As the horror of Trump’s Muslim Ban came into effect, we were reminded again of the dehumanising and toxic rhetoric that dominate Australia’s own refugee debate. While families were being torn apart overseas, our former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison proclaimed that Trump’s ban on refugees showed the world was ‘catching up’ to Australia’s policies — the same policies that turn away and lock up people seeking safety while silencing their perspective. There’s never been a more important time to shine on a light on the realities of Australia’s treatment of people seeking sanctuary and right now, Road To Refuge has some fantastic opportunities for you to get involved.
Road To Refuge was founded on a simple mission: to explore and untangle the complexities of seeking asylum by promoting the voices and stories of those who with lived experience. Our aim has been to create space for our community to interrogate Australia’s treatment of people seeking safety. In 2017 we’ll be working even harder to bring the realities of seeking asylum out from the shadows. To do this, we’ll be looking to expand our online advocacy with a Communications Manager and Social Media Coordinator, while also continuing to run unique community engagement events with an Operations Team Leader and Dinner With Layla Project Coordinator. We’re looking to have a huge planning weekend on the 25th and 26th of February, so if you want get involved get you applications in quick! Join our team and help change the refugee narrative in Australia for good.
Following last years success, Road to Refuge will be running our Coffee Cup Project again this year to celebrate Refugee Week from June 19.
During this week, cafes across Melbourne be swapping their usual coffee cups for ones stamped with an image of Layla, one of Road to Refuge’s journey characters, to encourage customers to consider the journeys of people seeking asylum and refugees who have shaped Australia. Layla’s story is one of struggle and courage. While Layla’s character is fictional, the journey of many others in her position is not.
Coffee drinkers are invited to share a #coffeewithlayla and place themselves in the position of a person seeking safety by taking an interactive journey on Road to Refuge’s website. By sharing images of their coffee cups with the hashtag #coffeewithlayla, Melburnians will be a part of a wider campaign to raise awareness and engagement about issues facing people seeking asylum and refugees.
Project co-ordinator James Hickey, who has worked with social enterprises and cafes across Melbourne through his work with Scarf and Kinfolk, says the Refugee Week Coffee Cup Project will encourage members of the public, whether already passionate about these issues, non-committed or just wanting to engage more in a constructive dialogue; providing a chance to kickstart this engagement.
“Although the concept of the project is quite simple, encouraging people to educate themselves further on the realities of seeking asylum, and providing them with the means to do so, is an extremely powerful tool. Creating opportunities for more informed, dynamic discussions is immeasurable.”
Road to Refuge is proud to be partnering with some of Melbourne’s best cafes across both sides of the river, including coffee powerhouse Seven Seeds at all four of their cafes, with many cafes choosing to participate in the project for a second year. Visit your local cafe listed below and grab a #coffeewithlayla during Refugee Week.
We’d also love to to say a big thank you to BioPak, who jumped on board to support the project the minute they heard about it, offering a generous discount to help us get this project off teh ground and reach out to more people in the community through cafe participation.
And a special shout out to Lulu Cafe and Gallery in North Melbourne for hosting our launch party, and their generous support for the project!
Kamna, Sebastian, Brigid and Alice of the Road to Refuge Communications team went and saw Chasing Asylum, a documentary by Eva Orner, last night at Cinema Nova.
A review in the Herald Sun recently described Chasing Asylum like this:
In Chasing Asylum, we have one of the most important documentaries ever made in this country, addressing one of the most important issues to ever face this country.
The Communications team were all shaken, stirred, moved and awoken by the documentary and in the below roundtable share their thoughts on the documentary, and what they think should happen next.
Alice: Even watching the film with a group of other Road To Refuge volunteers, who were all pretty familiar with many of the issues facing refugees and people seeking asylum, watching Chasing Asylum felt like I was re-learning the facts all over again, with a renewed sense of urgency.
The wide breadth of people interviewed by Eva Orner gives insight into the huge scope and diversity of people affected by Australia’s policies – the thousands of people who are currently in or have been in detention, the people stranded in countries like Indonesia unable to work or seek medical attention, the families separated all over the world.
I was particularly distressed by the witnessed horrors listed off by people who had spent time working in detention centres, and even more disturbed by the corruption in the running of these government facilities, in enabling ongoing human rights abuse.
Sebastian: Shame is the only word that comes to mind after watching Eva Orner’s exposé into the inhumane treatment of people seeking asylum currently in offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru.
