In their shoes

I’m not a refugee. I’m a mother of two young boys living in Australia. I’m white, and I’m privileged. I know this. I don’t always see how privileged, because that’s how it works, but I know that I am afforded rights and opportunities that others never get to see.

In the last day or so, I have seen many articles in Australia, and comments on those articles, around the US and Australian Refugee swap and I am horrified by the way we have reduced these human beings to caricature footnotes in a political show of power between two countries.

We’ve been doing this for some time in Australia, portraying refugees as the queue jumping, rule flaunting, greedy other in the social dialogue that seems to float around our country.

“Don’t let them in. They don’t deserve it. They’re cheating the system.”

“They’re other.”

“They don’t belong here.”

And so on.

Except I’m a mother. I keep thinking ‘what would it take for me to leave my family home, travel great distances and risk the lives of my children to travel by boat to a foreign country to start again.’ And the answer is simple: a lot. I would literally have to be driven beyond despair in order to flee my home.

I do understand starting again. I grew up in a cult. A “cut off from society, the outside world is evil” cult. In order to leave it I had to move to a place where I didn’t know anyone, and knew that by leaving, everyone I ever knew would turn their backs on me and I would be alone. This included my family. So I did and they did what I knew they would and I was alone. So I understand starting again.

I did it again when I left my abusive ex husband and moved interstate. Started again. It had to be done. It was hard, but I was able to do it.

Those times were painful and hard enough, but yet I understand that they are just a fraction of the fear and desperation in the upheaval of leaving your home for the unknown would create.

I can’t imagine the scars it would leave, the toll it would take.

I can’t imagine how scary the rhetoric currently spouted by the leaders of two free countries must feel for those trying to flee war, hatred and persecution. What that must mean to them to feel so unwanted. To have nowhere to go.

In a very real way our combined lack of compassion and understanding has trapped them in a glass prison, while we stand by and debate their worthiness. We have rules. Their desperation is making them try to get around those rules to find somewhere SAFE. And yet we paint them as the fearful other because it’s easier than confronting the truth, that we have trapped other people to die in a war we probably had a hand in at some point. Trapped their children to die. Their grandparents. Their friends…

It’s a confronting, painful image.

But we can change it. We can see the fearful others for who they are: People. Desperate, scared, needy people. And we can extend our arms and welcome them to their new home.

To safety.

Because we all deserve to feel safe.

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