WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED
When someone shares a truly powerful thought with you, it remains in your consciousness. “People who look for freedom and safety are called refugees and that is not an easy title to have,” said Maryam Sepehri at the recent Refugee Week event on 16 June, organised by JRS Australia in collaboration with the Diocese of Parramatta.
Maryam, one of the presenters with lived experience, explained: ‘You leave your own land and you leave everything you once had. Your memories, your family and everything you knew. And that’s not easy. Now it’s you and a vague future, hoping to find freedom. Hoping to find dignity, respect and have basic human rights.”
Her words were perfectly matched to the title of the event: ‘Raising Our Voices’, reflecting the agency of people with lived experience to speak out for themselves as they pursue a fair and humane asylum process.
The event featured participants in JRS’ Refugee Leadership program who prepared speeches, videos and spoken word performances about their lived experience of forced displacement.
Amelia Savage, JRS Leadership and Advocacy Manager, said that the event was “about embracing freedom and transcending labels.”
‘What is often missing from public discourse are their own voices,’ she added. ‘We want to hear not only about their refugee stories but about their perspectives beyond the refugee journey on things we all know. Like hope, family, joy, loss and freedom.’
Organised as part of the recent Refugee Week, the event reflected this year’s theme of Finding Freedom. The theme reflects the need for all refugees and people seeking asylum to have the freedom to enjoy fundamental human rights and to live without a fear of persecution, judgement, and alienation.
JRS Australia clients prepared delicious Persian food for participants, among whom were elected representatives from New South Wales, members of school and parish communities as well as JRS volunteers staff.
JRS Australia’s Refugee Leadership program provides opportunities for the voices of refugees and people seeking asylum to speak at community events, public rallies and in-person advocacy meetings with elected officials. The program is designed to be sensitive to the special circumstances of refugee leaders and provides participants with training and other enrichment opportunities. JRS Australia develops and maintains a relationship with each participant to provide individual support and development opportunities. Schools and parishes can request speakers with lived experience to speak at their events.
By organising the event, JRS Australia joined people across Australia to tell current and former refugees as well as the people seeking asylum in our communities that we welcome them and we are happy that they can be safe and free.
JRS Australia is proud to have current and former refugees among its staff at various levels, working in different capacities to make the world fairer and more humane.
‘Statistics just released by the UN show that the number of people displaced by persecution, conflict, human rights violations and other serious disturbances has doubled in under a decade,’ Tamara Domicelj said. ‘The speed and scale of displacement is outpacing solutions for refugees, and those left waiting are suffering terribly.’
JRS Australia does everything it can to help, working with our partners in the sector and calling on federal and state governments to provide sufficient funding to prevent hunger, and homelessness among refugees as the cost of living crisis affects people.
Photos by Diocese of Parramatta.