Jacqui Ooi

About Jacqui Ooi

Jacqui Ooi is a Sydney-based writer and editor who spent 10 years working at some of Australia’s best-known magazines before jumping ship to the world of international aid. She has seen life at its most glamorous and its most grim, and lived to tell the tales.

Safe: Gratitude for Australia’s greatest freedom

There are very few moments in my life when I recall not feeling safe.

White-water rafting in the Zambezi River in a deflating boat springs to mind.

Getting on a bike for the first time is another.

But in my everyday life, it’s a rare moment when I spare a thought for my safety. Such is a freedom I’ve taken for granted – perhaps naively on occasion – most of my life.

It’s something that really struck me when I learned for the first time about some of the true horrors of the world – the experiences of women and girls trapped in refugee camps, where the incidence of rape is alarmingly high; the atrocities many of these women and girls faced in their own countries that led them to flee in the first place.

It strikes me again every time I read stories of asylum seekers trying desperately to reach safety and freedom – single young men, families with young children, daughters, mothers and grandmothers.

People running for their lives who just want to feel safe.

Four Corners recently covered in powerful detail the harrowing events that unfolded at the Manus Island detention centre in February. I watched, sitting on my couch sobbing as an Australian guard who was there on the night recounted how terrified the “transferees” (aka asylum seekers aka PEOPLE) were when local PNG guards stormed their compound and went on a brutal rampage that left one man dead and dozens injured.

He told of how many of the detainees were begging to be protected when they realised violence was about to ensue. Even those who’d barricaded themselves in their rooms cowering under their beds were not safe – he remembered seeing door handles smashed off and bloody handprints smeared across the floor where these young men had been dragged from their hiding places and beaten to a pulp.

I know these things are awful to hear but this is the reality that many people in the world are experiencing at this very moment in time – while I sit here at my computer, while you read this piece. We’re so used to feeling safe and free, it’s almost impossible for us to fathom the opposite.

It is true that Australia is a lucky country, but over time I have come to realise we are not lucky because we are rich. We are lucky because we are SAFE.

I can’t imagine living in fear of my door being kicked down in the middle of the night and of being arrested, tortured or worse, for no reason other than my religion, ethnicity, sexuality or political persuasion.

I can’t imagine not having a door to lock at night or being attacked on my way to the bathroom, like many women and girls living in refugee camps.

I can’t imagine having no one to turn to for help. Having those who are supposed to protect me – the police, the government – be the ones who are after me.

Of course, there are risks and dangers in our society too and it is right that we continue to focus on tackling those. But we have safety nets and support services and justice systems to protect us. This is simply not the case in many countries.

It is true that Australia is a lucky country, but over time I have come to realise we are not lucky because we are rich. We are lucky because we are SAFE. We have unbelievable freedoms. We can speak out against our governments, we can love who we want, we can worship who we want (or not), we can go to bed knowing we will sleep safely through the night.

For some, these choices would be equivalent to winning the lottery.

There’s no doubt our wealth and lifestyle may be ranked among the greatest in the world but the thing I feel thankful for when I come home at night is that I can walk in my front door and lock it behind me.

Safe.

In that moment of the door banging shut, I actually feel a momentary sense of relief and gratitude that I can shut out the world and be in the comfort and safety of my home.

Because I am acutely aware that this seemingly small act is an elusive dream for millions of people who may never see home again.
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