What does it mean to be a refugee in Australia? Celebrating Refugee Week 2018.


Refugee Week is a global initiative to celebrate the achievements of refugees and raise awareness for the issues they face. In Australia, our relationship with people seeking asylum is often fraught and complicated – for those coming here to escape hardship in their own country, the battle is far from over when they reach our shores. Our next documentary series - soon to be released - focuses on women with refugee backgrounds, and we were lucky enough to be able to interview an amazing group of women about their experiences. With the theme of Refugee Week 2018 being #WithRefugees, we thought we would share some of their words about what they want other Australians to know about people seeking asylum.

Nayran Tabiei - Syria

If I could teach people one thing about refugees, it would be that asylum seekers, they didn't come to take any jobs, they didn't come to Australia to have fun. They came because they don't have safety in their country and believe me, Syrian people, they never go from their land. They love their land, I love my land! I should be proud of my country and the flag of my country, to make it stronger. And I'm proud of Australia. I'm pushing people to stand on their own feet– see what I did? If I can, you can. And all the time I push them and inspire them, pushing for goodness, pushing for better, because sometimes we need to push people to do good things.

Akuol Garang - Sudan

Some people believe “You're coming into our country, you're taking our resources, you're not really contributing or giving back to the community or to society in general”. And then they see individuals that do certain things out of place, and generalize as if it's the whole community. So all the kids that go to the shops and steal and things like that, a lot of these kids were actually born here, but then the second that they do something that's out of place "So-and-so's a refugee that came from this country". But when they're doing something good they're like "Oh, this is an Australian-born South Sudanese person playing footy". So they only acknowledge you when you've done something great and not the other way around. It has actually been quite difficult because the thing is, you try to work twice as hard as everyone else, just so that you can fit in.

Ayan Shirwa – Somalia

It’s frustrating that I can't control what the media says about my community. I think what is disappointing is not so much the wider community – it’s the way my community tries to assimilate. I feel like there's the older community and the younger generation – the way they think about survival and the way they think about success is really different. So my generation, we feel you're successful doing what you want to do, whereas the older generation feel you’ve got to be successful by being an architect, by being a doctor. And our generation, we have social media to speak back and a lot of us use it to vent at what the government is doing and vent at racism. But my mother and other relatives have had chats with me where they say “You sound ungrateful, or don't you know what Australia has done for you?” And I get why they are saying that because for them it's all about surviving - they have gone through so much trauma, and they are trying to survive by getting on with life. Where I feel like because I have grown up here I know what my rights are, I feel more certain, and I have the luxury to speak out.

Fadak Alfayadh - Iraq

I'd like people to explore the idea of the refugee and the refugee convention in particular. The refugee convention was designed by Raphael Lincoln, who was also a refugee - a polish Jewish refugee to the United States. The idea behind the refugee convention is that we have freedom of movement, for people who are facing persecution. It doesn't matter where they are coming from, the idea is that we are supposed to have more malleable borders to get through people who are facing persecution. And at the time, after WW2, that was really important, and I think it should probably be revisited now, because lots of things have changed. People had different attitudes to refugees at the time, and I think it goes back to race - it’s that a lot of people who might have been fleeing persecution after WW2 were European and they might have been fleeing to other Western nations so that made it a lot easier to accept – they looked like you, maybe they spoke another language but that’s okay. Things have definitely changed now because the majority of refugees don't come from these European nations - a lot has changed as to why refugees are created in the first place and that has a lot to do with colonialism. For hundreds of years certain nations have made it really difficult for other nations to prosper –in the case of my country, it was colonised up until the 1920s and ever since it has been struggling with its own government.

If you would like to know more about how you can support people coming to Australia seeking asylum, check out the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Road to Refuge, SisterWorks or the Refugee Week website.

Domini Marshall