When freedom is just the beginning

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During the weeks I spent with refugees who had just been released after more than eight years in Australia’s immigration detention regime, I was asked many questions:

How to use Google Maps? Will I get in trouble if I cross the street without a pedestrian crossing? How do I get a proof of age card? Driving license? Tax file number? Do you think a Labor victory in the election would be good for us?

Some of them are easy to answer. Others, not so much.

A refugee’s question is simply: What should I do? He was talking about his younger brother, deeply traumatized by long years of incarceration, who had yet to leave their room at their new temporary accommodation, even though they were both free. for two weeks.

Man trying to comfort his brother by bringing something with him whenever he returns – mainly food, a one-time takeout barbecue, a cheeseburger from dinner Other times. Try to introduce the outside world, little by little, into the small room they share. He thinks it’s working, slowly. But it’s hard to say.

In my recent The story of these men’s livesthere’s no room to include many people and details, like those two brothers, who don’t want to be identified.

Stories of some refugee advocates helping the men who had to leave, too. Charities like the Refugee Resource Center, Refugee Voices and the Brigidine Refugee Project provide them with money and housing, but with day-to-day problems – helping them with the paperwork and navigate Australia’s bureaucracy, driving them to buy groceries and get to various appointments, help them find work and winter clothing – most of which belongs to a small group of volunteers, many of whom are some of them were out of work every week.

Many people tell me that the rapid release of dozens of refugees in quick succession is straining them, financially and emotionally.

One day, Anne McAllister, a near-daily retiree at the Melbourne hostel where refugees are staying, broke down in tears.

One of the refugees, Sirazul Islam, told me he was worried about leaving the hostel. Many of the others were looking forward to that day, when they would move into more permanent homes. They will have peace and privacy, no longer having to live every day with the men they have held captive for nearly a decade.

But Mr Islam fears that refugee advocates will then stop visiting him and that he will face severe mental health problems on his own, forced to move to an unfamiliar city, where he spends most of his time. do not know this language.

Miss McAllister, a stern, non-absurd woman, was aware of his fear.

“Twice, I held his hand and looked him in the eye and promised him that I would do everything I could to help him,” she told me, beyond Islam’s ear, her voice It’s like it’s going to break. “But I only have two hands.”

It’s hard to do this kind of story, where you spend so much time with the people you’re writing about, without getting a little involved in their lives. I still keep in touch with the men I have written about. It’s been two months since they released.

They’ve all moved into new homes, are looking for jobs, learning to drive, starting to deal with their medical problems. Mr. Islam solved the problem of support by asking a friend, another refugee who was released a year ago, to come live with him. Now, like everyone else, they are waiting to see what their future holds under Australia’s new Labor government.

And now this week’s stories.

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