This week we have the privilege of interviewing editor, writer, broadcaster and strategist Roj Amedi. Roj, a former refugee from Iraq, has been put forth by RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees as a proposed speaker for the upcoming Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees, as part of their #timetolisten campaign. #TimeToListen is all about empowering the voices of those who have a lived experience of seeking asylum.
Grace Mountford (GM): Why are you passionate about refugee issues and justice for people seeking asylum?
Roj Amedi (RA): If we are to live in a true global community and we are honest with ourselves about the consequences of our actions and the actions made in our name, it’s only just to continue to uphold human rights and seek justice for displaced people.
This can include internally displaced people, such as the experiences of Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islanders, or it can be externally displaced people such those fleeing Sudan or Syria. All of these people seeking safety have had to face the consequences of violence, genocide and warfare. And through sheer resilience and hope, have tried to seek justice and safety for themselves.
It’s my responsibility as a privileged person to uphold every single persons safety and security, and to look beyond political rhetoric. Nothing hurts more than seeing history repeat and yet here we are.
GM: Recently RISE and Democracy in Colour drew attention to the lack of refugee and ex-detainee voices in the refugee advocacy sector with their #timetolisten campaign, and you were put forth as a suggested speaker for the Palm Sunday rally. Why is it crucial that social change movements centre the voices of people with lived experience?
RA: The best way to explain this is to firstly look back at history and understand how consecutive campaigns of external intrusion into peoples sovereignty have resulted in some of the most ferocious conflicts we see today. We also need to understand that colonial and post-colonial influencers have often exacerbated tensions and instability. All of this has come from so called ‘extractionist’ mentality, whereby people seek to gain power and resources from those they deem inferior.
Secondly, we often rewrite history and forget that the greatest movements for civil rights, justice and human rights have been led by grass roots campaigns by the very people these policies effect. We must humble ourselves and understand that process.
“Often when people do not lead their own movements, there are unintended consequences that can often worsen the situation. Their autonomy and self determination are erased or suppressed, which is often the reason for various issues of oppression in the first place.”
Coupling these two factors and also conceding that we need a mass united front to change the bipartisan support for our destructive asylum seeker and refugee regime, I argue that it is those who have experienced displacement, statelessness and our detention centres who can bring the best perspective on how to campaign for change whilst also upholding peoples humanity.
A lot of the past campaigns for change have not been lead by refugees, and often unintentionally reinforced the frameworks set by the status quo. These campaigns can often be disempowering for refugees themselves.
It’s important for any social justice movement to remain vigilant and self critical about the consequences of language, institutions and methods they undertake. There is always room to progress, and often the voiceless have no choice but to demand, disrupt and protest.
Ultimately the #TimeToListen campaign is not about hearing my voice but about enshrining these values and principals and making sure that the refugee advocacy sector reflect on their practices.
GM: What does it mean to be an ally? How can Australians who care deeply about refugee issues but do not have lived experience best support the movement?
RA: There has been a lot of research on the concept of allies and allyship, perhaps a better word for it is ‘accomplice’.
By this I mean, it’s our responsibility to constantly deconstruct socialised forms of saviour-ism and paternalism in all of our efforts. It’s important to understand that the very people affected by these policies are in the actual forefront of this struggle. And it is their multiplicity and humanity that we should listen to before anyone else’s.
“If you don’t have lived experience, it’s not your voice that should be listened to but rather the voices of those with the experience.”
Although things can be incredibly daunting – especially when a violent regime like our detention centres is normalised within our political discourse – you can cut it down to four steps: interpersonal, local, national and international.
Interpersonally: you can speak to your family and friends around you in a considered way to get them to empathise and understand the issue. Don’t cut people out because they may not be sympathetic to the refugee justice campaign, those who experience racism do not get that choice. So it’s your responsibility to start those difficult conversations and take the time to frame your language effectively.
Locally: you can donate money and specialised skills to refugee lead organisations and refugee communities. And don’t assume that those with refugee experience are there to answer every burning question about the issue, they have a right to explore the full breadth of their personhood and to tell their story on their own terms.
Nationally: be mindful of political propaganda and distraction methods that our representatives use to avoid responsibility. And put your MPs and Senators on speed dial, they are there to represent the will of the people and uphold basic standards and values.
Internationally: read texts and articles written by those with lived experience. And take the time to understand the historical and geopolitical contexts of those fleeing persecution, genocide and war. There are always cause and effect consequences and its important to be mindful of those different factors.
GM: Why is it important for feminists to support the refugee rights movement?
RA: Feminism is beyond glass ceiling, pay gaps and freeing the nipple. Thanks to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s substantial work, we have a framework to understand how living in particular intersections can influence the lives of women and non-binary people alike.
Part of understanding intersectionality is knowing how the patriarchy, transphobia, classism, racism, ableism and homophobia effect woman and non binary people in different ways, and how the ways these experiences intersect can inform how people move and interact within our society.
The way we treat refugees, especially those who are people of colour, is a perfect example of how patriarchal notions of violence, toxic masculinity and security are further weaponised and used against some of the most marginalised people in our world.
The way our systems are designed to oppress certain people to substantiate the security and power of others is a complex process, but something to constantly interrogate and resist. We value particular bodies over others, particular expressions of gender over others, the freedom of movement of some people and not others. Feminism has always been part of longstanding discourse to unpack these power dynamics and question our often unspoken socialisation.
And in a simple way, refugees in our detention centres are hidden under layers of confusing bureaucracy without any sense of clarity, they are refused health care and basic levels of support, and as a result we have lost Faysal, Rakib, Hamid, Omid and Reza to violent deaths. And women like ‘Abyan’ have had basic health care consistently denied to them during life threatening pregnancies and illness. These are just some examples of the abhorrent experiences had by people who want to seek safety and have merely asked for assistance.
Roj Amedi will be facilitating a discussion between Peter Holmes À Court, Alissa Everett and Aziz Muhamat (via Skype), a refugee from Sudan who Australia has held on Manus Island for almost 4 years, exploring Australia’s current policies, their impact on those who seek asylum, and the policy alternatives we need to pursue, presented by the Human Rights Law Centre on
Mary Crooks AO, Executive of the Victorian Women’s Trust will talk with André Dao, a co-founder of Behind the Wire, about ‘They Cannot Take the Sky’ on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 6pm. This urgent and necessary book brings together a collection of first-person narratives from people living inside immigration detention on Manus Island and Nauru. Reserve a ticket here.
Roj Amedi is a former refugee from Iraq and currently an editor, writer, broadcaster and strategist. She writes and speaks on a range of issues including public policy, international relations, the arts, culture, literature, race, gender, and politics. She has a deep passion for social justice, community building and human rights. You can follow her work on www.twitter.com/roj_ame
Grace Mountford is a Project Officer at the Victorian Women’s Trust, currently working on Club Respect, a violence prevention initiative that delivers strategic educational tools, helping sporting clubs to embed a culture of respect and harm prevention in all their practices. She has a Master of Public Policy and Management from the University of Melbourne. You can read her musings on feminism, politics, cats and Taylor Swift at www.twitter.com/GraceMountford1