Moved by refugee experiences

June 23, 2017

News journalist Rhiannon Tuffield has been moved by her interviews with refugee families for Refugee Week stories. Pictured are the Naveed family from Afghanistan.

I have no doubt that most of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when two planes plunged into the Twin Towers in New York almost 16 years ago.

I was sitting on a high chair at a family friend’s kitchen counter, eating Vegemite toast, when the tiny television in the room repeatedly broadcast images of the tragedy from every angle possible.

Both my mother and the family friend stared at the screen, worried that Australia could be next, and I remember then how the words ‘‘religious extremism’’ became tattooed in my mind.

The next morning at school, our teacher asked the class what ‘‘we should do’’ about the ‘‘refugee situation’’ as though every refugee was the source of all of the world’s problems, instead of a symptom.

Back then it was easy to dissociate, because discussions in the car or the classroom didn’t centre around the constant market attacks in Afghanistan or mass murders in Rwanda.

It took me a long time to realise that people who were escaping war zones were just like me, only I was lucky enough to be born in a country where years of my education weren’t disrupted, or members of my family could go to a shopping centre without fearing they wouldn’t come home.

We are shocked and disturbed when attacks are orchestrated in London and Paris, but when it comes to people who are different from us, we tend to stop feeling sympathetic or downright ignore what’s going on.

Thanks to Shepparton’s Kildonan UnitingCare, last week I was lucky enough to have the chance to interview three families from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The meetings exposed me to a side of immigration that many of us have never experienced, that being the strength these families have despite losing their homes, families and friends.

They shared tea and biscuits as they spoke about how they had lived through a hell they initially believed spanned all corners of the Earth.

Many of the issues foreign countries face will not be solved in our lifetime, and Australians will continue to go on cruises, marry and scroll through Instagram without a thought of what continues to occur in countries other than our own.

While I never expect to save the world, or know anybody personally who will, I can hopefully make a minor difference by letting those who have escaped war zones know that my door will always be open for them.

I hope this Refugee Week has given you the chance to either connect with an immigrant personally, or at least feel moved by one of their stories.

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