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Drownings prompt deeper despair

Opinion

The tragic drowning of 17-year-old Arash Yari at Parsons Beach on the South Coast of SA highlighted once again the need for migrants and refugees to be educated about the dangers of the sea and the importance of learning how to swim.

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His death followed that of a Nepalese migrant believed to have been trying to save a young autistic boy in the calm waters off Glenelg North, which sparked calls for greater water safety measures for migrant communities.

Without wanting to diminish the seriousness of this issue, I can’t help but think there is a degree of hypocrisy in our public cries of concern, highlighted by the story of Arash and his father Charman who fled the Taliban in Afghanistan. Charman sought refuge in Australia and then did everything he could to bring his wife and six children here to a safe place where they could fulfil their dreams.

Sadly, young Arash will never realise his dreams. This is a tragedy that his family, who rushed to Parsons Beach from Melbourne on hearing the shocking news, will never get over. But equally tragic is the fact that there are families like Arash’s who are desperately seeking a safe and secure life but are prevented from doing so because of the intransigence of the Australian Government.

These families remain in limbo on Nauru or Manus Island (despite the closure of the processing centre there in October 2017) without hope and increasingly prone to depression and self-harm.

A report by the Australian Refugee Council says people transferred to Nauru have been described by world health experts as among the most traumatised they have seen, even more traumatised than those in war zones or in refugee camps around the world.

Last month in London, Dr Nick Martin was awarded the 2019 Blueprint for Free Speech prize. Dr Martin lost his job as senior medical officer for International Health and Medical Services on Nauru after speaking out against the medical neglect of refugees and asylum seekers on the island.

He told the audience he felt compelled to speak out, quoting retired Australian army Lieutenant General David Morrison: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

“I had to look at myself in the mirror – ‘you knew this was happening and you didn’t say anything’,” Dr Martin said.

He went on to say: “Australia is diminished, this diminishes us all. There are people still in those places, still, after six years. I know there are issues around migration around the world, I understand that, but the Australian solution is not a solution at all.”

Not only is the Government failing the families languishing on Nauru and Manus Island, it is also refusing to play a role in addressing the global issue of migration, as pointed out by John Haren in his opinion piece (page 10) on the Global Migration Compact.

How many children could be saved from the freezing cold and flooded refugee camps in Lebanon, where there is currently one million Syrians, if there was a concerted and coordinated effort by all nations to either resettle or return them to their home country?

How many children could be starting school in Australia this month instead of sinking further into depression if the Government allowed legitimate asylum seekers to settle here?

Yes the loss of life from drowning is too sad for us to imagine, but the lost opportunity for a wealthy country like Australia to welcome with open arms people with no hope of returning home is a national disgrace.

Perhaps the best way of honouring the life of young Arash and other migrants and refugees who have died in our waters is to stand up for those people seeking refuge in our beautiful and vast country.

 

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