DECEMBER 2020 – JAN GOVETT
This month we nominate JAN GOVETT as the RAR Unsung Hero for her contribution to national networking. Jan has also provided active leadership in several local groups including Bendigo RAR, Grandmothers for Refugees (Bendigo), Bendigo Amnesty Group, and is a member of Labor for Refugees.
Jan is a force of nature, in her determination, networking and advocacy skills and her commitment to making changes to various Governments’ appalling treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum. She works quietly and strategically. Here is but a glimpse of her amazing contributions.
Jan became involved with the refugee movement when she was introduced to Victoria’s Maryborough RAR group, and saw the value of CVRSN, the Central Victorian Refugee Support Group. Encouraged by CVRSN, she set about finding and reinvigorating RAR groups across Australia, most of which had fallen away like other refugee rights groups after the significant gains for refugee rights with the election of the Rudd Labor government in 2007, when TPVs were abolished, and the offshore arrangements on Manus and Nauru were closed down. Jan used her ‘detective like’ networking capabilities to find the contacts for dormant RAR groups and gently inspired and nurtured them with her vision for a national RAR network. From 2103 to 2017, Jan single-handedly managed the new National RAR Network of 90 groups.
Urged by Jan, Bendigo RAR hosted a National RAR Conference in September 2016, the first since 2005. It was from this Conference that two projects were launched – the Welcome Scroll, and a new national refugee network.
Jan suggesting that there be a network to incorporate all grassroots refugee groups across Australia, (based on the RAR network model), and be simply called Australians for Refugees. So a 4-person working group was established, with Jan representing RAR, and a representative from 2 other key networks – the Refugee Advocacy Network (RAN), and the Combined Refugee Action Group (CRAG- Geelong) – and Canberra RAC.
The Australian Refugee Action Network (ARAN) held its Inaugural ARAN Conference six months later. It was at the ARAN Conference that a National RAR Committee was finally formed with Marie Sellstrom, Penny Vine, Margaret Rasa and Ruth Fluhr. Jan has served on both the ARAN and RAR National Committees.
Jan is also the driving force behind The Welcome Scroll Project and since 2016 has travelled to WA, SA, ACT, NSW and southern QLD to gather signatures from the Mayors of 127 local councils. The Welcome Scroll Project is a joint initiative of RAR, the Refugee Council and Refugee Welcome Zones to confirm Local Government commitment to welcome refugees into our communities. The scroll is now seven metres long with 127 signatures. It is huge! Next stop Tasmania!
The RAR National Committee, and the extensive network of RAR groups would not exist today without Jan’s vision, initiative and tireless work. There is no more fitting person to take up the December award for Unsung Hero than Jan. We thank you Jan, and hold you in our deepest respect and affection.
Jan is currently writing the history of RAR.
I recently heard someone from Amnesty International describe that an organisation as being made of “bricks and mortar” – the “bricks” being the people working in the community, and the “mortar” being the backroom people, the “glue” that holds the “bricks” together.
I feel enormous admiration for the people who are the “bricks” in our refugee movement, those who work directly with refugees and people seeking asylum, and see myself more as part of the “glue” – the glue that provides information, cohesion, and ultimately the strength of unity, to the national refugee movement.
NOVEMBER 2020 – SYLVIA and PETER JONES
This month we nominate Sylvia and Peter Jones as the RAR Unsung Heroes. Peter and Sylvia are members of Redlands for Refugees, and the Brisbane On Arrival Support Group. This couple has supported refugees in the Brisbane community for over 18 years.
DETENTION support: They were regular visitors to BITA (immigration detention centre), up to 5 times a week, with up to 10 people visited. Peter prayer walks around the Kangaroo Point APOD regularly and will try to get the men’s attention to let them know someone is thinking of them. They visit people who have been held in community detention, providing practical help with official letters, food packages, getting to know their local area and where their culture food shops are, how to use public transport apps, and where to go for buses. This can include providing clothing and other essential needs, and sourcing bicycles so people can get around their area.