Shame that our policies are geared towards deterrence at a horrific human toll to people in need. Shame that everyday broken people in detention are driven to self harm. Shame that successive governments have knowingly maintained and supported these conditions behind a galling facade of pseudo-humanitarianism. And shame that this footage had to be filmed in secret and that simply disclosing what happens within the detention centers is now punishable by up to 2 years in jail under the Border Protection Act 2015.
As someone engaged in this space, watching the film reminded me that everyday our government is torturing innocent people including children in our name and the lack of sharing of information, stories and the human cost of all of this is something that needs to be addressed.
Chasing Asylum is a must watch for anyone who cares, doesn’t care or doesn’t know about what your life is like if you are one of the unlucky ones whose lives is at the mercy of Australia’s refugee polices.
Kamna: Having met and spoken to people who have faced the torturous, cruel and inhumane experience of being a person seeking asylum in Australia, I’ve often thought what is needed to translate these complex and heartbreaking yet simple stories of suffering to people in the Australian public caring and effecting change.
Watching Chasing Asylum last night through anguish and tears, I came to the realisation that a film like this might be it.
The wide ranging impact of how Australia chooses to treat people who make life threatening journeys across seas to seek safety but only to end up living in insecurity and danger is explored comprehensively in Eva Orner’s film – in detention at Nauru and Manus Island, in limbo in Indonesia, by families who remain in countries of danger and learn of their loved ones’ demise in detention under Australian care and through Australians who work at detention centres.
But the message, stories and experiences are simple – with Eva Orner doing little except some brilliant film making and editing to bring this home.
How Australian governments have chosen to treat vulnerable people seeking asylum has cost the lives, futures and hopes of adults and children, and the fact that we have this on our hands is shameful and must stop.
Brigid: We’re all pretty familiar with the bleak, heartbreaking reality of Australia’s people seeking asylum and refugee policy. Offshore detention centres that are operating like prisons are somewhat staffed by untrained and unprepared workers, bouncers, security guards and military personnel. I went into Chasing Asylum knowing a bit about Nauru and Manus Island processing centres. Also doing social media for Road to Refuge means I get daily news alerts and read a fair bit about Australia’s offshore detention policies.
But watching this film was a real reminder that you can read about an issue all day and night and still not comprehend how bleak the reality is. I want to say that I walked away from the film feeling hopeful but really I was just left with a sense of urgency about how much and how quickly these policies need to change. I am definitely going to be doing more research in to this issue, getting friends and family to see the film and educating myself around how my vote will play in to these policies at the July 2nd election.
Chasing Asylum is screening at cinemas across Australia. Information about locations and times are found here. We encourage you all to see this film, with a friend, family member, colleague or relative stranger and share the message.
Bree McKilligan takes free weekly classes at Fitzroy studioThe Dance of Life for Women with a Refugee background. Her project is aimed at using yoga as a tool to provide support and create an inclusive, safe space for people with refugee backgrounds to explore, inquire and play.
Annie Belcher of our Schools Team caught up with Bree recently to speak about her connection to yoga, and how she became involved in the people seeking asylum and refugee advocacy space.
What brought you to yoga?
My mother practiced yoga in the days when yoga practitioners in Australia were mainly middle class women and wore daggy leotards! So as a young teenager I would go along to classes with her. I feel like I have been always doing yoga!
What is yoga to you?
It is meditation in motion and offers an opportunity to experience a feeling of oneness with all things.
How did you get involved in the refugee and people seeking asylum space?
Working as a creative producer in the fields of community arts and community media, I have been engaged with people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds for a number of years. I also have friends and ex-partners who are from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.
What led you to start the class?
The class started early in 2013 after I had finished my first lot of yoga teaching training and Johannes Mochayedi , director of my favourite studio, the Dance of Life Centre of Yoga and Healing, talked to me about offering a class to women from refugee and migrant backgrounds. As a new teacher I was keen to teach a free class to both start my teaching by offering karma yoga and also to practice my teaching.
Yoga classes have become quite expensive so I was interested in there being free classes. In addition, yoga in the West has gained a reputation for being mainly for very able bodied, white people.
I believe all people, regardless of able-bodiedness, ethnicity, class or financial status, should have the opportunity to experience and benefit from yoga should they be interested.
Yoga teacher Becky Fleming was also approached by Johannes to teach and she and I alternate each class. When we can’t teach, long-term yoga teachers Felicity Steel and Elizabeth Bell kindly step in to teach. None of the yoga teachers are paid for the class and Johannes donates the studio time.
Who are the classes for?
