• Marina and controversial former Federal Senator Jacqui Lambie. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
"There are some things she is taking a hardline on to play a game, but in going on this journey those walls are going to have to come down," she said of Lambie.
Sarah Malik

20 Sep 2018 - 10:22 AM  UPDATED 21 Sep 2018 - 6:29 AM

If Sydney lawyer Marina and controversial former federal Senator Jacqui Lambie were guests at a wedding, they’d be two people you would be at pains to seat at different ends of the hall.

Marina, 28, is a young, carefully spoken woman who heads a team at a Sydney migration firm. She was six when her family fled Sarajevo and arrived in Australia as refugees in 1995. Lambie, 47, a former army veteran and politician is famous for her strident views on immigration and colourful language, including famously asking a radio caller if he was “well-hung”.

The two have been paired to appear on the SBS reality series Go Back To Where You Came From Live. The documentary special features a cast of well-known Australians including comedian Meshel Laurie, former Big Brother host Gretel Killeen and ex-AFL player Spida Everitt, and they are matched with those who have opposing views on the refugee debate. The teams are flown into various countries on the front line of the global refugee crisis to see in real time the impact of war and dislocation on families and communities.

Marina said she enjoyed meeting Lambie for the first time last week, while living with a Sydney refugee family. “Face to face she’s a really nice person. She’s lovely. When we met the family she was very respectful. The thing with Jacqui is she has very strong opinions and she’s not afraid to share them, but she will laugh and she will joke,” Marina told SBS Life.

Marina said she was excited to journey with Lambie, and hopes to use the show as an opportunity to change the discourse on refugees. 

“There are some ideas and mentalities that need to change for her and I to get to an actual place where we can talk constructively. There are some things she is taking a hardline on to play a game, but in going on this journey those walls are going to have to come down,” she said.

Marina said she did not think the onus was on refugees and migrants to prove they were "good people", but rather on those with strong views, especially politicians like Lambie, to become more well-informed.

“She doesn't have to change her mind and become an advocate, but as long as she understands and changes the way she speaks about refugees -  to my mind that is an accomplishment.”

For Marina, the decision to go on the show was motivated by the desire to make sense of her own child refugee experience. She fled Sarajevo with her mother and two brothers in a truck after war broke out in the Balkan capital in 1992. The family spent time hidden at a relative's house in Montenegro before spending three years in a cramped Croatian refugee camp. Her father remained trapped in Sarajevo after the city fell in a siege, and reunited with the family years later, before together migrating to Australia in 1995. 

Like many Balkan clans, Marina's heritage is mixed, her father is Serbian and mother is Croatian, but born of a Bosnian Muslim mother. For Marina, sharing her own stories and listening to others is an important part of understanding the emotional toll and complexity of the refugee experience.

“One night (in the camp) we all had a huge longing for the rest of our family because we hadn’t heard from them. We were literally all just crying and just screaming out of the window hoping they’d hear us.”

“We all fell asleep and we were all just so exhausted from crying and the longing of not being with our family and worrying about how they were. That was probably the saddest memory I have,” she said.

“Whenever people have something negative to say about refugees - I say to them: 'What nationality do you think I am?' They’ll be like 'Australian'. Then I’ll say, 'I came here as a refugee, I’m Australian and a refugee and the fact is you can be both'.”

Go Back to Where You Came From Live premieres on SBS between October 2 and 4 at 8:30pm.