My mum was only 18 years old when she escaped the Chilean coup d’état in 1973. With the backing and support of the United States, the democratically elected government of president Salvador Allende was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet’s brutal regime murdered thousands, imprisoned and tortured its political rivals, and allowed corruption to run rampant.
My mum, Trish, was one of those who was interrogated and detained. Eventually, she escaped the country, smuggled out with her brother and mother, to join her father here in Australia.
The reason that she was able to come here at all, to build a life and career and raise a family, is because she and her family were welcomed here. She came here when Malcolm Fraser, leader of the Liberal Party, was prime minister. Fraser understood the importance of providing a safe haven to people seeking safety and the value of multiculturalism, adopting a policy of amnesty which gave immigrants and refugees who had overstayed their visas a pathway to permanent residence and Australian citizenship.
If we fast forward to 2020, unfortunately much of that compassion, sense of global responsibility and spirit of inclusion has been lost in our federal leadership. The federal government’s response to coronavirus has left refugees and asylum seekers out in the cold. At a time when they need our help the most, thousands of people in our community have been left without access to basic healthcare, income support or visa certainty. Refugees and people seeking asylum continue to face a hostile policy landscape. Many are repeatedly told by our federal government that they have no future here.