Refugee Week 2016 was officially Australia’s biggest to date, with over 350 events celebrated across the country in every state and territory. Film screenings, photography exhibitions, flash mobs and music festivals brought out tens of thousands of Australians to celebrate the courage and contribution that refugees bring to their adopted nation.
Phil Glendenning, President of the Refugee Council of Australia said, “The incredible success of this year’s Refugee Week shows the resounding community support that exists across Australia for refugee communities. This recognition of the courage and contribution of refugees is particularly poignant this year, with the Federal Election just days away and the two major parties still engaged in a race to the bottom in the way that they treat people seeking asylum.”
The first ever ‘Festival of Welcome’ launched in Victoria’s Federation Square, enticing thousands out on a wintry day to dance, cheer and celebrate refugees. Throughout the Festival, artists from refugee backgrounds such as Ajak Kwai, Abe Nouk and the Burundian Drummers shared the stage with well-known Australian artists who have raised their voices for refugee justice, including Felix Riebl (of The Cat Empire); Robot Child (featuring Waleed Aly); the Public Opinion Afro Orchestra; the Smith Street Band and Tripod.
Refugee Week in Sydney was celebrated at the new Inner West Refugee Welcome Hub which opened with people sharing their refugee experience taking centre stage. In a rare show of political solidarity, politicians from all major parties sat together and recognised the contribution of refugees. NSW Premier Mike Baird professed his sadness regarding contemporary political discussion, stating that ‘the current refugee debate, if you can call it that, breaks my heart’.
As the week went by, ordinary Australians organised and participated in an astonishing variety of events around the country, including art exhibitions in South Australia, cooking classes in Perth and community Iftars in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. Freedom Stories, a film featuring the stories of a group of people who arrived in Australia in 2001 as refugees, was screened over 200 times, in cinemas, church halls and even back gardens in remote Katanning WA.
“Recent polls on refugee issues again prove that the major parties are out of touch with the positive public sentiment”, said Mr Glendenning.
A recent Vote Compass poll of almost 300,000 people showed strong support for the refugee resettlement program and growing concern towards Australia’s brutal asylum policies. Another recent poll, by the Australia Institute, showed that 63% of respondents oppose the current bipartisan policy of not allowing refugees arriving by boat to settle in Australia, and instead support allowing those found to be refugees to settle here.
The Refugee Council of Australia is the national coordinator of Refugee Week, which ran from 19- 25 June 2016.
The principle sponsor of this year’s Refugee Week was the Victorian Multicultural Commission. Major sponsors include AMES Australia, Core Community Services, Life Without Barriers, Settlement Services International (SSI) and the St Vincent de Paul Society. Other sponsors included Navitas English, Jesuit Social Services, NSW Teachers Federation, City of Melbourne, City of Sydney, Inner West Council, Multicultural NSW, Foundation House. Refugee Week partners are Australian Refugee Association, Baptcare, Wyndham CEC, Amnesty International Australia, Caritas Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
Media enquiries: 0488 035 535 / Laura.Stacey@refugeecouncil.org.au