All people who identify as women. For me this includes trans women as well as cis-gendered women. Our flyer rather awkwardly says ‘Free yoga class, All women welcome: encouraging women from migrant and refugee backgrounds’ as we want women to feel welcome and not ghetto-ized as being ‘migrant and refugee’.
It’s been a lovely mix of people to date – people whose country of birth has included Vietnam, Malaysia, India and China as well as Australia – and students have melded well together. We also have students at all levels of practice – as a teacher that can be challenging as some students progress with regular attendance and others come in so new to yoga that lying down in a group class with a straight spine and relaxing with eyes closed is a new challenge to them! We also have some students bring children during school holidays which is great as it means the mothers can keep coming during the holidays. We aim to be flexible and inclusive.
Why specifically for women?
It is women only so that women who may not feel comfortable doing exercise with men feel free to attend.
What do you hope people get out of the class?
I think we all hope to share the great benefits of yoga – which include greater peace of mind, self-nurturing, greater physical well being, camaraderie and happiness as well as, for the seeker, spiritual awareness. Yoga can be many different things to many different people.
I hope that any women who are feeling socially isolated may experience a sense of having a warm community and caring teachers.
If people would like to go or get involved what is the best way for them to do so?
Whether you have days to spend on the beach getting stuck into a book, or just an hour to while-away in air conditioning, Summer is a good time to catch up on reading, watching, and listening to some of the great resources out there. That’s why we’ve created our very own Think List: a resource for you of relevant and engaging pieces to read/watch/listen which we’ve done the hard work of digging up.
This article on The Conversation, about people seeking asylum as Australia’s next wave of entrepreneurs, is the perfect short positive read to get you started and discusses the long term contributions people seeking asylum can make to society.
One of our favourite projects, Behind the Wire, documents the stories of people who have experienced mandatory detention in Australia. All the narratives – of varying lengths – are available to read through the website. One of Road to Refuge’s favourites is Donna’s Story – we’ve also featured Donna in our #WCW series on our Instagram account. Donna came to Australia in 2000 as a 13 year old with her family by boat from Kurdistan and is now a lawyer living in Melbourne studying a Masters of International Relations at Melbourne University.
For subscribers of the Saturday Paper, there are a host of relevant articles to delve through in the archives. If you don’t subscribe (yet) but want to dip a toe in, we recommend Children Behind Bars, or the harrowing account of The Death of Khodayar Amini, both detailing how the difficulties facing people seeking asylum rarely end upon reaching Australia.
New York Times Magazine’s The Dream Boat is an older read, but a visceral, lengthy account of a boat journey from Indonesia to Australia.
If you have some time and are looking for a book to get stuck into, we suggest Ben Rawlence’s newly released City of Thorns which follows the lives of nine people living in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, or Klaus Neumann’s Across the Seas: Australia’s Response To Refugees: A History.
For those who love poetry – Manal Younas’ collection, Reap, was released at the end of 2015. Some of Road to Refuge’s team were lucky enough to attend the launch and got shivers from Manal’s gutsy powerful performances of her spoken word and the book does well to capture this spirit.
If you’ve only got a moment, we recommend using it to watch a short film – both Nora Niasari’s The Phoenix and Lukas Schrank’s Nowhere Line played at our Film for Thought event in 2015, and we’ve been thinking about them both since.
In Television, the SBS series Go Back to where you Came From takes Australian families on a reverse journey of a person seeking refuge, season three is available to watch online now.
Virtual Reality film Clouds Over Sidra follows twelve-year-old Sidra living in the Za’atari camp in Jordan. While the experience is designed to be in 3D, it’s available to watch online, and is a moving piece as a short film alone.
For a little more detail – this episode of The Conversation’s Speaking With podcast talks to Shanthi Robertson and Ien Ang on migrants, refugees and Australia’s place in Asia.
For a story to get swept up in, listen to This American Life’s episode 560: Abdi and the Golden Ticket – although centered around Abdi’s journey to the USA not to Australia, this podcast is well worth listening to nonetheless.
Happy reading/watching/listening! We’d love to hear what you think in the comments box and if you want to share your favourites, that’d be great too.
Road to Refuge’s Think List will be a seasonal series released in Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring and is aimed a tool and guide for you to engage with the best writing, films and podcasts on people seeking asylum and refugee issues.
At the beginning of December 2015, the Schools Team took a trip to the city of Horsham, a four-hour train ride from Melbourne. We were invited by Horsham College to spend two days at their school conducting workshops with their students and those from the nearby Dimboola Memorial Secondary College.
