Category Archives: Refugees in WA

Ways of Being Here

Diverse voices matter in Australia more than ever. Ways of being here is pocket book-sized collection of four short stories that showcases the work of four tWays of Being Here coveralented African writers living in Australia – Raefeif Ismail, Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes, Tinashe Jakwa and Yout A Alaak.

Maxine Beneba Clarke writes in her introduction: “Black people of African descent – black diaspora settlers and migrants and descendants of such – have been living in Australia for over 200 years. Yet local African diaspora fiction has been markedly absent from Australian shelves”.

Ways of being here is a terrific read. You can read it slowly, dipping into it over time, or in a few hours on an afternoon or evening you might have free. Either way, I guarantee you will want to read it several times. These beautifully written stories will capture your imagination and your attention. The four write of love, loss, the challenge of living between cultures, intergenerational clashes, of being made welcome and of being isolated.

Rafeif Ismail’s moving story, ‘Light at the end’, about two young women has language that sings off the page with emotion.   He writes: “When did you become this desperate, desolate thing? When did the world’s colours dull and laughter have a price? Fear is the chain you wear, shackling you between walls of loneliness, shame, regret and, most terribly, hope.

Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes story, ‘When the sky looks like the belly of a donkey’, tackles the cultural challenges of starting a new life in Australia – a place so different from your home country. Yirga also captures what could be a group of typical Aussie blokes with insightful writing. The story about Ermi, usually mis-pronounced by many of his workmates as Army, is one I have heard from many migrants and people of refugee background. It is about starting at the bottom of the ladder, trying to fit in and always missing the people left behind. I laughed and I cringed but by the end of the story I smiled with hope.

All four short stories provide a valuable opportunity to reflect about the lives of others.

Ways of being here is published by Margaret River Press and the Centre for Stories, 2017

Stocking the pantry

CARAD is a fabulous organisation in Western Australia that has assisted thousands of refugees and asylum seekers with services such as settlement support, advocacy, referral, financial aid, English lessons, homework support and emergency supplies, including food and other pantry items.

As winter approaches and the number of CARAD’s non-income asylum seeker clients has food donationsincreased, the pantry is running low and they need your help. They’re looking for donations of the following:

cooking oil, sugar, salt, pepper, plain flour, cereal, instant coffee, tea, long-life milk, basmati rice, tinned tuna, tinned tomatoes, tinned fruit, honey, dried chickpeas or lentils, nuts and dried fruit, shavers, shaving cream, body wash or soap, toothbrushes, shampoo, male and female deodorant, laundry detergent, dish washing liquid, and tissues.

You can drop off your donations to their office at 245 Stirling St, Perth, Monday to Friday between 9am – 4pm.

Please spread the word.

For those of you who are keen to get involved and support some of our most vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees, volunteering with organisations such as CARAD is a great option. They have volunteering information sessions coming up, held at the CARAD office on:

  • Monday 22 May from 12-1 pm
  • Wednesday 24 May from 5.30-6.30 pm

Sessions will cover what CARAD does, the specific volunteer roles available, and the process for becoming involved. After attending an information session, volunteers will then be invited to participate in a ‘Building Bridges’ Training Course. To register your attendance please email sellie@carad.org.au.

Our Common Goal

It’s not every evening that you get to tour a mosque, cheer on an enthusiastic game of soccer and attend a board meeting!

That was how my involvement with the Edmund Rice Centre unfolded on Monday night starting with the launch of our second Common Goal program.

Common Goal involves a partnership between the Edmund Rice Centre WA, Football West, WA Police and the Canning Mosque. It aims to give young people opportunities for leadership training and education through a soccer academy.

After the launch event, the Canning Mosque team (aged from 14 -18) took to the field against a WA Police team in an evenly matched game. Over 100 people watched and cheered on the game and I have to say some of the skills on display would have rivalled the A-League! Canning Mosque was victorious with a 1-0 win.

Common Goal also aims to foster positive relationships between people from diverse communities and assist in strengthening police engagement by providing fun and structured sporting activities where anyone is welcome.

As a board member of the Edmund Rice Centre WA, I was delighted to hear the thoughts of the Turkish Muslim Society, Canning Mosque representatives and senior members of the WA Police about how the program was making a difference in the local community.   I was also honored to tour the Mosque with the Iman before the game and understand more about this often misunderstood religion.

The highlight for me though was watching young people from very diverse cultural backgrounds mingling, playing and laughing together. It gives me hope for our future.

