Australians now have the chance to host an asylum seeker in their spare room. The newly announced Community Placement Network will connect asylum seekers just released from detention and in need of temporary accommodation, with willing Australians who are eager to welcome these people looking for a new start.
People exactly like Rajeed.
When I met Rajeed in February, he had been out of an Australian detention centre for 24 hours. He had been locked up for 17 months and 14 days.
Despite finally being free, Rajeed hadn't left his small motel room in an outer suburb of Darwin all day. He couldn't get his mobile working and didn't want to leave his room without being able to call someone if he got lost.
His only experience of Australia had been a year and a half behind bars. This meant never being more than a few metres from a guard or an official, not being able to work or study or care for himself. His survival skills and day-to-day life skills had been damaged.
We walked with him to the supermarket down the road to buy food to cook. He marvelled about the joy of being able to cook his own food again. We discussed how bus tickets worked, the type of jobs he could apply for and what kinds of music people listened to in Australia.
When we left, Rajeed thanked us profusely, but I suspect that we got just as much out of the visit as he did. It was something of a privilege to be able to talk to a man who has been through hell in both Afghanistan and Australia, but is still grateful to just be alive and eager for a new start in Australia. It was eye opening to watch him marvel at things that I take for granted like supermarket aisles and pre-paid bus tickets, and to hear how years of terror and uncertainty have honed his priorities to: ‘find work, any work, and support my family'.
And it was lovely to be able to help, in a very small way, this gentle, quiet man take his first few steps in a new world.
This is the opportunity that the Community Stay Network is providing. It is not exactly a new opportunity, many Australians have offered spare rooms to people in desperate need of accommodation before, but it will hopefully give the support and structure to allow even more people to do so.
The generous individuals who choose to open their homes to an asylum seeker for a few weeks should be applauded by all Australians. Not only are they saving the rest of us a lot of money ($130 a week is nothing compared to detention costs), but they are introducing asylum seekers, most of whom will one day be our fellow citizens, to Australia's renowned hospitality. Australia has a reputation for its generosity and for going out of its way to help people who are down on their luck. It is a place where different cultures and experiences are valued and people, for the most part, are treated fairly and humanely.
Anyone who attacks this program is attacking the hundreds of Australians who are currently putting up their hand to be a part of it.
If you want to be part of this and have the space in your home and your life to host an asylum seeker, visit the website here: http://homestaynetwork.org/cpn