BEGA’S Spiral Gallery was filled recently for the opening of the Faces of Asylum photographic exhibition.
Local residents flocked to the gallery to view photographs depicting the “real” stories of refugees and asylum seekers.
Among the photos were positives tales of sport, school and achievements, while others showed the pain of leaving their home to escape persecution or worse.
Bede Carmody, Amnesty International community organiser for ACT/Southern NSW, officially opened Faces of Asylum.
Mr Carmody said the exhibition had been held at various towns across NSW.
“There is so much enthusiasm from towns when we have it,” he said.
“The idea with this exhibition is to make people realise when they talk about boat people, they are real people with real stories.
“It’s about breaking down myths.”
According to Mr Carmody, Australia was inconsistent when it came to its views on asylum seekers.
“The way Australia deals with people arriving by asylum is very different, depending on how they arrive.”
Mr Carmody encouraged everyone at Spiral Gallery to sign “The Pledge”, which provides support for the rights of asylum seekers.
Amnesty International hoped to have 100,000 signatures by August 12 to hand to the Australian Government.
“Hopefully this exhibit will make the people of the Bega Valley more tolerant,” Mr Carmody said.
Bega Valley Sanctuary Group member Mary Barker then spoke about the benefits of holding the Faces of Asylum exhibition.
Ms Barker said she felt truly grateful to live in a “happy and safe” environment in the Bega Valley.
“I am really pleased this exhibition in Bega has come about… it raises refugee issues worldwide,” she said.
“I believe it’s my duty as a human being to help others.”
Ms Barker said the Bega Valley Sanctuary Group was formed in 2009, helping to support a family in Congo and a woman from Sierra Leone.
She said the main concerns for asylum seekers were safety and human rights, and they often experienced significant trauma.
Ms Barker said she supported a positive step by the Australian Government to introduce a new humanitarian program, starting in June.
The final guest speaker at the opening was Dave Gallen, also a member of the Bega Valley Sanctuary Group.
Mr Gallen said everyone in the room had “won the lottery being born in Australia”.
He said the feeling of unease experienced by asylum seekers was “alien to Australian culture”.
However, Mr Gallen said Amnesty International was doing a fantastic job providing support for asylum seekers.
On a local front, he said he was proud to be part of Bega Valley Sanctuary.
“With our clients through the sanctuary group, they are not clients, they are our friends,” Mr Gallen said.
“I’m proud of the local community in the Bega Valley.”
Faces of Asylum will be on exhibition at Spiral Gallery until March 6.
Spiral Gallery, 47 Church St, Bega, is open Monday to Friday, 10am until 4pm, and Saturday 10am until 1pm.
For further inquiries, call 6492 5322.