Marion Le featured in new book on Asian and Pacific women

by Tim McDonald

Immigration Solutions consultant Marion Le is the subject of a chapter in "Weaving a Double Cloth," an oral history focusing on the experiences of ten Asian and Pacific migrant women in Australia.

Le was originally tapped to be a consultant on the project because of her longstanding involvement with the Vietnamese community. After talking with Le, however, the editors found her story so compelling that they decided to include her in the book.

Myra Jean Bourke, one of the book's three editors, conducted six two-hour long interviews with Le and then compiled and edited the results into a succinct chapter about her life and her work with refugees.

A New Zealander by birth, Le came to Australia in 1971 and first became involved with refugee issues while undertaking a degree at the Australian National University. Her involvement has continued to grow ever since, partly because of her marriage to a Vietnamese refugee and her efforts to bring members of his family to Australia.

Although her work with the Vietnamese community has been difficult at times, she said that she feels richer for the experience.

"I would never have had the insights that I've had without my close connection to the Vietnamese community," she said.

Over the years, Le has been involved in several significant refugee cases, including the 1993 "Isabellas" case, which resulted in the release of more than 50 Chinese asylum seekers from the Port Headland Detention Centre.

An outspoken critic of the government's policy on refugee issues, Le has never been one to shy away from a fight over the Immigration Department's treatment of refugees, which she described as "scandalous" in the book.

Her tenacious commitment to refugees has caused her to fall foul of the department on more than one occasion. In the 1993, then-Immigration Minister Stephen Bolkus threatened to sue Le for the government's legal expenses when she took the immigration department to court to stop the deportation of two Chinese refugee girls. Fortunately for Le, the court found in favour of the Chinese girls, removing any grounds for the government to proceed with a lawsuit.

Through her involvement in refugee issues, Le has become an oft-quoted and widely consulted expert on intercultural, refugee and immigration issues.

She was also selected to speak at the Alfred Deakin Lectures on Immigration, Diversity & the Fabric of Australian Society and contributed to "Protection or Punishment," a 1993 book on the detention of asylum seekers.

Le's work has not gone unrecognized. She was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1990, and the Austcare Paul Cullen Award for Outstanding Contribution to Refugees in 1994.

But despite her varied and colourful background, Le wasn't entirely confident that her story would turn out to be interesting.

"I expected mine to be boring," she said.

After reading the chapter, however, she said she was pleasantly surprised with the result, and that her son Noble has even encouraged her to write a book.


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