Stepping up

Betty McGeever in her heyday at Fremantle Library. File photo.

BETTY McGEEVER is a former legendary librarian at the Fremantle Library. In the great tradition of librarians she’s a revolutionary at heart (the glasses and plaid skirts are the most successful disguise ever) and has found a novel way to get around Australia’s harsh refugee policies and help people into a new life. 

REFUGEE WEEK has rolled around again and we still have boat people onshore and offshore in a bad situation. 

They came to us for protection and we have failed them. 

Some good things have happened; there are no women on Nauru. The only family there is a man and his son.

The numbers on both Nauru and PNG are down to a few hundred.

Over 800 have been resettled in the USA, including about 100 who have gone in the last month into the unrest, Covid-19 and unemployment.

Dire

But for those remaining the situation is dire.

With the Australian government unable or unwilling to find resettlement options for an unending detention system of its own making, others have stepped in. 

A group called Ads-Up, ‘Aussie Diaspora Steps Up’, is determined to get them off, and works with a Canadian scheme and concerned Aussies to raise money to get them to freedom. 

With WA locals they are helping a young couple, stuck for wasted years on Nauru, to start a new life in Canada. 

Maya fled from Iran after facing violent threats of rape and murder from her ex-husband.  

Zamir fled violence in Iraq after arrest and then death threats from an armed militia.

The two met shortly after they were imprisoned on Nauru in 2014. 

Although they could only see each other once a week, they fell in love, communicating with each other in English. 

Aussies in the USA, Australia and Canada who have taken action into their own hands in response to Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. 

They have helped hundreds of Manus and Nauru refugees find their feet in USA. 

Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, established 40 years ago, has settled over 300,000 asylum seekers. 

Under the scheme, refugees must have a sponsoring family who offers emotional and practical support during their first year in Canada, and a guaranteed sum of money to meet their financial needs. 

Ads-Up identifies the refugees to apply and finds them a sponsoring community group in Canada, then works with donors in Australia to raise the money for rent, food, language classes and so on. Refugees arrive to freedom, dignity, and a helping hand. After seven years they can apply for citizenship.

Self-mockingly dubbing themselves Western Suburbs Do-Gooders, the local group were moved by Maya and Zamir’s story of star-crossed lovers. 

Canada’s resettlement program requires approximately AUD$30,000 to sponsor a couple. WSDG plans to raise $20,000, working with the Higgins Branch of Grandmothers for Refugees in Melbourne to raise the remaining $10,000.

Bizarre

I am so happy to be doing this but it constantly hits me that it is bizarre – Aussies raising money to send to Canada, so that Canada can give new life to a person who came to Australia for protection.

If you wish to support Maya and Zamir in their quest for a new life together, go to https://chuffed.org/fundraiser/westernsuburbsdogooders Donations are tax deductable.

As Zamir says of Maya’s love: “The most important thing is that someone remembers you”.

(Maya and Zamir are not their real names – to protect their families and their privacy).

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