by Yolande Schefe
This story begins on the promise of a cruise ship that will carry precious cargo to a safer, more fruitful life in Australia.
But the reality is a series of open boats, carrying hundreds of fearful asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia, all desperately hoping to arrive alive and to find welcome here.
The story does not unfold in the same way for every single one of those passengers, but in the case of almost 40 Iranian and Sri Lankan asylum seekers, refuge, love and compassion were waiting when they were eventually settled into the Australian community under bridging- and communitydetention visas.
Allocated to houses surrounding St Paul’s Lutheran Church in the Geelong suburb of Grovedale (Victoria), some of the asylum seekers soon took up regular Sunday worship at the church. So began a new chapter in the congregation’s journey in faith.
The trauma that many asylum seekers leave behind is unimaginable, but the grace with which they carry their pasts is inspiring.
K— fled Iran with his wife and two young daughters. The family arrived in Geelong about nine months ago. He spoke about the threat of violence he and his family left behind.
‘I have problem with Hezbollah’, he said, of the violent Shia Muslim military group in Iran (and other Middle Eastern conflict hotspots).
‘After I leave my country, they attack my family. My brother was in hospital for 20 days.’
They were threatened because K—’s marriage was opposed by his wife’s uncle, a member of Hezbollah, who wanted her to marry someone within the group, a Hezbollahi.
‘I cannot be quiet’, K— said. ‘But if you say something, they don’t like it.’ The last time K— saw his family was four months ago, when he spoke to his mother on a video call. Since then, internet has been cut and he has lost all contact.
‘I have problem at home—the future is dark’, he said. ‘They aren’t really safe; they can’t leave. Until Hezbollah stay there it won’t get better.’