The Bridging Visa Social Club is developed by Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support (TASS) to provide support, friendship and recreational activities for asylum seekers living in Hobart.

Members of the BVSC visit the Botanical Gardens in Hobart(Photo courtesy of TASS)
Members of the BVSC visit the Botanical Gardens in Hobart(Photo courtesy of TASS)

What?

The Bridging Visa Social Club (BVSC), named in honour of the Buena Vista Social Club, commenced in May 2012 to support asylum seekers released into the Hobart community on bridging visas after the closure of the Pontville Immigration Detention Centre. The group is an initiative of Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support (TASS).

The BVSC meets every Saturday afternoon to enjoy friendship and activities. The group has been tenpin bowling, visited the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, seen the movie ‘Mary Meets Mohammad’, visited the Botanical Gardens and MONA, enjoyed walks on Mt Wellington (summer and winter!), gone swimming and played volleyball at the beach, gone to the Clarence Jazz Festival, played soccer and cricket, flown kites and much, much more. Sometimes the group just spends relaxed, friendly Saturday afternoons chatting, enjoying cups of tea and cake, playing music, practising English and generally hanging out together.

Recently, the adult men of BVSC conducted regular visits to young people in detention at Pontville APOD, providing guidance and cultural contact for these young people and a sense of healing and purpose for the BVSC men.

Who?

Asylum seekers living in Hobart on bridging visas. The group is not exclusive – those determined to be refugees and granted permanent visas are welcome and participants have included people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Roughly 15-25 people participate each week plus volunteers.

Why?

The Bridging Visa Social Club creates a sense of community, of belonging, for asylum seekers living in Hobart. As time goes on, close relationships inevitably develop between volunteers and those on bridging visas. Many volunteers become involved in helping asylum seekers find accommodation, attend medical appointments, read and fill out forms, link in with clubs and other community groups and attend events and festivals in Hobart. The BVSC helps people become established in the community.

How?

A close relationship with the local Red Cross organisation means those newly arriving in Hobart on bridging visas learn about the group.

The BVSC is unfunded. Volunteers from the TASS network give their time, resources and chip in as required and able for funded outings. One volunteer has access to a minibus which helps with transport but otherwise the group manages with volunteers’ cars or walks to places. Occasionally businesses and organisations donate resources and tickets to events.

The owner of a Hobart backpackers’ hostel where many people stay when first placed on bridging visas has allowed the BVSC to use the backpackers’ lounge room as a meeting place at no charge.

Successes

With the reopening of Pontville as an Alternative Place of Detention (APOD) in December 2012, the BVSC commenced “elder visits”, so male teenagers held at Pontville have some contact with older men from their ethnic communities. In this way, those on bridging visas had an opportunity to give back to those now experiencing what they themselves have been through.

The BVSC provides a point of connection for those on bridging visas with each other. Many have subsequently formed strong friendships and found accommodation together.

Challenges

Keeping up with who has moved on and is no longer living in Hobart can be a challenge. Accepting that it is a fluid, sometimes transient, group helps.

The BVSC generally has a fixed meeting day, time and place. This really helps. However, some events have required alternative times or meeting places. Communicating this amongst a group with diverse first languages and variable English capacities can be challenging. Finding a representative from a particular language group to help translate and interpret messages can be extremely helpful.

We’ve learnt that not all cultures observe meeting times as strictly as we’re used to!

No doubt not having regular employment or study hours and experiencing the mental health legacies of trauma also have their part to play. Allowing ample time to congregate before things like concert start times or ferry departure times is highly advisable.

Advice for others

  • Be prepared to do one of the most wonderful things you’ll ever do in your life.
  • Have a core group of volunteers you can rely on.
  • If possible, establish a fixed meeting day, time and place.
  • Become friends with your local Red Cross organisation so they can let new people arriving to your location on bridging visas know about your group.
  • Use email or an online group for volunteers to communicate about weekly activities.
  • Identify a person from each language group with good English skills to translate and interpret where required.
  • If departure time is critical, arrange to congregate well in advance.