Asylum Seeker Swap-Meet Dinners – an initiative of Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support (TASS) to connect people seeking asylum on bridging visas with community support.
The Asylum Seeker Swap-Meet Dinners are an initiative of Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support (TASS) and began in 2013. Once a month, locals and people seeking asylum who live in Hobart on bridging visas come together for a ‘bring-a-plate’ dinner.
The swap-meet dinners involve Hobart locals and people seeking asylum on bridging visas who are living in Hobart, as well as some refugee and humanitarian visa holders who are interested in participating. Approximately 50-60 people attend each month.
This initiative provides an opportunity for people to make new friends and for social connections to be formed between new arrivals and local residents. The swap-meet dinners also provide a way in which people seeking asylum on bridging visas who are not eligible to work can exchange their skills, talents and time for support in attaining things they may be unable to afford due to their extremely limited financial means or because of their ineligibility to access some services (e.g. English lessons).
Everyone brings a plate of food to the event. The modest room hire is subsidised by the Migrant Resource Centre and funded by individual donation.
Over the course of the dinner everyone is encouraged to write something that they need and something that they can provide on a whiteboard. Items include things like English lessons, help working in a vegetable garden, a trip to the Tasmanian wilderness, home cooked meals, dog-walking and haircuts.
At the end of the dinner the ‘offers’ and ‘needs’ are matched up and each matched pair gets a slip of paper on which they are encouraged to share contact details and arrange a date for the swap. Swaps then become the responsibility of individuals.
The group gets together the next month to do it all again and share swapping stories.
Many local Hobart residents have said that they want to help people seeking asylum living in the community but they have not known how to do so.
Asylum seekers and locals in Hobart have had the opportunity to engage with each other in an informal setting with a specific task – to give and receive on an equal basis, something very practical that they need or for which they have the skills.
If you can organise a room that has space for a dinner and facilitates conversations, the only other key challenge has been getting everyone to turn up on time!
It is helpful to have people to coordinate the swaps and to interpret the ‘matching’ process where necessary, i.e. from English into the languages spoken by the asylum seeker groups.
As time progresses, it may also be helpful to invite new community groups to participate so that the items being swapped are sometimes new.
Advice for others
Make sure that you have a group of people from the two target groups to come to the first event so that there will definitely be swaps conducted! After that, everyone learns how it works and the momentum can be maintained. It is so encouraging to watch a group of people, who have been excluded from participating in society, make connections and conduct a swap in which they have as much to give as they do to receive.