It was announced last weekend that Australia will host the “Davos of Women” next year, solidifying the importance Australia places on gender equality. It can be easy to take for granted the status we have as women in Australia. We might rightfully be able to argue that we aren’t paid equally, but at least we can do so without fear of persecution. We can choose who we want to marry (if that’s what we want), live, work and travel to our heart and bank accounts’ content. We can be a CEO. Staying home with your children is a choice or a privilege, not mandatory. We can be Prime Minister.
Hearing Barkhado’s story, one of the 24,500 people affected by the Government’s ‘Fast Track’ system, really puts things into perspective.
Barkhado didn’t win the lottery of birth so many of us have being born in Australia. She came into her life in Somalia, where the norm for her was war, famine and drought.
In 2001, a civil war and humanitarian crisis had been destroying their country for ten years. Finally, she and her family made the difficult decision to go to Yemen when her sister was tragically raped and killed in their family home.
In Yemen, cultural norms mean that women are often unable to exercise basic economic or social rights. However, moving to Yemen was the best option available.
Just after she gave birth to their third child, her husband abandoned the family. Barkhado was a single mum with three girls in a foreign land, without any way to get citizenship or work legally. In desperation, Barkhado’s young daughter entered into an abusive marriage in order to try to support her family the only way she could.
In 2013, things were particularly bad in Yemen, to the point that she and her three daughters were unable to leave their house for days at a time. Finally, the resilient mum made the difficult and possibly deadly decision to flee from Yemen to Australia by boat.
Legal constraints in Australia meant that Barkhado and her three daughters had to wait more than three years to apply for protection.
Their life of uncertainty has caused the family significant stress and anxiety, worsened by the knowledge that if they are forced to return to Somalia, they will be vulnerable to sexual harassment, rape and practices such as female genital mutilation.
Bilan, who narrowly escaped her abusive child marriage, suffers from nightmares of her past trauma and wakes up in the middle of the night fearful for her family’s safety.
40% of newly-arrived people seeking asylum, regardless of country of origin, fulfil the diagnostic criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, experts say this number could be as high as 86% as there is considerable inconsistency due to the wide range of measures and diagnostic cut-offs used and cultural variations in expressions of distress.
There are thousands of people seeking asylum across Australia, including children, who face a shamefully uncertain future.
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Meeting someone where they are, with the care and support required can be what gives a person seeking asylum hope.Leave a reply