Housing: Sylvia and Peter have often taken refugees into their home to live while they get established. Being in their home means there is time to listen to their hopes and fears for the future. It is a ‘safe place’ for refugees to share some of their trauma. “Even our little dogs have had tears and heartaches shared with them. A refugee can cuddle a dog to ease an aching void of the family” Sylvia says. “It a privilege to have them share our home as we teach them Aussie ways and enrich our lives with their experiences and cooking”.
Practical help: These two heroes are constantly providing support. To look for jobs – helping with resumes, how to use job sites to find work. Helping with visa issues. Keeping in contact with refugees to encourage them to use services for housing and financial help. Repairing laptops and phones and seeking out donations of these where needed.
Networking and advocacy: They play a role in networking with groups to help with information and maintaining data records. Peter’s detail about what’s happening with specific people is an invaluable asset on the Brisbane On Arrival Support Group. Then there is the constant action of writing to politicians advocating for better things for refugees.
Sylvia and Peter write: “Our grandchildren have expanded their horizons with the influence of refugees in our home. We are all richer for their company. Sometimes it has been really hard going because of mental trauma etc but other times, it is well worth it. “
With these words, these two heroes sum up what is the experience of so many people like them, who work tirelessly for years, to provide practical, financial and emotional support to refugees. It is a two-way street, both giving and receiving. Thank you, Sylvia and Peter. You represent thousands of others, and in that spirit, we are proud to have you as our November Unsung Heroes.
OCTOBER 2020 – Congratulations to the Heroes behind ‘The Indefinite Sleepout to End Indefinite Detention’
This month we nominate heroes behind The Indefinite Sleepout to End Indefinite Detention. In August 2019 a group of healthcare workers from Wollongong decided to start this sleepout in the Wollongong Mall, in solidarity with more than 1,300 refugees and people seeking asylum detained in Australian immigration centres, to get a taste of what life in limbo felt like. They operate under the banner of ‘Doctors 4 Refugees’ and ‘Refugee Action Collective Illawarra’.
This group has gathered many supporters who travelled to Wollongong to join them. They have endured smoke haze, extreme weather, drunken bystanders and a global pandemic. Rahima Sarmed, a refugee from Afghanistan, is one supporter who stands out. She slept out for 200 nights, in the Mall.
In March, the group was forced to leave the Mall but the Sleepout did not stop. Instead the doctors and their supporters sleep outside their own homes, on a balcony or backyard, and put up daily posts on their Facebook page. Their goal is to draw community attention to the inhumanity of locking people up with no end in sight, no hope.
On 1 October 2020, they will have spent 415 nights sleeping outdoors, with no end in sight, just like people stuck without hope in our immigration detention centres and hotel rooms, waiting for medical treatment.
During the COVID pandemic, the two people who stand out for sleeping out EVERY night are Dr Javed Badyari, one of the founders of the group, and Pamela Dunn, one of the Sydney Grandmothers for Refugees. Every day on Facebook, these two post images of themselves and their swag or tent, with the number of days of the Sleepout. They never give up. This action of giving up the comfort of their warm beds during the winter is such a powerful statement of the strength and commitment of so many people who work tirelessly, without acknowledgment, because they cannot stand by and let this cruel, inhumane situation go on.
We pay tribute to Rahima Sarmed, Pamela Dunn, Dr Javed Badyari and the hundreds of supporters who have slept out, for maintaining this action. You send a clear message that people stuck in immigration detention are not forgotten and we will keep on highlighting this injustice.
Day 396: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission, can alter the course of history” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
SEPTEMBER 2020 – Congratulations Catherine Russell, COFA!
This month we nominate Catherine Russell, a member of Circle of Friends in South Australia. This organization consists of a number of Circles (groups) that work in various ways to support asylum seekers and refugees. Each Circle decide their own project and fundraise for it. Circle of Friends has a very close relationship with RAR and we support one another whenever the opportunity arises.
