Dr Munjed Al MuderisIn October 1999, Dr Munjed Al Muderis was a talented young surgeon working at the Saddam Hussein Medical Centre in Baghdad when the military broke in with busloads of army deserters to have their ears amputated by the surgeons.

The head of surgery refused to take part in such a barbaric act and was promptly taken outside and shot.  In all of the confusion, Dr Muderis managed to hide in a cubicle in the women’s toilets.

After the carnage was over, Dr Muderis knew that he would be a wanted man and couldn’t return to his home, so he found a way to escape the country and a few weeks later he found himself on a leaky boat with 150 other asylum seekers making his way towards the shores of Australia.

He ended up in one of Australia’s detention centres that are used to process asylum seekers in remote Western Australia.  He was assigned a number and, like everyone else in these facilities, treated inhumanely while his application was processed.  A year later he was finally granted asylum and given the freedom to live and work in Australia.

Dr Muderis got to work and has gone on to become one of the Australia’s greatest orthopaedic surgeons, specialising in a process called osseointegration, that enables him to give his patients, many of them Australian and British soldiers who have lost legs in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ability to walk again with new prosthetic limbs.

It’s been an extraordinary journey and Australia is extremely fortunate to have such a remarkably resilient and resourceful surgeon using his talents to make a positive difference in the world.

It would have been easy for Dr Muderis to go along with the army in Baghdad.

It would have been easy for Dr Muderis to lose hope in the detention centre.

It would have been easy for Dr Muderis to define himself as a refugee, instead of as a surgeon.

And it would have been easy for Dr Muderis to apply his medical training by just going through the motions.

But he didn’t choose easy, he chose greatness.

As an aside, in the Curtin detention centre where Dr Muderis was held, there were 13 doctors, 12 of which are now practicing as specialists here in Australia.

I can’t help but wonder how many more potentially great Australians are being held by our government’s absurd, fear-driven, inhumane and incredibly backward policies regarding refugees.

Our country was built by inspirational people like Dr Muderis who travelled here on boats to escape persecution and found a way to make a significant contribution to our society.

I hope that we can become a welcoming, compassionate society towards asylum seekers again.

And I trust that in doing do, we will find more remarkable individuals such as Dr Muderis on our doorstep.

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