Australia– I have often pondered the immense human suffering of the aftermath of bushfires here in Australia. I have tried to put myself in the position of those who live through these fires and the losses that they bring. But I have never experienced a bushfire. I have never seen the sky turn red with impenetrable smoky clouds. I cannot even imagine how it must be to have just moments to run from a fire that may take your life. The fear in that moment must be overwhelming and connects oneself to the animalistic instinct for survival.
What comes next, after the fire has torn its way through your world and taken its toll? How might one come to terms with having everything burnt to nothing in one day with only memories of what was?
Yet this is familiar to me: people fleeing desperately to save their life, leaving behind any traces of their past. Isn’t this similar to the experience of being a refugee? A person who flees from his homeland to save her or his life and tries to start a new life with no material possessions. Just memories.
So, maybe a bushfire and the refugee crisis have a lot in common. Maybe, both are experiences where human beings connect to the sense of survival and the imposition of leaving behind the place where one built her or his personal history.
When I see it in this way I can’t stop thinking of my own experience as refugee and political asylum seeker, and I immediately understand how those families feel after losing everything. How they will struggle to start over and how in their new home they will be constantly remembering material things they had and they don’t have any more. And when I say material things, it is referring to the picture of the great grandmother that was taken in 1890, or the painting that one bought from a humble painter in a small town or the teacup that belonged to a deceased husband or simply the teddy bear that generations of kids hugged.
It is in that moment that bushfire tragedies and refugee crises become one. Because they are talking about the common spaces of human beings, and these common spaces are just what one calls home and how this sense of home disappears forever.
I remember when I arrived in Australia in 2009. I can still smell the fear of not having any money for food and the doubt of what would happen to me the next day. I still have in mind all the nights that I went to bed thinking of my family and being scared for the safety of their life; the memory of crying, and crying and crying for all the tragedy of losing everything.
The victims of the bushfires in Australia are living the same. They are experiencing the same sense of loss, the same life tragedy. Surely they will be asking themselves: Why me? What have I done to deserve this? And with time they will understand that sometimes life gets in the way and we have no other option than to accept those facts that we can’t change. I support them in my heart and mind because I understand what they have gone through.