This is a picture of my father. I painted it when I was 43 — the same age he was when he escaped Vietnam in 1980 with my brother and me. Dad spent three years in a concentration camp after the Vietnam War. He was persecuted even after his release because he had been a captain with the South Vietnamese Army — the losing side. When we fled Vietnam, Mum stayed behind. Dad said in the worst-case scenario, she would have three less mouths to feed. It sounds shocking, but these are the kinds of decisions that people are forced to make. Now that I have two children of my own, I am much more aware of how hard it must have been for my parents to make that choice to divide the family. They looked into uncertainty and said, ‘That’s what we have to do; we have to face it.’ We set out on a wooden boat. It was about four metres wide and 12 metres long, and there were about 160 people on board. After five days at sea, we were rescued by a Norwegian oil tanker, which knew a storm was coming that would have obliterated the boat. After we got to Australia, we settled in Melbourne and Dad built a life for us. Mum then came out to join us. I see them every week, and the older I get, the more I understand and am thankful for what they did. Now I reflect on how we treat refugees, and our fear of them, and it strikes me that anxiety is one of the most insidious and pervasive symptoms of our age. And a lot of these fears are based on nothing concrete.

Dr Minh Phan
Melbourne, Vic