From a refugee’s perspective

Google Map of CoronavirusReflecting on our shared humanity: Covid-19, like the refugee crisis, is a global problem. It requires a global solution. No one chose to create it. No one chose to be infected by it. But we all have a choice in how we respond.

What if you became a coronavirus refugee?

When this virus subsides and the curve flatlines, your wicker basket will overflow with toilet paper, your pantry brim with packets of pasta and your medicine cabinet overflow with hoarded pills and tablets you never needed.

For refugees, when the war is over, the tanks roll out and the bodies are buried, nightmares visit us at night sending hearts racing. PTSD, fear and anxiety passes on to the next generation and those not yet born. We see ghosts every day: at family picnics, at the dinner table, at graduation ceremonies. We stiffen at No Caller ID’s, at knocks on our doors, in the hope that family members who went missing during the war may have someone survived, and it all comes flooding back.

As refugees we never had the luxury of panic buying. For me panic meant sleeping with my shoes on fully clothed for panicked adrenaline-injected midnight dashes to the basement. My feet thundering on the wooden stairs, ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka of anti-aircraft gunfire muffled my screams. Who had the time to think about toilet paper in that moment?

I see you’re complaining about a car race and some comedy festival being cancelled. When the only birthing hospital in my town was bombed, my auntie gave birth on the hard concrete floor of our cold basement. Her screams blocked out the gunfire.

I see you’re complaining tubs of hand sanitiser have been sold out. When a shard of shattered window glass cut my leg in the moment of bombardment, they sutured my wound without anaesthetic in a hospital without bandaids, syringes, needles or nurses.

I see you want people to distance themselves from you. I am reminded of the time when they handed me a thin foam mattress, directed me to a spot on on the floor and told me to make a home in this camp of strangers for 5 years all lined up like sardines next to each other – where one pot cooked everyone’s food.

We couldn’t panic buy even if we wanted to. There was nothing to buy. Placing sanctions on war ravaged nations does that.

So you keep hoarding your toilet paper, your pasta and your medicine. But remember how quickly tables can turn. How quickly the shoe can be on the other foot. No one is diminishing your fears. I’m sure these are genuinely held. All we ask is that you show a modicum of empathy towards people seeking asylum.

When your country is riven with deadly war, violence or – a virus. And you run for the border to safety but you find a barbed wire fence, a great big wall erected to keep you out. Police to beat you away with batons, they shoot at you with rubber bullets. When your bedroom becomes a ravine. When you fall asleep to the sound of your empty stomach churning.

When they strip you of your name. You’re no longer human. You’re now Covid-198765XYK.

This way it is easier to deal with you becomes you’re only a number in a sequence of infected people. Makes it easier to isolate you in some deserted town, to detain you there until you sew your lips shut in protest. Makes it easier to strip you of your legal right to claim protection. Makes it easier to deny you basic welfare; a meal and shelter. You may not even be protected at law – virus isn’t a category covered by the refugees’ convention. You’re an economic refugee. You’re using the virus to get into our country and take our jobs. Go back to where you came from, you virulent sicko. We’ve exceeded our limited quota of you lot. Why can’t you just go to some other country?

Maybe now is the time to reflect on your humanity.

Covid-19, like the refugee crisis, is a global problem. It requires a global solution. No one chose to create it. No one chose to be infected by it. But we all have a choice in how we respond.

So, when an island on the other side of the world becomes a door for those fleeing a crisis – will you answer?

– the end –
Danijel Malbasa (former refugee)


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This article originally appeared on National Council of Churches in Australia and is reproduced with permisison



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