opportunity to reflect on the lives of asylum seekers and refugees and the struggles that they face when trying to flee their home countries and seek refuge on Australian shores. We heard the experiences of a number of refugees and learnt about the work of organisations, such as House of Welcome and St Bakhita Centre, that support families and individuals following their resettlement in Australia.
Most notably the day encouraged us to appreciate all that we have in Australia as we were faced with some quite confronting statistics regarding the current deterrent system operated by the Australian Government.
The average time spent in detention before being resettled or, potentially, deported is 17 years. This is longer than the length of most students’ lives thus far.
World wide there are approximately 60 million refugees and asylum seekers. This is equivalent to the entire population of the United Kingdom or Italy.
Of these 60 million displaced persons, only about 105,000 were resettled by the United Nations in 2014.
As if these horrifying statistics weren’t enough to convince us of the problems with the current systems through which refugees are processed, we heard the horror stories of refugees and social workers from detention centres such as Nauru and Manus Island and were given the opportunity to view letters and pictures written by children in detention. These children have known little else except detention or war in their lives and this is acutely expressed in their letters. For example, one child writes:
“Sometimes I want to sleep and never wake up… I am sick of seeing my mother in pain… and my dad worrying a lot. I can’t concentrate, I get tired of everything quickly and sometimes I just want to close my eyes and not think of anything in my poor life but it’s not possible. Please be a positive thing in my life, give me some hope and HELP ME PLEASE”.
These letters and images (below) are an emotional insight into the unstable, inadequate lives of people, especially children, in detention.
One of the many workshops available on the day was a ‘Mini-Mart’, during which students had the opportunity to purchase basic supplies and groceries for refugee families. As a result of the donations from Year 11 homerooms we were able to purchase $150 worth of goods to be distributed to disadvantaged families. These supplies includes nappies, toothbrushes, toothpaste, rice, pasta, cereal, canned foods such as tuna, and much more. Year 11’s support is greatly appreciated in this matter.
We also had the opportunity to quash some of the common myths surrounding refugees such as: “They’re illegal” and “They receive higher social security payments than Australian aged pensioners and do not contribute to Australian society in any way”.
Additionally, there is a common belief among Australians that we are being ‘swamped’ by asylum seekers, when in fact we take in very few refugees when compared to developing nations. In December 2013, Pakistan hosted 1.6 million refugees or asylum seekers, while Australia hosted only 34,503, according to the (UNHCR) United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Additionally, Australia is the only country in the world that uses mandatory detention as a first resort for asylum seekers.
All students who attended the day were overwhelmed by the experience and were made aware of the atrocities that are faced by asylum seekers and refugees. With this new found knowledge we are able to raise awareness for their plight and suffering and educate others in order to instigate change in the views of our communities.
The core message of the day, as established by the KeyNote speaker Mr Phil Glendenning, was that our generation needs to stand up for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. For we will be the source of change in our communities through raising awareness and sharing knowledge to change public opinions.
Jacinta Walz and Tyla Fawcett (Year 11)