As well as her work in Circle of Friends, Catherine Russell is a member of the RAR Onshore Detention subcommittee as she is a regular visitor to Adelaide immigration detention centre prior to COVID and has even spoken in court to advocate for asylum seekers. Catherine currently visits ten people from PNG and Nauru in community detention and keeps in video contact with the twelve Manus & Nauru people still in the detention Centre.
We nominate her because of her tireless work for refugees and people seeking asylum, especially during the COVID pandemic. Here is how she established and ran The Food Project:
In early March Catherine became aware that COVID 19 was having a disastrous effect on many Bridging Visa holders – as businesses closed many lost their jobs and were unable to find alternative employment – they are ineligible for any type of government financial support. Several of the BV holders she supports have applied for work only to be told that because they are on a BV they won’t hire them because they can’t get Jobkeeper for them.
Catherine phoned 197 BVs in Adelaide to ascertain how they were managing during the pandemic and found that many were going without food and unable to pay rent and utilities.
The first priority Catherine said was for food. With two friends she started the food delivery project, phoning everyone who she had spoken to or who were referred to her by various organisations such as Red Cross or St Vincent De Paul. The two friends are now back at work and Catherine has continued the Project on her own for the last two months with the support of 50 volunteers.
Catherine’s friends and the church donated funds and when groups heard of Catherine’s work they also donated funds to support this initiative. Catherine has applied for and received Grants and Trust donations. So far this year she has received more than $40,000.
The food is purchased and bagged up on a Friday and delivered to individual houses on Saturdays. The recipients are encouraged to link to a private Facebook page which has advice on COVID rules, how to email the Red Cross/Vinnies for money to pay utility bills or rent, phone numbers for depression/mental health crisis or how to contact Catherine if they need a prescription or to pay their car rego/metro ticket top-up and more recently with job advertisements. She helped one person re-organise his loan (couldn’t get it from a bank on a BV so went to Cash Converters!) and another three men to get lawyers in a hurry.
The Food Project is progressing successfully and has had good coverage on Adelaide radio and TV and the Sunday Mail with many significant donations. More than $30,000 was donated in three days to assist with rent for asylum seekers – this has gone into a separate Circle.
Catherine is coordinating this project currently providing food to 60 homes, about 150 people with a weeks’ worth of food and has 50 volunteers helping her. Red Cross is assisting the project financially and the project has received a $10,000 government grant.
Like so many Unsung Heroes, Catherine is just one example of how thousands of Australians are taking leadership and showing compassion to vulnerable people left unsupported in this difficult time. Thank you, Catherine, and all the volunteers who work with you on the Food Project.
AUGUST 2020 – Congratulations Noeline Nagle BMRSG!
Noeline Nagle is a volunteer with the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group. She has regularly visited Villawood Detention Centre, and has also been a community visitor, which means she goes to the homes of refugees and people seeking asylum, usually in the outer suburbs of Sydney. She has been a tireless volunteer for the past decade.
In 2013, she recognized that boredom was a big issue for people living in community detention. Unable to work or study, they were restless. She was close to a number of Tamil men and knew how important cricket was to them. In 2013, she had an idea of forming a cricket team. She reached out to Wentworthville Leagues Club who agreed to sponsor the team. She reached out to journalist Peter FitzSimons who wrote a story about this in his column and put out a call for help. In came offers of help from reader of the Sydney Morning Herald. And the club started – Ocean 12. It was a huge achievement. The team has won the Australian championships for the Last Man Stands T20 in 2016 and 2019, along with the RIA Cup in Sydney. The group still continues today and brings happiness to the Tamil community.
In the recent years, Noeline Nagle has facilitated swimming lessons for the children of the refugee/asylum seeker families in Western Sydney. She has been passionate in getting the families and kids involved, and now we have a number of young kids who have taken to swimming. In Noeline, we have a person who believes in improving mental health through physical health and her undying commitment and endless passion and positiveness.
We nominate Noeline for this award because she is, on one level, typical of so many volunteers who work in RAR groups. They travel long distances from their homes to visit detention centres, and visit refugees they support in their homes. They bring their families back to their homes. They never give up. They serve on RAR committees, they fund-raise. Most importantly, they build friendships.
