23-year old Rnita Dacho couldn’t have timed it better. Having fled Syria with her family and spent months in limbo in Lebanon, she touched down in her new home of Australia right in the middle of Refugee Week 2015 – the annual celebration of refugee communities in Australia. “I had a panic attack in the airport because I couldn’t speak any English”, she said. “But when we arrived in Bankstown they were celebrating Refugee Week and I was welcomed with open arms.”
It had been a long journey to get to this point. Rnita and her family had been part of the revolution against the Assad regime and lived in constant fear. “Every morning, I left the house, not knowing if I’d come back” she says. Her father was imprisoned and tortured and her brother was at risk of imprisonment. They saw members of their community being harrassed, arrested or simply disappearing. “We desperately needed to leave” she adds.
Fast forward four years and Rnita (now 27) and her Mum Khochibo’s faces are smiling out of hundreds of Refugee Week posters up and down the country. Rnita is a Refugee Week Ambassador and dedicates her time to helping those who have recently arrived as refugees. “I want to help them realise their potential” she says. Rnita works at the Refugee Council of Australia and has spent countless hours volunteering with community groups.
“Through my journey, I’ve learnt to be strong and resilient. I’m forever grateful for the love the Australian people have shown me. I truly hope that the future holds positive change for refugees and people seeking asylum – people just like me” she adds.
Refugee Week is co-ordinated by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), the national peak body for refugee communities and the organisations that support them. This year, participants are asked to ‘Share a meal, share a story’, with thousands across the country coming together to break bread and remember the experiences, the resilience and the incredible courage of people like Rnita, forced to flee their homes and build a new life.
From rural towns to big cities, community groups, workplaces, families, schools and more are putting on a variety of different kinds of events. From the “Refugee Experience” educational tours in Albury to spoken word in Adelaide, to a community film festival in Queensland. The week will kick off with an official launch event in Fitzroy, Melbourne, with a three-course Middle Eastern feast and live spoken word and storytelling.
In Albury, refugee community members will be tour guides for the Refugee Experience. One of the guides, Bentana Marcel, is 26 and arrived just a couple of months ago, having fled the Congo for his safety. “I think events like this can bring people together and build more harmonious and inclusive communities” he says. “I’m taking part to help get rid of stereotypes and assumptions about people from refugee backgrounds.”
Paul Power, RCOA CEO, says “With 25.4 million refugees world-wide, it’s critical that we celebrate and welcome diversity to continue offering people the safety they need. We know that through sharing stories and acknowledging the very real hardships involved in seeking safety, that our communities can better welcome their new neighbours.”
“We’re incredibly proud to provide a platform through Refugee Week to remember and honour the important stories of people from refugee backgrounds. From Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Burma and Sudan, our five Refugee Week Ambassadors have shared their unique experience of leaving their home and building a new home in Australia.”
“This year, we’ve put together a whole library of resources to make it easier than ever for people to get involved and host a Refugee Week event” he adds. “We’re delighted that people right across the country will be coming together to take part in this important
Refugee Week 2019 takes place from 16- 22 June. To register or attend an event, click here.
Media enquiries: Laura Stacey / 0488 035 535