2016 in review

I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on 2016 in relation to refugees, asylum seekers and the importance of stories to help us understand what is happening in the world.  There were many low points, but also some inspiring highlights that made me marvel at the strength and humanity of others. I hope you’ll take time to read this longer post from me.

It was a challenging year in Australia and the international community. The conflict in Syria worsened but I am hopeful that the tentative peace deal brokered by the Russians may help.   syrian-refugeesThe escalating violence and insecurity continued in South Sudan and Yemen.   We saw an amazing welcome initially from Angela Merkel and Germany in welcoming thousands of fleeing refugees as the crisis of displaced people had a dramatic impact in Europe. Populist groups in the UK, USA, Austria, Denmark, Germany, France and the Netherlands used the world’s biggest refugee crisis to spread fear and hate, inflaming tensions about people who may be different to us. In Australia where I live, the re-emergence of the One Nation party led by Pauline Hanson, has reflected these sentiments.

Walls, both physical and metaphorical, have been built in countries around the world to stop many of the people most in need from seeking help. According to the UNHCR, 1 in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee.

As a writer and former journalist, I followed with fascination and often despair the twitter postings of Bana al-Abed, a young seven-year-old girl whose postings offered the world a glimpse into the deprivation and violence in the besieged city of Aleppo. Bana and her family were recently evacuated to the Turkish capital.

I worried about writer and journalist friends in some of the world’s trouble spots. I could only be thankful that people like my friend Karl Schembri were able to post on the ground reports from tragic situations in Yemen and Syria. Ben Doherty and the team from nauru-filesGuardian Australia continued to lead the way with the most in-depth updates on the refugee and asylum seeker situation as it related to Australia. In a global exclusive, the Nauru files which included over 2,000 documents showing the despair and horror of Australia’s offshore detention, were leaked to the Guardian. This was followed by graphic reports on the ABC’s 4 Corners that also screened around the world.

I know, as someone who worked in news for many years, a picture can tell a story “better than a thousand words” In 2015 it was the image of Aylan, the two-year-old Syrian refugee, lying face down on a Turkish beach that seemed to galvanise western countries into responding to the urgency of the Syrian refugee crisis. Australia increased its refugee intake by 12,000 to help Syrian and Iraqi refugees.  After a very slow start (why did it take nearly a year?) 2016 finally saw some of these refugees arrive in Australia.

In 2016 it was the image of young Oman in the back of the ambulance, which I am sure will show up in all your news feeds, as one of the photos of the year. oman-in-ambulanceThis photograph and video seemed particularly poignant and tragic to me. Oman was wearing shorts and a t-shirt featuring a cartoon character. His hands were in his lap. In a moment of pure horror, he lifted his left hand to his face, ran his fingers through his hair and then back down the side of his face before putting his hands back in his lap. He looked at the palm of his hand covered in blood and, unsure what to do, turns it over and wipes it on the seat. In that moment, he could have been our son, our grandson, our brother or our nephew, trying to get something off his hand. He looked straight at the camera, from a bright orange seat in the back of an ambulance where medics were rescuing people amidst the violence and chaos, towards the voices. He blinked and looked away… but I couldn’t look away from Oman.

yusra-mardiniOn a brighter note there was the uplifting news of a refugee team being selected for the Rio Olympics. I was drawn to 17 year old Yusra Mardini who saw terror in the eyes of her fellow passengers as the inflatable dinghy she was in trying to cross the Mediterranean began taking on water. Most of the people in the boat could not swim, but 17-year-old Yusra could, and she dragged them to safety.

The year ended with good news in Australia with a landmark decision in the Federal Court of Australia that ruled against the Minister of Immigration on the question of citizenship for people of refugee background. The case, brought by the Refugee Council of Australia with pro bono legal support, provides hope for 10,231 people that the department confirmed were in similar situations. This group of people from a refugee background have had their citizenship applications ‘put in the bottom drawer’, as the Department has dragged its feet in offering this large group of new Australians citizenship.

Personally, it was an amazing year with my book More to the story –conversations with refugees published by Margaret River Press selling very well. There are a small number of copies left that can be purchased online. I participated in writers festivals- the highlights being Big Sky in Geraldton and the Perth Writers Festival. I was a guest at community events, such as the Katanning Harmony Festival, where I gave the address on Australia Day. I gave library talks and attended book clubs throughout the year to help raise awareness about refugees and asylum seekers. Throughout the year I met hundreds of people, many of whom told me they were inspired to volunteer for organisations working with people from a refugee background including CARAD, Refugee Rights Action Network and Joining the Dots’ Welcome Dinner Project. More of you have signed up to receive information or made donations to organisations like the Refugee Council of Australia,  Australian Red Cross, Amnesty International and Edmund Rice Centre WA where I am proud to serve on the board. I truly believe that hundreds of people who have read the personal stories featured in the book have taken time to reflect on what is happening around the world and in their own lives.

