Speak up for us

Each week I visit refugees who are being detained in the Immigration Detention Centre. Having left their country in fear of their lives, they now live in a country which does not recognise them or give them any legal rights. My fears pale in comparison.

When I visit my friends, I must first register my name and passport details. If we make a mistake on the form, don’t have the correct information about the person we are visiting or wear the wrong clothes, we are not allowed inside. People are banned from visiting, or being visited, for often unexplained reasons. It’s the kind of place where the lower your profile, the better. But visitors are able to bring fresh food, toiletries, clothes and books; and having a visitor means you are allowed to leave your overcrowded cell for an hour, talk to someone from the outside, and perhaps even hear news from your family. A visitor can pray for you. It is a reminder that you have not been forgotten.

One day, I went to visit my friend’s husband who had been detained for more than a year. I had my passport, correctly completed forms and correct clothes, but I was not allowed to visit. He and some others were in the punishment room where (I later found out) he was shackled and beaten. For over a month my visits were denied. Eventually I saw one of his friends who had also been punished. Both he and my friend were now back in their normal cell but, though he was allowed visitors again, my friend was still on the visiting black list.

This continued for a number of months. I had tried, through other avenues, to find out what was going on but the more I learned, the clearer it became that it would be best not to interfere. It sounded like he had been set up, that officials were involved and that interference would only make matters worse.

Then one day, while I was visiting someone else, my friend came to the visiting area! Somehow he had been allowed out. Communicating during a visit is very difficult—it’s a shouting match across two fences, trying to be heard above everyone else’s conversations and pleas for help. But it was very clear that my friend wanted me to ask the chief police commander why he was still on the black list.

I like to say my language is good enough to get me into trouble but not good enough to get me out of trouble. I really did not want to make it worse for my friend. Then I remembered the words of another detainee: “Your visits and food are appreciated, but what we really need is someone to speak up for us, to be our advocate”. Isn’t there a Bible verse or two about speaking up for the rights of the weak and vulnerable? (“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8)

I prayed for courage, that the commander would listen and understand and be kind. God gave me courage but as I approached the commander, I did not really believe my efforts would succeed.

But that day I learnt that God is bigger than my fears and weak language skills, and certainly bigger than my lack of faith. The commander was surprised when he learnt of my friend’s situation. He went straight to the registration desk and removed his name from the black list!

I wonder what other, greater things God could do through us if we had the courage to trust in him more.

Cat is involved with a number of discipleship and outreach ministries. She’s serving with her family long-term in South East Asia.

All names have been changed.