Go Back To Where You Came From was an Australian TV series broadcast in 2011. It was about six ordinary Australians each of whom had different opinions on Australia’s asylum seeker debate. The six Aussies had agreed to embark on a confronting 25-day journey travelling in reverse the journey that refugees and asylum seekers have taken to reach Australia. In other words they were going back to where the refugees came from. It was an epic journey, dangerous and very challenging for them physically and emotionally.
In order for them to have a similar experience as the refugees and asylum seekers, or the ‘boat people’ as they are so often referred to, the Aussies boarded a run down boat without money, phones or passports and from which, in mid-ocean, they had to be rescued before it sank.
Their journey took them to Malaysia where they observed firsthand immigration raids on some camps and a construction site; they lived in a Kenyan refugee camp; visited slums in Jordan before going to a war zone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and another in Iraq under the protection of UN Peacekeepers and the US military. The same countries from where some of the refugees managed to flee, having paid people smugglers vast sums of money, in the hope that they can get asylum in Australia.
I work for a humanitarian organization that supports people who are made vulnerable through the process of migration, whose survival, dignity, physical or mental health is under threat, to ensure they receive the humanitarian support they need while their immigration status is being resolved.
While the ‘boat people’ who manage to reach Australia (and, believe me, some do die on the way) wait for decisions to be made about their visas, my organisation offers them community housing, health services for their children and families, and children are enrolled in school. Thanks to volunteers, the refugees are able to have English language classes, engage with their community, have access to emergency services, social networks and other agencies.
Others within the organisation help trace and restore links between separated family as well as finding out the fate of missing family members. They also support those made vulnerable by people trafficking.
‘Go back to where you came from’ was an expression I was all too familiar with when growing up in England. It would be directed at my mother who was Jamaican and who, for very personal and painful reasons, made the choice not to go back to where she came from. Mum arrived in London on 1st April 1939 intending to stay only a few months but world events, malicious intent and personal tragedy all prevented her from returning to her home and family in Kingston, Jamaica. I often wondered, and asked my mother many times, why we couldn’t go home to Jamaica or even contact her family. Her answer was always the same. “It’s too painful to talk about”.
But one day I decided to find out for myself and what I discovered filled me with so much admiration for her I wanted future generations of my family to know about Mum. So I wrote ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’. And after a while I wanted the world to know about her!
Humanity can sometimes be in very short supply which is why I’m proud to work for a humanitarian organisation that supports the most vulnerable people at their most vulnerable time.
It’s worth remembering now and again Article 25 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which says that “Everyone has the right to a decent life, including enough food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services”.
And as for the six Australians who travelled in the refugee and asylum seekers ‘shoes’. At the end of the series their original attitude toward refugees and immigration did change, although some changes were more impressive than others.