By Osman Shihaby and Ahmed Ali, reporters at Sudanese Australian Voices (SAV)
In Arabic, there is a saying “ask the experienced person before the experts”.
On the 28th, 29th and 30th of August a show on SBS TV won the admiration of people and had everyone talking about it. It was called ‘Go Back to Where You Came From’.
Filmed in Somalia, Afghanistan and Indonesia the program gave viewers information about refugees, their camps and their desperate attempts to find a safer, better place to live.
It showed how they put they and their families crowded into a small boat, which normally takes only ten people but was crammed by the smugglers to hold more than one hundred people.
The refugees, despite knowing how dangerous the boat journey would be, took this risk as the alternative from being killed or kidnapped.
There were six volunteers in the show; a singer, a writer, an actor, a radio commentator, a former public servant and a former politician, each of whom had a different opinion about refugees and asylum seeking – some in favor of a more humane approach whilst others favored a tougher approach to deter refugees taking the hazardous boat journey to Australia.
When we were watching the show we saw that some of the six volunteers knew very little about the conditions that refugees endured, how hard, risky and scary it was to be in a refugee camp, with little food and water available.
We were immediately reminded of our time spent in a refugee camp in Sudan, how little food we had to eat, how often we were thirsty as there was not enough water to drink, how uncomfortable and unsafe our shelter was, in the boiling hot climate in Sudan.
We were so emotional during the show with all the memories flooding back.
And yet there were also some positives from the program. We were so proud when seeing the stories about the two refugees, from Somalia and Afghanistan, who having made the journey, are now happily living in Melbourne, enjoying a quality of life that seemed like a dream not too long ago.
They both explained in graphic detail to the volunteers how they came to Australia, the reason they chose Australia, and the dangers they faced on their journey.
This included the risks they took and what happened along the way as the crossed several borders.
The Afghani stated how in his homeland he was working with the Australian troops and was facing danger and death every day but when he told the singer that he came here by boat the singer called him “he is a criminal”.
Comments from Australians, talking about refugees who come by boat, without knowing anything about the risks and the dangers they face, both in their homeland and in the refugees camp, made the Afghani sad and upset. It also made us sad to think people could think this way.
A second thing we learned from the show was not to judge people until you know all the facts. Before making judgment, you should collect as much information as you can. Read about the subject, and talk to people to hear all the different viewpoints, before you comment. Ask yourself ‘what would you do’ and try to put yourself in the same situation and then consider what action you would take.
The third thing we recognized from the program was that although the volunteers only stayed in the dangerous places for three weeks they were still very scared. They found it hard to cope with all the troubles for that short period so imagine if they had to stay there for a much longer time. Imagine they were like the people who still live there, seeing babies, teenagers, women and the elderly dying in front of them. Imagine if they had to constantly see their kids hungry and be unable to do anything about it, imagine their pain knowing their kids don’t have a future.
The fourth thing the program showed was that some politicians use the refugee issue for votes, to get into power. We found this disgusting and inhumane as they were trading lives for votes and it looked like the life of a refugee wasn’t as valuable as the life of an Australian. We believe all lives are sacred and shouldn’t be used for political purposes.
In conclusion this program was a good example for those who didn’t have knowledge or experience about refugees. It showed to the six volunteers and the TV audience a different side of the story – especially to those who are against refugees who come by boat.
We wish the Australian government to work more closely with the international community so they can do something for all the refugees in the world. We believe that refugees can make a positive contribution to Australian society.
Refugees come for a better life, often because their own country is unsafe for them and their family, a fact that many people don’t fully understand, so this program helps Australians gain more knowledge – sometimes even understanding an experience can make a difference.
We also hope this program will increase Australian aid for refugees to help people live a better life.