The Road to Refuge Schools Team works with metropolitan and regional schools to run workshops across Victoria. We aim to build empathy and understanding of the issues faced by people seeking safety in Australia by engaging students and giving them the tools to have informed discussions with people in their communities about those issues.
In Horsham, we ran eight workshops with classes from Horsham and Dimboola Colleges, reaching a total of 300 students across two days!
Our interactive workshop started off with an introduction to the key words and definitions used when talking about refugees and people seeking asylum.
We then ran a choose-your-own-adventure activity based on one of Road to Refuge’s character: a young Iranian girl called Layla who travels to Australia with her family to escape persecution in her home.
Along the way, Layla and her family make decisions such as:
whether to stay in Iran or flee to Indonesia,
whether to apply for refugee status with the UNHCR in Jakarta or to take a boat to Australia,
what items to bring with them, and
what to leave behind.
We encouraged students to step into Layla’s shoes and make those decisions themselves. Our role as facilitators was to give further insights into the consequences of each decision and unpack how students felt when faced with those choices.
A challenge throughout the workshops was balancing the delivery of occasionally heavier and more serious content throughout a (hopefully) fun and engaging session.
One of the activities we ran required students to draw a backpack and list four things they would take with them when fleeing their homes indefinitely. Most students chose very practical items, such as food, water, weapons, travel documents, and birth certificates. Some were more sentimental, and chose to take photos, their teddies, even their pets.
We had a laugh when one student earnestly shared his backpack, which included ‘that thing in the Hunger Games that you stick in a tree and water comes out and Allen’s snakes.’
The Horsham tour was an incredible learning opportunity for the entire team, especially Annie and I as first time facilitators. It was hugely rewarding to have students actively engaging with our sessions, asking questions and wanting to learn more about the topic.
We were able to have frank discussions about Australia’s policies and it was encouraging seeing them realise the complexities of the issues and asking for ways to respond to the situation, which brought on a great sense of achievement for the whole team.
It’s been a massive year for Road to Refuge – in less than twelve months, we have rapidly expanded to a team of 30 volunteers – and this is indicative of our growth as a whole.
For those new to Road to Refuge, and for those wanting to look back on our best year yet, here is a quick glimpse of what we’ve been up to in 2015!
Our Schools team ran 22 school workshops at 13 different schools across Melbourne’s inner and outer suburbs, as well as regional areas of Victoria. We presented workshops to almost 1000 students and presentations to 50 staff.
The Road to Refuge Schools team ran two regional school tours:
The first tour went to Shepparton, Echuca and Mooroopna, reached almost 500 students and 40 teachers in four days over July, and concluded with a screening of Mary Meets Mohammad.
Our second tour went to Horsham in December and spoke to over 300 Year 7-9 students from Horsham College and Dimboola Memorial Secondary College.
The Community Education Team ran workshops for a total of 170 attendees, some run by Road to Refuge and others in partnership with not for profit organisations.
The Events Team put on the third Read Between the Wines event on A Country Too Far, with a panel including writers Arnold Zable and Judith Rodriguez. We ran Women Who Seek Safety, a sold out event at the Wheeler Center, focused on the issues specifically faced by women seeking refuge. Finally our Film for Thought short film evening this month was so popular, people were using standing room just so they didn’t miss out!
The Coffee Cart team had a presence at many events throughout the year, including the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice, Amnesty International’s Candle Day and Amnesty Refugee Network’s Festival of Hope on Refugee Day, as well as several community festivals.
In 2015, we debuted our Coffee Cup Project for Refugee Week. Over 37,000 cups were distributed to customers by 29 cafes across Melbourne, all stamped with Road to Refuge branding and website to bring refugees and their journeys into the days of the coffee-drinking public.
Looking ahead, 2016 is going to be even better. Keep updated here on the blog and sign up to our newsletter to receive regular invites and news of the exciting projects we already have in the works for next year!
We’re excited to launch our Road to Refuge blog today! As some of you may know, Road to Refuge has been up and running for over two years now, and in that time, the organisation has grown and grown. We wanted to find a way to keep our supporters, our community, in touch with what we at Road to Refuge have been up to, and to share other great initiatives in the asylum seeker and refugee sector.
So, we thought, what better way to do this than by starting a blog!
We’ll be posting regular articles, interviews, wrap-ups and photos on our blog so that we can feature the many great and positive stories in the community. We also hope, through reading our blog, you’ll get to know the Road to Refuge team – our goals, loves and quirks.
Thanks for tuning in, subscribe to stay in the loop and happy reading!