Cindy James has reflected on the foundation of our vision statement – A Welcoming, Compassionate and Diverse Nation – and our vision for all people who come to Australia seeking refuge to be made to feel welcome and safe.
I have lived a blessed life. I had a good childhood, and even though I am female, I received a good education through to University. I speak a language that others definitely need but often struggle to acquire: English. I have ‘landed on my feet’ many times with satisfying jobs and decent wages.
In my lifetime I have experienced drought, but never famine. I have never lived with a shortage of food. If I was thirsty, it was not because clean water was unavailable. I have never been out of reach of good medical care. I have always had access to a toilet, suitable clothing, housing, and a car.
I have not lived through a war – at least not open warfare in my own country. My family has never been hunted down because of the colour of our skin, our religion or political stance. My sons have never been kidnapped to be child soldiers, nor daughters forced into sexual slavery. While I groan about politicians, I appreciate our democratic systems, and I can vote. I can even drive myself, a female, to an election booth to do so.
As I turn 50, I appreciate all the more how blessed I am to live in Australia. I have been helped to see this by meeting new immigrants to Australia who are from refugee background. I have met many who long for life’s advantages that have come easily to me: safety and protection, schooling for their children, and work for the adults. Really, just basic human rights.
Those who say refugees are a problem in Australia can’t have met the ones I have met.
Many Refugees bring talents with them when they immigrate to Australia. Some become lawyers, surgeons, and inventors. Some start businesses, or open restaurants. Some become professional sports people.
Refugees have and will continue to gift their talents to Australia. Refugees have also given me something – an uncommon gift that cannot be attained by meeting any other group of people. The gift is being ‘out-graced’, out-done, by a refugee family’s generosity and courteousness.
When they have had little food in their pantry, nonetheless I have experienced generous hospitality. Their gift has taught me to appreciate the many blessings that have come easily to one who has grown up in Australia.
Refugees can teach us much. They prioritize our common humanity above cultural, language or creedal divides. Australia, let’s sit up, and listen.
Cindy James is a Panel Member for the Working for Justice Circle.