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We treat dogs better than the asylum seekers

  • 23 August 2017


Last week I was rung to say my dog was missing. I finished at work as soon as I could, ringing the local council and neighbourhood vet on the way home. Neither had seen anything of him but suggested we post on social media. As my husband and I drove and walked the streets, the messages came in. People were concerned. He was missing from an enclosed yard. Some offered to look, others from further away, shared hope and the Facebook post. The post went everywhere, the last I saw was in Western Australia.

ABC officeMid-afternoon, the Vet called. The person who brought him in didn’t leave their name. He was brought from his warm cosy area of safe-keeping towards us. I was ecstatic. He was unperturbed. At the beginning of this year, my 31-year old son moved interstate. Despite the fact he has lived independently from me for 14 years, I still had the yearning to see him safe in his new abode. When he was five years old, I would sometimes hide behind the bushes staring into the school yard hoping that he’d found a friend. I suppose that is what I still hope for him, the kind of friend he could drop in on in the bad times and drop in on in the good.

During the same week, on Manus Island, another mother’s 31-year-old son went missing. He was a man known to have been living with trauma, who had been recommended to have medical attention. His own friends had posted messages to alert Australians to his desperation.

In the last four years, my son became engaged and married. Together he and his wife took on the adventure of moving interstate to new jobs, creating their home and now they’re spending time in Europe. Some of his photos and posts from these years depict a young man working hard, providing enjoyment and leadership. Others depict a young man mad for the girl he has married, at ease in his own skin and having a hell of a good time.

In the last four years, Hamed Shamshiripour had been detained in the prison of the Australian detention system. He was denied the care he needed. A week ago he died.

I think of what he and the other young men imprisoned in off-shore detention centres could have been contributing to our country. I think of what they could have created in their own families and their new communities. But it is not just the waste of these years, it is the awfulness to which these men have been subjected.

I listened to Hamed’s father describing his healthy, adventurous son as he had known him prior to detention. Few things speak so poignantly of the waste of these four years for the men on Manus. I watched the Al Jazeera news with images of the detention centre beaming around the world. I remember when I felt so proud to be Australian. In this system, I feel deep shame.

I am considering how people might have reacted when my dog was taken to the vet clinic if he were denied the treatment he needed, if he were beaten and tormented and kept in isolation from our family for four years. He wasn’t. People joined in the search, the concern was palpable. Once found, he was welcomed and kept safe and reunited with us as soon as possible.


"Hamed Shamshiripour had been detained in the prison of the Australian detention system. He was denied the care he needed. A week ago he died."


If only the same level of concern and care had been shown to Hamed Shamshiripour. A week has gone by; people continue to check how my dog is. I wonder who is checking on the young men on Manus? Hamed’s death has shifted a long way from front page news.

As I read the reports and watched the detention centre footage being beamed around the world, I felt embarrassed, a deep-rooted humiliation, what kind of an Australia are we projecting to the world?

Now I check the news fearfully. Grief and anger and fear of the unknown are a volatile combination. I am looking at the images of children and parents, and desperate young men. I am shocked by the violence of the people in security. I learn that a man has been put in jail for having a camera; another has been moved for medical reasons.

I am watching young teenagers and children who are entitled to be in school, entitled to a childhood. My questions are shifting. I am wanting to know the same answer to the question so many ask of other crimes against humanity, how could this be allowed to happen? How could it continue? But as more days go by, the question I now ask of my country is, what kind of an Australia are we choosing to be?




Rohan SalmondPoet, Essayist and Funeral Director, Anne Gleeson lives in Terang in the South-West of Victoria. Her third poetry collection Small Acts of Purpose will be released in November.



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Existing comments

The question every person with a modicum of humanity asks Rohan - What kind of nation are we that this barbarity continues?

Rod Horsfield | 23 August 2017  

Treating both asylum seekers and dogs as we would wish to be treated is what's needed. It's not the fault of appropriately cared about animals. Compassion is not a limited substance that needs to be dispensed to the supposedly more deserving - it's something that is actually expansive in nature and scope.

THOMAS RYAN | 23 August 2017  

Hi Thomas - I agree with you in principle, but I also see the point of Anne Gleeson's article that there are blaring and disturbing examples when we DON'T treat our vulnerable human beings as well as we would treat a lost pet. What we should do and what's evident on a social scale creates a wake-up call for me. I don't criticise people who advocate for animal rights, but I do challenge them and remind them of the realities.

AURELIUS | 23 August 2017  

Thank you, Anne, for expressing so well the anger, anguish and shame so many of us feel at the cruelty of our Government in regard to asylum seekers not only on Manus Is and Nauru but in places like Yongah Hill in WA. Hopefully, what you have written will help someone to reflect on what Australia has now become in its unjust treatment of innocent people

Geoff Seaman | 23 August 2017  

The statistics for numbers of healthy unwanted dogs euthanased as well as cases of cruelty and neglect makes me think we don't care much about either. Perhaps until there is a personal connection, or as Thomas alludes to, compassionate people care about both.

Janelle | 23 August 2017  

Excellent piece, Anne, and a telling comparison. Sadly, it is comparatively easy for "the public" i.e. us, to look for a lost dog and get it home to its family; brutally frustrating for us demanding closure of all the detention centres, especially those off-shore on Manus Is and Nauru, where our Parliament (both sides of the House) continues to shirk its responsibility towards the detainees.

Ian Fraser | 24 August 2017  

It is indeed a terrible indictment of Australian priorities when household pets are deemed more worthy of care than the human beings Australia has imprisoned offshore. Australia will bear this ignominy forever. Thank you for expressing the outrage and sorrow so many Australians. Nothing will change until we can convince our political masters that unless policies change, they'll lose their jobs.

Juliet | 24 August 2017  

Human beings are made in the image and likeness of the divine.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho | 25 August 2017  

Anee this is so sad and so lovely, and all the more pertinent because I was following your missing dog updates on Facebook. It makes me ashamed of aaustralia too.

robyn | 29 August 2017  

Great article. I have come to believe that the way we treat the animals of the word has become reflected in the way we treat other human beings. Animals,whether they be domesticated or wild are often treated with less respect than they deserve. Largely, I think because they are not us. Commonly asylum seekers are seen in the same light. Different, not us. This article fills me with hope that not everyone thinks this way

geoff | 29 August 2017