In The World Is Not Big Enough, Vanessa Russell writes about looking for answers about the death of Afghan refugee Ahmad Shad Abed

Author Vanessa Russell. Picture: Supplied

Author Vanessa Russell. Picture: Supplied

  • The World Is Not Big Enough, by Vanessa Russell. Hardie Grant, $32.99.

Our aggressively adversarial parliamentary process (among other things) over recent decades has crippled useful progress on two seriously important issues: climate change management and asylum seeker justice.

Taken at face value in sequence both problems - given sensibly non-partisan consideration - would seem to offer amenable solution pathways: the first by fast tracking renewable energy, and the second by cushioning bureaucratic attitudes with credible empathy.

Australia's treatment of asylum seekers has been disgraceful.

These people are not criminals, but we continue to punish them for trying to escape the kind of global unrest that we have likely helped create.

Australian author, Vanessa Russell's The World is Not Big Enough is a non-fiction narrative about two Afghan refugees.

They are traumatised before and after their escape to Australia, based on collected research, witness reports, and the truth - in so far as that can ever be known.

The reason the story becomes a tragedy, rather than the expression of generosity and heroic resilience it might have been, lies at the heart of our tangled fault lines defining refugee policy.

Not long after the Twin Towers came down in New York, Russell was a 20-something young woman living in the Dandenong Ranges and "trying to make up for lost time by studying full-time at university".

Deciding to do something to help refugees, she looked at options supplied by the Refugee Action Collective and thought she could help by writing personal letters of support.

She was duly allocated a name and address. As she pithily comments at the end of her prologue: "What the heck had I gotten myself into?"

The name she received was Ahmad Shah Abed, an Afghan being held in the detention centre at Port Hedland on the north coast of Western Australia.

A cautious, and at times emotionally awkward correspondence, eventually withered into silence.

In 2013, Russell came across an online story, dated February 2011, reporting a murder trial in Perth, giving the victim's name as that of the man with whom she had exchanged letters.

Shocked, Russell spent the next six years seeking answers, gathering a fascinating catalogue of refugee responses, before a face-to-face encounter in a Perth prison with the man, also an Afghan refugee, who had been convicted of killing his once friend, Ahmad Shad Abed.

This is a tragic tale of and for our troubled times.

This story A tragic human tale highlighting our refugee crisis first appeared on The Canberra Times.