Even when Alzheimer’s had stolen her ability to know who we were, my mother could still surprise and delight when those pesky brain messages got it right. On a visit towards the end, as we walked into the sitting room full of elderly residents, she called out suddenly to all “look here are my darling girls.” Her love for the four of us endured even when she no longer knew us by name. As my brother said her “thinking” brain had gone but her “feeling” brain stayed. A mother’s love is a mighty powerful force.
This past week I have met mothers who have demonstrated this powerful love for their children by making decisions and taking risks which saved their lives. They will not be getting flowers and breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day in the Broadmeadows camp but they have surely earned the love and respect of their children. Sara, a woman from Syria took her three children from the relentless bombing in Damascus across the world to safety. With her younger sister and her father she hid in rooms in Indonesia for months with her baby, four year old boy and six year old daughter who has severe autism and cannot speak.
They travelled by boat for three days and three nights through rough seas sitting up in a tiny fishing boat to Christmas Island. The children vomited continually and the little girl was confused and terrorised by the boat and the dark seas. Any Australian parent of a child with autism can imagine how hard it was for this young mother to keep her safe and comforted in a crowded boat. Now they are living in a donga (demountable caravan) in the detention camp at Broadmeadows with 220 other families hoping for release. Between a waking baby and a terrified autistic child this young mother has little sleep but her love for her children keeps her going.
Another mother made this journey by boat alone with her eight children aged from 18 years to 18 months and her frail eighty year old mother. Having fled the brutal persecution of the Taliban in Afghanistan, this mother has waited in Indonesia for ten years after fleeing Afghanistan. Five years ago the family was finally processed by UNHCR in Indonesia and recognised as refugees. They have been waiting for five years for resettlement. When her husband went missing she decided that she had to take her children from this precarious life where they had no future, no chance of schooling or a country to call home.
These are heroic women putting the lives of their children above all else and taking decisions not for the faint hearted. With no safe places to hide in their own countries they set off in search of safety and security. Sara and her family made it out of Syria just before the airport was closed. Australia only accepts refugees referred by UNHCR. As Palestinians they have no right to UNHCR access. Therefore they are not considered for resettlement even though their position in Syria is beyond desperate. With her mother and sister already in Australia it was the only choice they had to make a run for it.
There are no safe camps between Syria or Afghanistan and Australia for people to wait for an invitation. Hazaras who have fled Afghanistan to Quetta are being bombed and gunned down on the streets. Those who waited in Indonesia for the Australian Embassy to offer resettlement have waited in vain. Only 266 visas have been issued since August 13 last year when the “No Advantage” policy was introduced. Nineteen hundred Refugees are waiting for resettlement, with their positive Refugee determination from UNHCR. Others are no longer even trying to get a token from UNHCR for an interview.
As we think with love and care of our own mothers, let us not forget those mothers in camps across Australia and offshore places whose children depend for survival on their strength and endurance. These mothers have no luxuries, dressed as they are in camp clothes, lining up for unfamiliar canteen food and trying to encourage their children to eat the same meals day after day. Their courage and gutsy determination has got them to safety in Australia but insecurity and uncertainty, living in camps with children is no mother’s paradise.
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
12 Batman st West Melbourne 3003
ph 03 9326 6066 / 0417517075
“AUSTRALIA. Built by boatpeople.”