Last week Adam and I went to a very unique party. A party to celebrate the fact that a family who once lived in fear for their lives can now call Australia home. Last year their initial application for residency in Australia was rejected, but on 26 March this year, I got a message to say it had been approved!
The Sydney Refugee Team was working with this family last year. Their lawyer was doing a reasonable job but B* and his wife S* were very distressed and simply couldn’t understand why the government had refused them. They were scared and confused. So even though my knowledge of refugee law was limited, my boss Janice graciously let me don my lawyer’s hat and I listened to B’s story.
B recounted parts of his and his wife’s childhood, of growing up in a culture where violence, discrimination, poverty and corruption were sadly, normal. Like many refugees, their story was complex and fragmented. I asked, “Did that happen before or after this?” at various points. I too was confused, but at the same time filled with compassion for this man and his family. I was starting to pull the pieces together – it seemed that their case was really valid, but their story was muddled.
For him, the events had just happened. But I explained that he needed to tell his story to the tribunal in the order the events had occurred. I don’t think he’d even heard of chronological order, let alone understood it. I was struck by this vast African/Australian storytelling difference.
How does one talk about such traumatic events in an orderly way? If this couple couldn’t write and tell their story in a clear, consistent order, enabling our legal system to recognise them as refugees, there was a risk that they might be rejected again.
I also read to him the definition of a refugee according to the United Nations. He said in his culture persecution equated only to being killed. He didn’t know that other forms of harm and discrimination are also considered persecution.
B and S were able to rewrite their application, face the tribunal process and then wait the many months for the outcome with help and support from Sally and the SRT. The team truly walked with this family on this difficult chapter of their journey.
At the party B* was almost the first person to greet us – he emerged from the loud African music and dancing – and hugged me, saying, “Naomi! It’s good to see you. Thank you. Remember that day! Thank you for helping us. Thank you.” He turned to Adam and embraced him – automatic friends. I was so glad to help them in a small way! Oh and I almost forgot to mention that they came to faith in Jesus in the midst of their trials!
I’m getting a team together to do RIDE for Refugees on Saturday 18 August in Sydney. I want to help people like B and S and others around the world facing uncertainty, fearing for their lives, fighting for survival and desperately seeking a place to truly call home. Want to join my team (leave a comment on this post) or register your own (go to the website)?
Today is World Refugee Day. Every refugee has a story, but few have a choice in what happens next…how will you help write a different chapter for a refugee today?
*Names withheld to protect their privacy.