Christmas Island, 30 August 2012 — The Christmas Island community was struck with a deep grief in June when 90 asylum seekers drowned while trying to reach the island. More than 100 people survived the tragedy; Sr Dorothy Bayliss was there to provide pastoral support for them as part of the JRS programme on the island.
Accompanying many of the survivors was only a small contribution on my part, as it was impossible to walk in their footsteps and to know their suffering. It has been a draining experience as they relive that fateful day and as they carry those memories and continue to carry their survivors’ guilt. They have a long, tough road ahead of them. Many are still having sleepless nights and bad dreams, and have not come to terms with the death of their friends.
Most of the asylum seekers are from a minority group from war torn countries where they are persecuted for their religious beliefs or for just being born into a particularly group, such as the Tamils or the Hazaras. They often say to me, ‘Either we die in our own country where there is no hope for us, or we die hoping to find freedom and safety and a new life in Australia’. To live without fear and as a human being is our only aim. So, what would you do?
So many say how happy they are to be safe on Australian soil and are grateful to the navy, the government and the Australian people. Every time I hear this I hang my head in shame when I know what is happening in the government and in the minds of the people. My asylum seeker friends have enriched my life in so many ways. Most come with nothing but always offer the little they have; they never ask for anything but are only grateful to be safe on Australian soil.