Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rockhampton Sister of Mercy tells of time with refugees

Rockhampton Sister of Mercy Pat Wood
Rockhampton Sister of Mercy Pat Wood

ROCKHAMPTON Sister of Mercy Pat Wood has seen first hand the uncertainty in the eyes of asylum seekers on Christmas Island. Earlier this year Sister Pat spent two months on the island witnessing the aimless wanderings of detainees, men, women and children; wondering if they would ever get the chance to start a new life in Australia. 

 These people were from all walks of life, coming from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, Iran and Iraq; the majority of whom had fled from life-threatening situations in their home countries to seek asylum. Sister Pat arrived at Christmas Island in January of this year as part of the Jesuit Refugee Service, looking to help out where she could. "The way I describe my work, is that its pastoral care work and we're trying to be a friend to people and to try and give them hope," she said. 

 While asylum seekers are out of harm's way on Christmas Island, Sister Pat explains how the lonely environment of detention, is no place to call home. She explains how little there is to do for the people in the centres, although the largest centre which housed about 1500 single men was much better equipped than that of the smaller complexes for families.

 And only a handful of children get the privilege of going to school. "Some children were allowed to attend the local public school on the island, but because these education resources are limited, this number was very small," Sister Pat said. "On school days I used to see the children always waiting at the gate an hour before they were due to leave for school, talking excitedly amongst each other. "For them it was an opportunity to get away from the mind-dulling confinement of the detention centre and to mix with other children in a more normal environment," she said.

 One of Sister Pat's concerns is that the detention centre environment can breed depression. "The detention centres are built like a jail and the family centre is quite crowded, with people wandering around as there's nothing for them to do," she said.

"We're treating them like cattle; it's as if nobody wants them."

Sister Pat is now dedicating her time to trying to give the wider community the correct information about asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. "People need to be confronted with the facts," she said. 

Definitions 

 Refugee - any person who owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group. 

 Asylum Seeker - an individual who is seeking international protection.