Thank you Noeline, and all the thousands of people like you, who quietly, persistently, and with generosity, give your time, your energy and yourself to support people who simply seek safety and security in Australia. You remind us of the values we hold in Australia.
While we call out Noeline here, I’m sure all RAR groups will take a moment to say ‘thank you’ to the unsung heroes in their own groups.
In response to the false information being circulated about #medevac health information. Here is accurate information, from parliament:
- Refugees form a successful cricket team, on and off the field
- Oceans 12 Cricket Team Gives Refugees Hope
JULY 2020 – Congratulations Sister Brigid Arthur csb!
Sr Brigid and Sr Catherine Kelly co-founded the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project (BASP) in 2001; since then it has grown in strength. Sr Catherine who specialised in visa applications died in 2015 and Sr Brigid continued as the driving force behind the project. From 2001 until 2020 Sr Brigid has visited detention centres and championed the cause of detainees. In 2011-12 there were nearly 3,000 minors in closed detention in Australia and by 2013 the numbers of families in detention in Australia had increased. Sr Brigid identified a group of vulnerable young Afghan boys at MITA and became their litigation guardian and with legal assistance took action all the way to the High Court. The intention of the litigation was to change the law to stop children from being held in detention. While this action saved these boys it did not change the law.
The BASP not only supports detainees but advocates to get detainees into the community and settles and supports them in the community by sourcing accommodation, furniture etc. Over the life of the project many hundreds of people have been able to live in BASP houses. In addition BASP undertakes community education and fundraising, visits schools to speak about asylum seekers, takes asylum seekers on outings and provides meals.
The aims of BASP are:
- to provide hospitality and practical support for asylum seekers
- actively network with like-minded individuals and groups who are working for justice for asylum seekers
- promote advocacy for the rights of asylum seekers
- raise awareness of asylum seeker issues and concerns through a range of activities
In 2016 Sr Brigid and Pamela Curr visited asylum seekers on Christmas Island.
For the last 18 years, BASP has operated as a provider that steps in when other agencies, for a range of reasons, are unable to support people seeking asylum.
In the video, Sr. Brigid provides a summary of her observance on how detainees go about their daily life in detention centres.
Photo, from left to right: Sue Finucane, Laurie Mason, Max Costello, Cecily Mason, Gary Johnson, Colleen van der Horst
JUNE 2020 – Congratulations AIREY’S INLET LETTER WRITING GROUP
This month our UNSUNG HEROES are a group of amazing people from Airey’s Inlet RAR.
This group of dedicated people work hard to ensure they have the facts behind the letters they write to politicians and people of influence, and have developed this into a monthly campaign approach. Many RAR groups now use their work in their own letter-writing.
It is worthwhile telling the story of how this group developed to this point.
At the 2018 RAR National Conference many members voiced their admiration of Cecily Mason from Airey’s Inlet RAR who spent considerable time looking after RAR tee shirt sales and asking conference participants if they wanted to receive monthly notification and samples of letters developed by the Airey’s Inlet Letter Writing Group.
RAR groups write hundreds of letters each year which is extremely time consuming, not to mention the effort in selecting a topic and establishing the facts. Members thought this was a superb initiative. Thoroughly researched facts and samples of letters are an essential component or RAR letter writing campaigns and to have this work performed by such a dedicated team is fantastic.
Many people since the conference have commented of the effort, motivation and persistence which is involved each month in agreeing on a topic, researching, planning and writing really focused letters which support RAR priorities and campaigns.
Aireys Inlet RAR re-emerged in July 2014 under the leadership of Katherine Feather and Mary Bremner. The Letter Writing Team of Cecily, Gary and Laurie was one of five new special interest groups created.
The initial letter in August 2014 covered the issue of children in detention in Nauru. It was quickly realised that letter writing was most effective when a small team thoroughly researched and referenced a current topic for a letter to parliamentarians and national opinion leaders.
