The idea of speaking up for the less fortunate can make anyone uncomfortable, but last year, 22 year-old Jasmine Pilbrow did just that and may be sent to prison as a result. After boarding Qantas flight 838 on 2 February 2015, the Victoria University student refused to take her seat until a Tamil asylum seeker being transferred and deported to his homeland of Sri Lanka was taken off the plane.
After her peaceful request was denied, Pilbrow was escorted from the plane and last week was asked to voluntarily pay Qantas $3,429 compensation for ‘interfering with a crew member of an aircraft’. She will return to court in November where she may be sent to prison for two years. Thankfully, Pilbrow’s protest was not in vain, and the man being deported was taken back to Melbourne.
‘Disturbingly, our government does not recognise that Sri Lanka is still dangerous for Tamils, despite evidence from multiple international bodies to the contrary,’ she said. ‘Many Tamil asylum seekers around Australia today are still afraid and are lacking in legal support due to dwindling Government assistance.’
The public’s response to Pilbrow’s protest was varied, with some news outlets calling her a ‘Qantas-hating troublemaker’ and a ‘remorseless time burglar’. These harsh words are a timely reminder that often, standing up for those less fortunate and disrupting the injustice of the status quo will result in backlash and negativity.
Despite this, the student has used her legal situation to raise awareness for the plight of asylum seekers. ‘I’d like to encourage Qantas as a company to take a stand and announce they will no longer participate in forcing people with transfers and being deported overseas and encourage them as one of the biggest airline companies in Australia to do that,’ she said in April.
Through her crowd funding page, she has thanks the public for their support and asked for assistance in raising $10,000. Any donations raised over her fine will go towards The Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project in Melbourne and the Christian movement Love Makes A Way, known for its peaceful prayer sit-ins at MP’s offices.
Numerous members of The Salvation Army have participated in these sit-ins, and earlier in the year the Salvos called on the government to provide sanctuary for asylum seekers being deported back to Nauru offshore detention centre.
General André Cox has also thrown his support behind the UNHCR’s #WithRefugees petition, saying, ‘The Salvation Army’s long-standing approach of ‘Heart to God, Hand to Mankind’ has included providing practical and spiritual assistance but also pressing governments to help the poorest, most vulnerable members of society.’
As we reflect on the bravery of Pilbrow standing up to corporate giant Qantas, the words of Leviticus chapter 19, verses 33 and 34 come to mind. ‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself…’.
Pilbrow’s decision to love others as herself has come at a cost—her finances, her reputation and her future are at stake. But her commitment to standing up for society’s most oppressed people shows there is always hope for a better future, and an authentic display of what the ‘true Australian spirit’ is all about.