Dr. Munjed Al Muderis is an orthopedic surgeon who has pioneered a new prosthetic limb allowing amputees to start walking sooner. It’s helped countless veterans. But in 1999, Munjed was ordered to cut off the ears of people fleeing the army in Baghdad when he was a junior doctor and Saddam Hussein was president.
So he fled Iraq, seeking asylum in Australia. Ten months were spent in detention but soon he was back in a hospital. This time, in Mildura. Today he’s in Sydney with his wife, his daughters and his dog. How far he has come.
Munjed is also one of the many refugees being celebrated by the UNHC’s ‘Human Lives, Human Rights’ campaign as 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the first major refugee arrival down under (five young men fled Vietnam and sailed into Darwin Harbour).
You can see their stories here and below, but Australian actress Cate Blanchett wants you to know something about them. They’ve never been more important.
“This campaign comes at an important moment, as more people are displaced globally than ever before,” Blanchett told The Huffington Post Australia.
“As an Australian, I am immensely proud of our refugee history. As this campaign shows, refugees have been welcomed in Australia across many decades, and they in turn have contributed to the richness, diversity and skills base of our nation.
“Importantly, the campaign also reminds us that continued recognition of refugees as human beings and as vulnerable people is fundamental to their protection, and to finding humanitarian solutions to their plight.
“The fundamental human rights of those fleeing war and persecution do not change, regardless of how they are forced to seek safety.”
In September 2015, the Australian government announced a special intake of 12,000 asylum seekers fleeing the Iraq and Syria conflicts (in addition to Australia’s humanitarian program, totalling 13,750). This was increased to 18,750 in total for the 2018-19 financial year.
Blanchett, who is a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, has met with refugees and asylum seekers in Australia since she was appointed an ambassador for the UN refugee agency in May.
“I’ve talked with families who have been stuck in limbo for over three years, and seen first-hand how desperately solutions are needed for all those remaining in this precarious situation,” Blanchett said.
“I’ve also met Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and the common experience of refugees wherever they are, is the devastation of losing homes, livelihoods and family.
“In the face of such loss I have witnessed the tremendous resilience refugee families display when forced to make the choice to undertake treacherous journeys in order to find safety. I have seen firsthand the determination refugees have to protect their children and loved ones — a determination we would also share if forced to flee.”
Munjed is just one of four refugees to tell their story in the campaign. There is Najeeba Wazefadost, who fled Afghanistan with her parents and now helps refugee women learn English when they arrive down under. There’s Saeid Safavi who fled his business in Iran, and now runs a cafe in the small South Australian town of Port Pirie. And then there’s Tac Tam Lam who was on board the first refugee boat to arrive in Australia 40 years ago. He’s semi-retired in Darwin now, but he’s been busy. There are three generations of the Lam family down under.
So why don’t you see for yourself? Click here.