World Refugee Day 20 June Refugee Week 16 -22 June 2019
In 2014, I went to a launch in Wentworth Falls for a book called A Country Too Far. It is a compilation of stories about asylum seekers edited by Rosie Scott and Tom Keneally, published in 2013 by Penguin Group. Tom Keneally is famous for his novel Schindler’s Ark that won the Booker Prize in 1982 and was later made into the Academy Award winning film, Schindler’s List.
In his opening address at the launch, Tom Keneally observed that after travelling all over Australia promoting the book, he found the Blue Mountains community to be by far the most compassionate and supportive of refugees. This was very heartening.
The Blue Mountains community has been concerned about refugees for some time. In 2001 The Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group Inc (BMRSG) formed, never imagining that they would still be needed almost two decades later. They describe themselves thus:
‘… a diverse group of ordinary Australians from all sides of politics. The organisation has no specific affiliations. We are united by the vision of an openhearted Australia where people seeking refuge and asylum are treated with justice and compassion.‘
BMRSG is a registered charity and all its members are volunteers. They support asylum seekers and refugees in a variety of ways that are outlined on their website: https://www.bmrsg.org.au/
Also, in 2004 the City of Blue Mountains declared itself to be a ‘Refugee Welcome Zone’ indicating a commitment in spirit to welcome refugees into the community.
The theme for Refugee Week 2019 is ‘A World of Stories’. The refugee experience can be difficult to imagine but stories are powerful in overcoming this. The following books may be helpful:
- In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda, published in 2010 by Baldini Castoldi Dalai Editore
- No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, published in 2018 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
- Room on Our Rock by Kate and Jol Temple, published in 2018 by Scholastic Australia
- The Arrival by Shaun Tan, published in 2006 by Hodder Children’s Books
- The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, published in 2010 by Allen & Unwin
- The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman, published in 2008 by Insight Publications
- Walking Free by Dr Munjed Al Muderis, published in 2014 by Allen & Unwin
- Ziba Came on a Boat by Liz Lofthouse, published in 2007 by Kane/Miller Book Publishers
My own involvement with refugees began in 2007. It began with kindness from a stranger and then learning about their story of seeking refuge. This led to a firm and life-changing friendship between us. Ever since then my life has been enriched with more such stories and friendships. I am so grateful.
Unfortunately, the situation for asylum seekers and refugees both in Australia and worldwide remains dire. The stats are here: https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/figures-at-a-glance.html
So much is needed: workable solutions, effective teamwork, more understanding, compassion and justice.
I was quietly thrilled after the formalities of the book launch in Wentworth Falls to meet Tom Keneally. We had a warm chat and then he signed my book: ‘In hope, Tom Keneally 2014‘.
I also write this in hope.