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date: 20th Jun 2016

tags: Activism, Politics, Refugee

Today is World Refugee Day and the beginning of Refugee Week in Australia. It is a time to reflect on the challenges faced by refugees and the courage they demonstrate in overcoming them.

A terrified child clings to a rock on the shore as a group of Syrian refugees arrive on the island after travelling by inflatable raft from Turkey. The Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece has overtaken the central Mediterranean route, from North Africa to Italy, as the primary one for arrivals by sea. From January to June this year, 68,000 people arrived in Greece, compared with 67,500 in Italy, accounting for nearly all the arrivals in the period.

A terrified child clings to a rock on the shore as a group of Syrian refugees arrive on the island after travelling by inflatable raft from Turkey. Photograph by Andrew McConnell/Panos.

Over the weekend in Sydney, we saw a pre-election rally to close Manus and street food markets run by refugees. These events reflected the theme for this year’s Refugee week: “With courage let us all combine.” Taken from the second verse of the national anthem, it serves as a call for unity and for positive action, encouraging Australians to improve our nation’s welcome for refugees and to acknowledge the skills and energy they bring to our shared home. If you’re interested in the personal stories of some of these incredible people, take a look at some of ones that have been documented in film and take advantage of seeing a story for free with our seven day trial.

Mary Meets Mohammad is a story about fear, ignorance, and overcoming it. It tells the story of when Australia’s first asylum-seeker detention centre in Tasmania opens. Local knitting club member Mary is a pensioner and devout Christian who does not welcome the 400 male asylum seekers from Afghanistan. Upon meeting Mohammad and other asylum seekers, she begins her confrontation with the unknown. Her relationship with Mohammad develops, and by engaging with his story on a personal level, her understanding does too and she begins to shed her former beliefs in favour of revised ones.

Molly and Mobarak is the story of Mobarak Tahiri, a young Hazara refugee, who is living in the town of Young, in rural NSW. Mobarak is granted a temporary protection visa, which allows him to work in the community until his visa expires. He must then return home. Mobarak meets Molly and her mother Lyn, who offer him and other refugees support and friendship. Their relationship develops, and Mobarak’s hopes of remaining in Australia – and fear of being returned home to Afghanistan – run parallel to the hopes he has for him and Molly’s relationship.

Homelands tells the story of Maria and Carlos, refugees from the war-torn El Salvador. Maria and Carlos recount the horrors of their past, the torture they endure, and their journey to Australia. After 7 years living in Melbourne, Maria has flourished. Carlos has not. When peace finally arrives in his homeland, Carlos decides to return to help rebuild his country. Maria and their 4 children decide to remain in Australia. However, 6 months later there is no sign of Carlos returning. What Maria discovers tests their relationship to its limits.

Hope tells the story of a tragedy in which hundreds of people were drowned at sea, as they were forced to flee from the persecution and danger of their homeland to Australia in the hope of a better future. The story is told through the eyes of Amal, one of only seven survivors of the tragedy, as she fights to reunite her family, ensure the disaster is not swept aside and forgotten, and find what it was she lost in the ocean. It is the inspirational story of loss, love, and hope for a better life in Australia.

So why not celebrate by getting some friends together and hosting a screening of one of these incredible personal stories, and put the humanity back in this often politicised debate? 

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Demonstrators hold placards as they pass the House of Parliament during a pro-refugee rally in central London. Photograph by Justin Tallis/AFF Photo.

Written by Tara Janus

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