Walking Free is remarkable for the potent message it conveys. In an era when refugees are reshaping the social, political and economic landscape of Europe, this book is a timely reminder of the need to consider the physical and mental suffering endured by refugees as they embark upon perilous journeys in the hope of finding a new start in life.
Rarely is the voice of refugees heard above the clamour of political rhetoric, xenophobic rancour, blatant racism and self-interest. While those with compassion observe with concern the greatest human calamity of our time, very few understand the motivating circumstances and desperation common to most refugees. Walking Free provides such an insight and in the process casts a damning light upon official attitudes to illegal refugees, particularly those encountered in Australia.
Walking Free is the account one man’s escape from war-torn Iraq and his tortuous journey to Australia. His experiences are a revelation.
Dr Munjed Al Muderis hails from a wealthy Iraqi family. During his formative years in Baghdad he enjoyed the trappings of his family’s success in business, law and medicine. Following in the footsteps of his forebears, Dr Munjed completed his medical studies during a period of dramatic social and political change in Iraq. He witnessed firsthand the disintegration of Iraqi society from a safe, relatively peaceful state to one divided by political and religious excess where fear, suspicion, and extreme violence became the norms. Privilege, social standing and wealth no longer shielded individuals from the terror of Saddam’s regime.
As a newly qualified doctor, Munjed was instructed by Saddam’s henchmen to remove part of the ear of all soldiers deemed to be shirking their duty. Refusing such instruction was tantamount to treason and punishable by death. Munjed refused to cooperate and so began his flight from Iraq; a fraught journey that took him through Jordan, Malaysia, Indonesia and ultimately to Australia.
Nowhere along the journey was Munjed made welcome. He, along with thousands of other persecuted individuals were desperately seeking a safe haven. Refugees were not welcome and the most common response to pleas for help was ‘the help we will give you is to get you back home.’ For many people, including Munjed, such an option meant certain death.
As happens to this day, masses of stateless people are vulnerable to those who trade in human suffering. With little hope of taking the official route of would-be migrants to Australia, Munjed opted for the illegal, people smuggling route, involving a dangerous voyage on an overcrowded fishing boat to reach his destination. He successfully reached the shores of Australia but there he was to experience a harsh, inhumane regime intended to punish those who had made the illegal boat journey and to dissuade others contemplating the same. It is the account of the treatment meted out to Munjed and many others in detention that provides the chilling core to this book. The sheer inhumanity of those administering detention centres and the use of populist politics to justify the brutal treatment of illegal immigrants is a blight upon Australia.
Fortunately, Munjed persevered and eventually was granted asylum in Australia. His progress from asylum seeker to a pioneering orthopaedic surgeon provides a shining example of how those once deemed ‘undesirable’ can make a valuable contribution to their adopted country. Many of those Munjed met in detention have similarly gone on to successful careers in medicine, engineering and architecture.
Walking Free illustrates what can be achieved when compassion and an open-mind can be applied in dealing with refugees and of the harmful consequences associated with a harsh, inhumane refugee policy.
Walking Free is highly recommended.
Published in 2014 by Allen and Unwin, Australia. Available on Amazon Kindle.