Refugee Week in the Bega Valley a celebration of diversity and inclusivity

Refugee Week begins on Sunday, June 18, an annual event aimed at promoting understanding and successful integration of refugees across Australia.

This year’s theme is “With courage let us all combine”, a line taken from the Australian National Anthem’s often unsung second verse. Bega Valley Rural Australians for Refugees’ Hallie Fernandez said the theme acknowledges the courage required from both sides. 

“It takes courage as a refugee or asylum seeker to leave your home,” she said. “And it also takes courage for people here to be welcoming considering everything that is going on in the world.”

Celebrations begin a day early at the Daniel Champagne concert at Mumbulla School for Rudolf Steiner on Saturday, June 17. Mumbulla pupils will be busking beforehand to raise money for famine relief in Africa.

Robin de Crispigny will discuss her book, The People Smuggler, winner of the Queensland Literary Award for nonfiction at four locations, and asylum seeker advocate Mairi Petersen will share her first hand experiences with asylum seekers at Cobargo’s Well Thumbed Books.

The week’s main event will be the BVSC Rally on Friday, June 23, in Littleton Gardens, where Mayor Kristy McBain and BVSC migrant and multicultural officer Emma Benton will unveil a new refugee welcome banner for the park. 

BVRAR members will take part in the Act for Peace Ration Challenge during Refugee Week, limiting themselves to the same food portions of a Syrian refugee in a Jordanian camp. Ms Fernandez is taking the challenge again this year, despite knowing the difficulties.

“Last year I lost four kilos,” she said. “And although i didn't mind losing the weight, there is still the exhaustion and headaches, and you have very limited options of what you can eat.”

Ms Fernandez estimated BVRAR had raised over $2500 so far, and expected their total to rise when a few late joiners, including students from Bega High, take up the challenge too.

The Department of Immigration’s website says Australia has resettled over 865,000 refugees and people in humanitarian need since WWII.