Building bridges: asylum seekers in rural Australia

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Just a little bit pleased to have published in e-journal On Line Opinion Building bridges: asylum seekers in rural Australia, reflecting on a recent home hospitality respite holiday for asylum seekers on bridging visas that I organised under the auspices of the Home Among the Gum Trees program run by Elaine Smith in Dandenong (Melbourne). Here are hosts Jon and Lou Oakes , who got involved in this project because they wanted to find out for themselves about refugees and provided the following feedback.

”There has been so much press about asylum seekers, but the human stories underneath hardly get a mention, and we really didn’t know what to expect when we met our young refugee family off the bus at Pambula,”  Jon said. ”Language was a major concern of course, but we needn’t have worried, as our guests had enough basic English for us to communicate the important stuff, and some things require no language at all – everyone is speechless when they first see Pambula rivermouth.”

”As an antidote to the look of incomprehension that sometimes arose during conversation, we both resorted to Google Translator, and while being mostly really helpful it also had some entertaining results, for example when one of our guests wanted a floor mop and the translator presented this in English as ‘salted peanuts’.  We’ve had a lot of laughs with our new friends, and have heard something of their story too.  They have lost everything in their journey to Australia, yet are so grateful to be here.”

”As migrants ourselves, we have a personal understanding of how it feels to be welcomed into Australia, the daily thankfulness that perhaps someone born here might not stop to think about.  Friends and businesses in the area have been very kind and helpful to our guests, just as they were to us when we were new arrivals.  Thanks to Bega Valley Rural Australians for Refugees we’ve had the chance to pass our welcome on to some lovely people we hope will become New Australians themselves one day.”

RefugeeGuestsSep2014 When Jon asked Mal for his thoughts on the experience, Mal said, ”I like the visit because my wife and I we have found kind new friends, Mr Jon  and Mrs Lou.  The two weeks have been very good for me and my family, very loving and kind for us and our son.  I know I have found good friends  and our frienship will last a long time, I would like my new friends to come to my home too.” And his wife, Marni said, ”My husband and I and our  son came two weeks ago to see a new family for school holidays.  Two families with different languages and different cultures.  With our hosts we  visted their friends and family, and saw the beaches and beautiful parks and animals.  We had picnics with friends and cooked meals together.  I am an artist, we talked about painting and learned to understand more.  Our hosts gave us time and patience, we were happy all together.  Everything is new and very special to us, very nice area, nice people and very friendly.  In general, I thank everyone for everything.”

All of the asylum seekers and their hosts had an enriching time. Arranging these holidays has to be amongst the most rewarding forms of activism, profoundly affecting those involved and changing  lives. (names of asylum seekers have been changed)

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