activism, human rights, politics, refugees

A man on fire: Australia’s hidden mental health crisis

Trigger warning: please take care of yourself and read with caution. The below content references torture, self-harm and suicide.

Yesterday, a man set himself on fire.

As many as 50 refugees on Manus Island have attempted suicide or self-harmed since the federal election. Mental health issues have been prevalent in Australia’s offshore detention centres for years, but according to refugees and advocates on the PNG island, May’s election result has triggered a complete mental health crisis.

Let’s think about this, statistically. At least 50 individuals have attempted suicide in just three weeks, with more than 70 isolated incidents reported as of the date of this post. That’s about three attempts on the island per day. If we were to look at those 70 incidents as a percentage given the 500 men living in the Manus detention centre, we are looking at (at least) a 14% rate of suicide attempts – in three weeks.

To give this context over one year, alongside general Australian statistics: suicide attempts are occurring on Manus Island at a rate that is 5000% higher than that in Australia, generally speaking. 5085.19% higher, to be specific.

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activism, human rights, politics, refugees

Thoughts on Eastern Ghouta

“…Public pressure on western governments to do more to help has, if anything, declined as the war has raged endlessly. Sympathetic western opinion has been dulled by a pervasive sense of hopelessness.” – Simon Tisdall for the Guardian, 11 Feb 2018.

If there is anything that the past week has shown us, it’s that the Syrian war is very much raging on into it’s 8th year.

The siege on Eastern Ghouta is considered to be the bloodiest episode of this horrific war in years, with over 229 people killed in the last 4 days including 58 children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Most of the photos that foreign correspondents are receiving from Eastern Ghouta are considered too graphic to publish. (In fact if you look up the #EasternGhouta hashtag on Instagram, chances are half of the images will have been blurred out by the Instagram servers.) It’s like hell on earth.

Simon Tisdall provides a clear and important overview of the entire Syrian conflict (and the west’s failure to stop it) in this article – but his brief mention of the sense of ‘hopelessness’ / significant decline of pressure from western nations to act is what really struck a chord for me when I read it today.

With a conflict that has become as epic and as unbelievably complicated as the Syrian war, it’s easy (as western civilians) to feel as though there is nothing we can do about it. I think that’s why it becomes easier and easier to tune out or ignore the news of another siege, another chemical weapon attack, or another massacre of innocent civilians caught in the conflict – because knowing about it but feeling helpless to change anything is a terrible feeling. That’s how we grow numb. That’s how hopelessness sets in.

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human rights, politics, refugees

Names, not numbers.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Byron Writers Festival [4-6 August 2017] and it was seriously a goldmine of ideas, storytelling and inspiration. I friggin’ loved it. I can’t believe it was my first time!

Anyway. It would be so difficult for me to pick a favorite session from the festival – there were so many wonderful authors and novelists and journalists to hear from.

If I HAD to pick one though… It would be this one: ‘Offshore: Storied from Behind the Wire’. A panel solely dedicated to discussing Australia’s offshore detention centres and immigration policy (or lack thereof), featuring Roger Cohen (total hero status journo for me, foreign correspondent and senior columnist for the NYT), Madeline Gleeson (lawyer / senior research associate for international refugee law at UNSW / literary girl boss) and Jock Serong (former criminal lawyer and brilliant novelist – writes books about the modern Australian identity, recently released a novel exploring Australia’s treatment of refugees). I got angry, sad, and motivated all over again. Hearing from these passionate humans just set me on fire… Convicted me, and reminded me that so long as there are vulnerable people being tortured offshore in my name, I have a responsibility to speak up.

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human experience, human rights, politics, refugees

Boat People and Bumper Stickers.

“Why further punish an already vulnerable minority for their actions – when those same actions simply reflect our shared sense of humanity and our fierce instincts for survival?” (Julian Burnside, from ‘You’ve Been Misled on Boat People’, SMH 2013.)

The hostile and often ill-informed attitude towards refugees in our country is a constant source of amazement to me. I know way too many well-meaning, kind-hearted, good-intended Aussies who live their day to day lives by a certain standard of morality; but so tragically, those same people measure the global refugee crises by a completely different set of standards. Continue reading

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human experience, politics, refugees

Ignorance is Not Bliss

I was fortunate to spend a lot of time overseas often as a child. A credit to my parents, I remember having a genuine sense of wonder around new languages, cities, clothes, music, food and architecture, and that sense of wonder has really carried through into my adulthood. I guess that’s why I married an Egyptian (lol).

Often I find that the challenge – or at times, hilarity – of a language barrier still gives me a thrill! I love to try new cuisines. I still marvel at art and architecture from all kinds of backgrounds. So while it may sound idealistic or perhaps even totally naïve: I’ve always struggled to understand the construct of racism. It just doesn’t add up in my brain. I still can’t relate to how one person could hate another person they don’t even know based on the colour of their skin, or their religion, or their country of origin. In my head it seems like straight up lunacy. I don’t mean to say that I’ve never had an uncomfortable interaction with anybody – because I have. What I do mean to say is that I marvel in that we are all unique, with our own background, heritages, and stories. I feel that we have so much to learn from each other.  Continue reading

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