By Jane Cattermole
March 5, 2013
I recently attended the Perth Writer’s Festival and heard heard refugees tell their own stories and describe the mistrust and bitterness they felt from some Australians. Laura Tingle moderated the forum on ‘Refugees: Where do they come from?’ and the panel was:
Robin de Crespigny, Author of The People Smuggler and winner of the 25th Human Rights Award for Literature
Kooshyar Karimi, Refugee, Author of I Confess: Revelations in Exile and General Practitioner
Carina Hoang, Refugee, Author of Boat People: Personal Stories from the Vietnamese Exodus and a Special Representative of Australia for UNHCR
Robin’s book tells the true story of Ali Al Jenabi, who fled Saddam Hussain’s torture chambers and became a people smuggler to get his family to safety. He became known as the Oskar Schindler of Asia.
Kooshyar’s story began in the post-revolutionary bloodshed of the Iran-Iraq war. He practised medicine and helped desperate women and girls who had been raped terminate their resulting pregnancies. He was kidnapped and tortured over 65 days and then had to spy on his own people or be slowly tortured to death. He smuggled his wife and children out of Iran into Turkey where he hid for more than a year before the UNHCR granted him refugee status. He now lives in Sydney and works as a GP near Newcastle.
Carina was the eldest of seven children living in Saigon during the Vietnam war. After four years living under communist rule and not knowing the whereabouts of her father, Carina, still a teenager, set out for a new life with her younger brother and sister. They had seven gruelling days at sea, ran out of food and saw people die, were attacked by pirates and tossed around by violent storms. They landed in Indonesia and taken by authorities to an uninhabited island where they lived for a year. Carina was finally granted refugee status and lived in America before settling in Australia with her husband and daughter.
As you can imagine their stories of persecution, war, torture and escape were harrowing, but I will focus on their responses to these questions from Laura:
We have a federal election coming up. If there was one thing you could get changed about refugee policy in Australia what would it be? Would it just be increasing the humanitarian intake? Also there are questions about processing and all that sort of stuff, or would it be onshore versus offshore. What would be the one thing, that if a politician was actually going to be brave in this debate, what would you like to see them do?