Three local refugees shared their lived experience in short films shown during the event. Hani from Somalia said the past was tragic but she was glad she’d made it to Australia where she was now studying journalism so she could ‘tell unheard stories’. Ebad from Afghanistan said he had not been safe from the Taliban, so he fled to Australia in 2013, where he was no longer in danger but missed his family. Sajeda, a Rohingya refugee originally from Burma, said she’d delivered 46 boxes of food to needy people during COVID-19, and her dream was to set up a Rohingya Women’s Organisation.
The films were made by cinematographer Bebi Zekirovski and his wife Liz Zekirovski who had visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh in late 2019. They said seeing the resilience of the people who had journeyed from Myanmar to the camp where day-to-day living still held myriad difficulties had been ‘life-changing’.
Hannah Gray, a Senior Solicitor at RACS, spoke of the challenges for refugees who arrive by boat to Australia. Refugees on Temporary Protection Visas were particularly vulnerable, she said, and this had been exacerbated by COVID-19.
Ms Gray outlined practical ways people could provide refugees with support, which included listening to people with lived experience and raising awareness through sharing positive stories. People could also donate to RACS and sign the RACS petition calling for the urgent expansion of financial support during COVID-19 to include refugees and people seeking asylum.
‘Thousands of people are facing extreme poverty and destitution because they are unable to access critical support,’ she said.
The petition calls for three changes to ensure Australia’s most vulnerable receive support and that the nation is ready to grow and rebuild once the COVID-19 crisis is over. They are: financial support for people seeking asylum; access to the Job Keeper wage subsidy for all; and continuous access to Medicare for all.
In his greeting, Councillor Kevin Greene, Mayor of Georges River Council, said in the last five years Georges River Council had welcomed over 100 refugees into the area, and was proud to be a Refugee Welcome Zone.
Anthony Scerri, Manager of the Settlement and Community Services division at Advance Diversity Services, said that Refugee Week offers a chance to raise awareness of the plight of refugees around the world and of the efforts to protect their human rights.
To maintain social distancing and keep people safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, all Refugee Week events in 2020 were held online from June 14 to 20.
For more information about the RACS petition see https://www.racs.org.au/petition
Read more about Advance Diversity Services’ work with asylum seekers and refugees here.