In 2015 the letter writing group with team leader Cecily and chief researcher Lawrie became involved in Julian Burnside’s letter writing campaign to people in detention, writing to the men in Manus. The members who had responses developed close relationships with the Manus men, with some still communicating today.
In early 2018 postcards related to the current letter were introduced at Aireys market, proving very popular with the general public. Recently Colleen Van der Horst joined the team, she excels at creating eye catching postcards with succinct messages on the current topic.
Currently the AIRAR letter writing team consults with the RAR Campaign Team providing “fact checked” letters that are distributed across RAR and other groups on “hot topic” issues such as ‘Kids Off Nauru’, ‘Medevac’, ‘The Cost of Detention’.
Members of the team are: Cecily & Laurie Mason, Sue Finucane, Max Costello, Colleen van der Horst and Gary Johnson.
MAY 2020 – Support Angela’s call to ‘Sign the petition’!
Rural Australians for Refugees nominates Angela Fredericks for the May Unsung Hero Award.
Angela has called for all supporters to take action against the proposed “Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Centres”. This legislation would give Australian Border Force (ABF) officers the power to confiscate the phones of asylum seekers and refugees being held in detention.
National Justice Project lawyers took Dutton to court for taking phones from asylum seekers and refugees in 2017 and won. Now he is trying to overturn that.
Mobile phones provide asylum seekers and refugees with a lifeline to the outside world, to loved ones and to advocates – their mental health, the protection of their human rights, and their families depend on their phones. They can also hold Dutton accountable by recording instances of mistreatment and cruelty.
As Angela siad “Without Priya’s mobile phone, Australians would never have seen how Peter Dutton had her dragged onto an unmarked plane in front of her little girls.” Please sign and share the petition below
Why Angela is our Unsung Hero for May
Angela is a social worker in Biloela, Central Queensland. She is a friend of the Tamil asylum seeker family, Nades, Priya, Kopica and Tharunicaa, who have lived and worked in Biloela for years. In March 2018, they were taken from their home by Border Force officers and put in detention in Melbourne. Angela reacted quickly and started to fight for the safety of her friends. She admits to having no idea what she was doing when she launched the “#HometoBilo” campaign. Now over two years later she has learnt what it takes to lead a small town’s fight into the national arena, changing the hearts and minds of many along the way. She has learnt how to use social media, how to mobilise hundreds of thousands of supporters around the country, how to explain the affection this small town has for this quiet family who simply seek safety and a place to raise a family and contribute to Australia.
The campaign #HometoBilo is not over yet. Yet Angela maintains her positive, energetic outlook and keeps close to the family, now isolated on Christmas Island. She keeps her supporters close to this family. She keeps us active and showing our support, and how we want the Government to use its discretion to bring this family home.
Thank you Angela!
Support her and her wonderful work at www.facebook.com/solidaritywithBiloela
Find out more about the award here #RARUnsungHero #HometoBilo
Join our Letter Writing Campaign to support the family
Free Priya, Nades and Their Girls! – Digital Rally
RAR LAUNCHES ‘UNSUNG HEROES’ AWARD
2020 is a challenging year across the world – even more challenging than usual for refugees and people seeking asylum, and those who work to support and advocate for them. Rural Australians for Refugees recognize that we all need to stay strong and positive in these difficult times.
We want to take time this year to pay tribute to people in our community who have shown strength, courage and resilience in speaking out for, and helping in a practical way, refugees and people seeking asylum. There are hundreds of thousands of people who play a part every day – too many to name. These are often called unsung heroes’. We cannot acknowledge everyone but it is worthwhile to give attention to just a few.
In May we are launching the Unsung Heroes Award. It is simply a way to profile some people and groups who are examples of how everyday Australians play a part in taking practical action to support refugees and people seeking asylum in rural and regional Australia.
We seek out people who:
- have been actively involved in support or advocacy work for some time
- work collaboratively with others
- are well regarded by others in the refugee advocacy and support community
- actively support and promote the work of RAR.
The first Unsung Hero Award will be made in May 2020.