MYAN group 2016One of the year’s highlights for me was my involvement with Shout Out, a public speaking program for young people from a refugee and migrant background run by the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network. I feel very privileged to have been a part of helping some fabulous young people to develop their personal stories and public speaking skills.

Perhaps the most satisfying experiences in 2016 came in schools where I spoke. I started the year on a high with the Margaret River Senior High School Social Justice group – why don’t more schools have a group like this?  I visited schools in the Geraldton region and elsewhere around Western Australia, and ended my engagements at Churchlands Senior High School with a day full of talks to different classes. We know that many schools around Australia now have More to the Story in their school libraries or are studying it as part of the curriculum.

I continued to be inspired by my close friends – Paul and Naw Bi from Burma; John, Farid and Fauzia from Afghanistan; Piok and Akech from South Sudan. We made more new friends as our lives became more involved with people from a refugee background – some of whom I hope will feature in my next book. We celebrated Karen New Year, Eid and other festivals with people of different cultural backgrounds. We heard sad stories, tragic stories and inspirational and happy stories

And finally I made good progress on my doctoral studies about life writing and human rights in relation to refugees. I am approaching the half way mark of a four year course and I hope my research and writing might make a small difference. As 2016 drew to a close I like to believe that hope can shine a bright light in darkness.  There are some thoughts on this from World Vision that you might like to read.

I hope you’ll keep following this website in 2017. You can sign up to follow it and receive information as I post – just click the button on the right.  Sometimes it is helpful to have useful information about an issue in one place and don’t forget you can contact me via the website or join in the conversation via the More to the Story facebook page.

I wish everyone peace in the coming year.

Refugee Week 2016

The theme of this year’s Refugee Week celebrations on 19-25 June is “with courage let us all combine” which is taken from the second verse of our national anthem Advance Australia Fair. 

Refugee Week is time that we celebrate the vital contribution and wonderful diversity that refugees bring to Australia. It is also a time when we think about the courage and resilience of all refugees, as well as all those who speak out against persecution and injustice around the world.

World Refugee Day is held every year on 20 June as part of the week and the UNHCR reminds us there are more than 60 million refugees around the world, half of whom are women and children.

The Refugee Council of Australia says: “The week is a call for unity and action for a fairer society. The Refugee Week theme encourages Australians to celebrate the best aspects of our nation’s welcome of refugees, frankly acknowledge unjust treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and commit to working together to ensure that we do better.”

I’m particularly pleased that the national posters (see below) for this year’s Refugee Week features the Butler Falcons, an all-women’s multicultural AFL team organised through the Edmund Rice Centre here in WA.

For more information about Refugee Week, there’s a dedicated website http://www.refugeeweek.org.au which includes bulletins, posters and events. I’ll also keep you updated about news and events during Refugee Week here on this website.

refugee week 2016 poster

 

Young refugees being positive role models

The Makur Chuot family from South Sudan are an extraordinary success story when it comes to refugees making their way in a new country. The West Australian recently ran a feature article  where Akech and Mangar talked about their extraordinary sporting and community achievements. Mangar will head to the Rio Olympics in June as a champion sprinter and Akech is the first African woman to play for Western Australia’s State AFL team.

Both pay tribute to their mother who has guided and helped them through some of the darkest times in their life to a brighter future in Australia.

“The pain of unnecessary death is wielding great power in the young lives of people such as Akech Makur Chuot.

The 23-year-old’s father, a chief in the South Sudanese village of Pagarau, was killed by rebels in a hail of machinegun bullets barely a month after she was conceived. He died unaware his daughter was on her way.

Her mother managed to take her daughter and seven siblings across the border to a Kenyan refugee camp and eventually to their new life in WA. While her father’s leadership genes inspired a desire to make a difference, it was the rawness of a recent murder in Makur Chuot’s new hometown which accelerated that quest.

When her 17-year-old friend Kuol Akut was allegedly murdered during a brawl at a Girrawheen party in February, it was a violent incident like so many others blighting the lives of young African immigrants who should have been on their way to a more promising future.

But Makur Chuot and a pack of her Perth peers are compiling compelling resumes through sport and acts of social conscience, anxious to role model positive ways of life.”

You can read the full article here.

Akech and her family

Akech with her Mother and brother Mangar