When I started with the immigration department I believed in the essential goodness of order, rules, procedures and protocols. My world had been up to that point conventional and outbursts against authority in my teenage years against parents and school were just me youthfully exploring the boundaries. When you find yourself on the other side of the fence at that age you start to lose your equilibrium, unable to anchor your thoughts and actions to a reference point. The first steps into this unchartered territory provides a sense of exhilaration and with a few more steps into unease that sends you back to the comfort of convention that as it turned out was amazingly only a few steps back; it felt like so far out but the reality was a few small steps. When young we are sold the notion that over the boundary is a frozen desolate wasteland. I was happy to follow a set of norms, I trusted when I was younger even as a young adult that the collective experience of humanity, especially if you live in a western country had provided a society of written and unwritten conventions that kept us safe and a necessary order. To reinforce the bargain I had made with my surrounds, I saw on the nightly news the destruction and suffering of the otherness, a world distant, whose moral compass I believed was off kilter, a world inhabited by the unfortunate victims in my mind of their own corruption and corruptibility. The conventional wisdom which I had adopted was that this “other world’s” failings that had caused their own suffering . Life up until I joined the immigration department held few moral dilemmas apart from the turmoil’s related to a dud boyfriend and his dumping.
Now I know that a life without questioning the convention to which we attach ourselves can only be done from never visiting the boundary. It means never questioning whether the wasteland has the potential to be cultivated. The first time I really found myself questioning the system and myself was when I interviewed a young woman who was picked up on the street working as prostitute. She was now headed for deportation.
The system didn’t care about her personal struggle. The system didn’t care that a shy 16 year old girl had been promised a good job and the opportunity to lift her family from poverty and had been betrayed. The death of her father meant a debt could never be paid and the naïve child thought her travel to a distant land could restore her family and keep her two little sisters and brother free from hunger. Kaditha was escorted to a foreign land where she survived three years in a small room without a window where she could dream for a few short hours a day of a better life, free from the groping hands, molestation and rape inflicted a dozen times a day, forced into prostitution. She was always told her debt would be paid soon, but the soon turned to years. Then one day the brothel was raided. She heard what was happening below her and climbed in a crawl space in the ceiling. She had managed to hide some money from the brother owners in this space. This space in the roof above her head was her only piece of herself that she had managed to build in these years, a few trinkets and small amount of cash. So she hid in a space just large enough for her and her treasure, that she thought may just be enough to start a new life. She heard the cops below search her room and leave. Then after two hours she heard silence. She waited till dark and crawled down onto a cupboard then onto a table, then to a chair and then nervously to the floor, the possibility awakened this step on level ground could be one of freedom. She decided to avoid the front door and found a path up onto the roof through the darkness, through a skylight in a small attic room. She made it onto the roof and managed to scramble across the terraced roofs and finally found a fire escape and climbed down.
Our perception of freedom is relative to a time and a place. Sometimes we feel bound to lovers or family or friends or to a culture or a sense of purpose. This feeling of freedom waxes and wanes but is based on our inclusion mostly with that what surrounds us. So a freedom based on lonely desolation is no freedom but instead a torment with no boundaries, no reference to a horizon and no gravity with which to accelerate your fall and indicate the direction up or down. The fetid air of this version of freedom was shortening Kaditha’s every breath, grabbing at her last gasp of reason, driving Kaditha’s heart to crash into her rib cage at three beats a second. Excluded and no wear to go on a cold autumn night she slept rough, hoping that the new day would bring her a life on her own terms, a better version of freedom. Kaditha over the next few months started to build a better life. She learned where her native tongue could be spoken and where she could find answers for the questions she had. These questions were of a very limited scope, limited to how she could survive. Instead of the abusive and vicious pimps that handled her in the brothel, she found merely a greedy pimp. She worked the streets on the dangerous margins of the sex trade until one night she was arrested for soliciting.
Kaditha’s story of survival meant nothing to the system as of with the years of abuse. Those she could have testified against that smuggled her into the country were either already behind bars or long gone. She held no value to the state and was told she held no value for the society. Her survival and her courage were nothing new, her story was common; heard a hundred times before and instead of being seen as an epidemic her story was seen as a scripted asylum application. Kaditha’s was deported 2 months after I spoke to her. Her appeal was rejected and she was sent packing to a country that held nothing for her, to a family that had betrayed her trust and from a country that had facilitated her abuse inside and outside the system. Where it would be possible for the trafficked to come forward and seek asylum from abuse and degradation only then could we punish the abuser. Where the victim is penalised, then we lose any chance to find the truth and reduce the harm to those most vulnerable. We will keep all that is unjust concealed, keeping our peace of mind at arm’s length from horror that is a reality for so many. Where we never push the boundaries for ourselves and our society we will fail to live in an inclusive society that would change us all for the better.