Aylan Kurdi and What We Can Learn from Refugees

It is really amazing that the world has woken up to the tragedy of the refugee crises; we are seeing so many heart lifting images from Germany, Austria and other places where refugees are welcomed with love and open arms. For so long countries like Australia we have struggled to have a more positive, inclusive pro-refugee stance that the tragedy of little Alan (this is his Kurdish name, Aylan was the Turkish name given to him by the racist Turkish authorities who deny Kurdish names when his family sought safety after escaping Kobane), that any positive change is seen as huge progress. We are happy that so many refugee are being welcomed with open arms. I remember when we arrived in Australia there was such a strong sense of isolation; there was such a disconnect and fear of Australians who seemed more alien than we no doubt appeared to them. I wanted to share some of my experiences for those wondering what they can do to help. I feel that these suggestions are applicable everywhere, and not just specific to Australia:

One of the biggest problems in settling in Australia was that we had little to no communication or connection with actual white “Australians”. There was no effort for While Australians to reach out to us, other than through government services, or the Church groups who were viewed with even more fear because of course they wanted to “convert” you and assimilate you. We remained forever apart, keeping to ourselves (as we tried to sort out our PTSD feelings while also trying to understand this new strange culture), as they did and so we never built bridges of mutual friendship and love. Having escaped from war, we were too traumatized to have the social skills and capacity to reach out and connect; so i really urge Australia to take the first step to reach out to refugees. I really, really urge friends on this page to reach out to new families and communities arriving here in Australia because it can make a HUGE difference to the capacity and ability of traumatized refugees to settle here. It doesn’t matter if you cannot understand each others languages, you can speak with your hearts and your eyes; hug the children, hug the women (only women should do this, please be aware of strict gender touching cultural practices), hold the babies, sit with them and hold their hands; Take toys, baby food, clothes, books for the children; take your own children and let them make friends.

There are so many misconceptions and ignorant views out there about how new refugee communities fail to ‘integrate’ (i am using this word as I think the word ‘assimilate’ is offensive as it often implies forgetting our identities and becoming White Australians, which is impossible for us); The reason why we have had issues in the past, such as the Cronulla riots (ethnic race clashes that occurred in 2005 in Sydney), is because White Australia and refugee Australia remain strictly segregated, with a strong anti-refugee and migrant media propaganda that continues to isolate us from each other. We feel isolated and othered, people scream at us to “go back to your country” as we walk down the street and our terror increases and so we don’t reach out; we keep to ourselves because we sense your fear and dislike- in turn you keep to yourself because of fear and misconceptions, because we are so visibly different. By connecting with each other we take on a more courages approach towards one another; by sharing stories, by sharing culture, food, history, family, love, by bringing each other to one another’s homes, and our humanity we weave a stronger multicultural bond with each other; we become stronger in challenging bigotry, racism, ignorance and fear in different communities.

One thing that White Australia can do to be more inclusive is to listen and learn and support refugee communities without trying to force change, ‘assimilate’, convert, marginalize through failing to properly educate yourself; don’t take bibles, don’t tell them you are from church groups, or women’s groups- these all arouse feelings of intense fear and suspicion. Don’t reach out because you have an agenda, but because your humanity brought you to their doors without any intention other than genuine and honest love and empathy.

Oh and share food! even if it is a small bowl of salad or pasta or a home baked cake (nothing too exotic and unusual as they may not understand what it is; and no meat in general due to cultural issues; or anything alcohol related). Refugee communities always share food so if you want to help and welcome people take them a bowl of food because food for us often means life, love, inclusiveness; it means whatever little i have I share and give to you- that we share the same meal with each other and when we do, you and I, we are equal, not refugee and land owner, not white and brown or black, not privileged and the oppressed, but simply humans.

Finally, please read as much as you can about the wars, the refugee issues, the social, political, economic factors that produce these waves of desperate people. Learn about the culture of people in the region, ask questions from friends that you do have contact with, and take the responsibility of self education and awareness raising without asking the refugees to educate you; they are already traumatized and terrified and emotional, asking them to educate you only furthers their trauma and may be more triggering; instead reach out to the communities that are already settled here and connect with representatives, ask to be invited to multicultural days and events; commemoration days, protests etc.

There is so much we can do other than light candles, click like or share.

Our activism should never be one that avoids dealing with people face to face. Sometimes looking into each other’s eyes is all that we need to build bonds of empathy, love and inclusiveness. We need to stop being afraid of each other, but this requires us making efforts to meet each other.

Hawzhin Azeez

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