As we close out National Refugee Week Panos Massouris, Director, Children Youth and Families (Vic) and Immigration Services, reflects on the national and international experience of refugees, and encourages us to open our country’s hearts and minds to people all across the world.
Immigration is a vital feature of Australia’s history and identity. Since 1788, millions of people worldwide have crossed the oceans to Australia, seeking new opportunities and freedom.
I came to Australia 22 years ago, and I have been able to establish my family, career and community. Acknowledging that I arrived with a range of privileges, I managed to succeed in this country because of its opportunities.
The stark reality is, however, that I came to Australia with only a sense of what was possible. I was not escaping my homeland because of war, terror or oppression. Refugees and people seeking asylum all across the world are seeking everything I sought in coming to Australia, but they do so whilst carrying extraordinary trauma, loss and fear. It is unimaginable.
Last year our National Immigration Support Service team began supporting unaccompanied children from Afghanistan. It has been one of the most emotional, rewarding and essential parts of our journey as an organisation supporting refugees and asylum seekers. It is nothing short of a privilege to meet these children and help them feel wrapped in love and support. That is not to say the trauma of their experiences is not deep and cutting, because it is.
The past year has been a difficult one for refugee communities, with global affairs forcing communities into evacuation for their safety. What happened in Afghanistan has somewhat been forgotten by the international spotlight, giving way to the focus of media on the war in Ukraine. What is taking place in the east of Europe should receive international attention - more than 13 million people have fled Ukraine, not to mention Russians who are fearful of what brink their country is being brought to.
This year’s theme for Refugee Week is ‘healing’, which aims to highlight aspects of the refugee experience and engage the broader community on what it’s like to be a refugee. It also provides the opportunity for all of us to grow our understanding and take part in their settlement and healing.
Whilst the experience of each person being forced into a situation where they are given no choice is different, our compassion and support for each should be the same. We can all play a part; this is what it means to be Australian.
As we close out refugee Week, let this be the message we carry forward. Welcome. There is enough room, opportunity and love for everyone here.
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