By: Amy Cheng
The path to finding freedom can be a difficult one for refugees, but the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) would like that to change.
This week is Refugee Week and the aim of the week is to inform the public about refugees and celebrate their contributions to Australian society.
Now in its 37th year, the week, run by RCOA, will be focusing on “finding freedom” as its theme for the year.
Deputy CEO Adama Kamara said discussions started at the end of last year to decide on the theme, with a focus group involving staff and then a poll sent out to their wider network.
“Freedom is a journey and some people on that refugee journey are able to find freedom and others are still searching and they are still not able to enjoy freedom,” she said.
“We thought this theme would resonate with people who have a refugee background seeking asylum who are still searching for that freedom.”
This year, the focus will be on what finding freedom means for the individual and what freedom would look like for them.
“Every part of your life, you should have that freedom to access; basic human rights shouldn’t be something that anyone should forgo,” Ms Kamara said.
Importance of inclusion
Also occurring within Refugee Week is World Refugee Day on June 20, and is an international day started by the United Nations to honour refugees around the world.
“Inclusion is important because often refugees aren’t included in things, especially in decisions that affect their lives,” Ms Kamara said.
“Particularly in crisis zones, refugees are seen as a recipient of aid rather than the one who can actually make decisions about policy and be part of strategic-level contributions about bigger picture things.
“They’re often just seen as aid recipients and nothing more and that needs to change; they have to be involved in everything.”
The slogan “nothing about us without us” is often used by the disability sector to convey the importance of including their voices in all policy affecting them and Ms Kamara believes this same slogan applies to refugees.
“We need to be inclusive in all aspects of decision making and ensure people have access to their rights and are able to enjoy them at all levels.”
Need for financial safety net
When refugees arrive in Australia seeking asylum, they put in an application to the government to seek protection and are then put on a bridging visa until the outcome of their application is known.
Ms Kamara said this process could take up to eight years and has a toll on these refugees.
“That delay has a significant impact on individuals; you can imagine mental health implications if you are unsure for eight years if you will be sent back to the country that you’re running away from, where you know your life is at risk.”
Apart from the impact on their mental health, this delay also raises question as to how they will support themselves.
Some refugees on bridging visas will have access to working rights and will be able to work, study and support themselves, however, if they fall ill and become unable to work, there is no financial safety net for them, Ms Kamara said.
“Some people are receiving cancer treatment and can’t afford to pay their medication; they can’t work because they’re so sick and they can’t pay their rent.”
Charities are assisting these refugees, but she doesn’t think this will be sustainable in the long run.
“These charities are stepping in to provide that support but they can’t do that much longer because they don’t have enough reserves.”
Helping young asylum seekers
An initiative co-founded by PhD candidate Sally Morgan from Monash University is providing young asylum seekers living in Australia with access to education and employment opportunities.
The Hope Co-Op, a small co-operative based in Victoria, was established in 2019 and is run by people from asylum-seeking backgrounds.
“The vision of the Hope Co-Op is for full access to socio-economic participation and inclusion for students of asylum-seeker background in the legacy caseload,” Ms Morgan said in a statement.
“Hope members work cooperatively to sustain education and employment opportunities, with a strong emphasis on two-way, holistic relationships and human solidarity.”
What you can do
For people wanting to help refugees, Ms Kamara suggests that a good starting point is to learn some facts about them.
“There’s so much misinformation out there, there’s lots of myths; unfortunately, over the past decade, the narrative in the media has been really, really negative,” she said.
“It’s an opportunity for people to ask questions and learn information and that information will dispel those myths, and then share those learnings with your network because we learn more when we get information from trusted sources.”
A lot of councils are refugee welcome zones, which means they’ve made a public commitment to be welcoming to refugees, Ms Kamara said.
“Check if the council you’re living in is a refugee welcome zone and ask them what they’re doing… if the council is not (a refugee welcome zone), encourage them to be one.”
RCOA and other organisations will also be holding events throughout the week.
“Take the time to pause and learn something that you don’t already know about refugees,” Ms Kamara said.
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.
Feature image: Photo by Refugee Council