OPINION

Our friends are a long way from 'home to Bilo'

Kopika, left, comforting sister Tharnicaa in hospital on Christmas Island. The family have now been taken to Perth. Picture: Supplied
Kopika, left, comforting sister Tharnicaa in hospital on Christmas Island. The family have now been taken to Perth. Picture: Supplied

In the past week, the whole world has seen how our politicians had my friends Priya, Nades and their daughters torn from their community and imprisoned in two detention centres for more than three years.

They've seen how these politicians denied two Australian-born children proper medical care for years. Like mine, Australians' hearts broke when they saw images of Tharni sick in a hospital bed, getting a kiss from big sister Kopika.

This past week, Australians have also seen the worst kind of politicking from certain corners of our government. Repeated falsehoods, mischaracterisations, and some outright lies. To what end? The parading of a sick little girl through the public square, which the Prime Minister and his colleagues still claim is about protecting this country's borders.

Except this isn't about borders, it's about Biloela.

As one of a handful of people in the Home to Bilo group, believe me when I say first and foremost this is about getting our friends out of detention and home to Biloela, where they are loved and welcome.

But it has become even bigger than that.

I first met Nades and other people seeking asylum at the Biloela TAFE in 2013. I was his English teacher. I didn't realise it at the time, but during our lessons in English grammar and pronunciation and slang, something else was happening.

I was hearing stories of danger and hardship in homelands far away, difficulties which didn't end upon arrival in Australia, but rather changed form, into the agony of prolonged detention, uncertainty about visa applications, and ongoing family separation.

I was changed forever by that experience, because of people like Nades.

The same goes for Biloela. Biloela became a different town and community because of the presence of people like Nades, Priya, Kopika and Tharnicaa. It became more diverse, more tolerant and accepting of different ways of living, beliefs and faiths.

Its residents became better at looking out for people, helping them to settle into a new place, showing them the ropes. And in the struggle that the people of Biloela have undertaken since the family were taken on March 5, 2018, the town has changed even further.

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Biloela locals have become less shy about discussing gritty topics like politics. They're more comfortable speaking out to politicians and the media about injustice. They've become more stubborn and more willing to dig their heels in for the long haul against the seemingly insurmountable might of the government.

But it doesn't stop there. I think this family has helped changed Australia too. We can see through the spin now, and we will not accept that border protection means we must put our names to the mistreatment and degradation of small children.

As with the women's march earlier this year, I believe this government has misread the nation when it comes to its attitudes to my friends' right to safety and wellbeing. Perhaps Mr Morrison, Ms Andrews and Mr Hawke think this will go away next week. I do not believe this is the case, but I wouldn't dare assume what the people of this country think.

Luckily, we at the Home to Bilo group don't have to. The groundswell of public support for our friends has been incredible. In just a few days, our petition jumped from a few hundred thousand to more than half a million signatures. I know Priya is thankful to each and every one of the people behind those names, plus the thousands who have shown up to peaceful vigils around the country, made countless phone calls and sent countless emails.

To Nades, Priya, Kopika and Tharnicaa, I say: you've changed us all, for the better. Thank you for this, and I'm sorry you've had to endure such pain so that we may see this government for what it is. The very least we can do for you in return is to keep fighting, until you are back safely where you belong - home in Biloela.

  • Simone Cameron is a family friend of the "Biloela family" and a member of the Home to Bilo group.
This story Our friends are a long way from 'home to Bilo' first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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