Meredith McKinnon, who supports refugees to settle into Australian life, addressed the Years 5–8 students on the theme of this year’s Refugee Week celebrations, courage, before introducing Dharshini Suntharam.
The 34-year-old journalist dared to have the courage to seek asylum and flee the persecution of her country. In 2012 she and her young son boarded a ‘rickety’ boat in a desperate attempt to live a safe and peaceful life. They spent 25 days at sea before being rescued and ultimately taken to a Christmas Island detention centre where they spent some six months. Now on a Bridging Visa, Dharshini is allowed to stay in Australia but waits to be granted asylum and permission to work.
‘Dharshini’s story is a reflection of the courage that asylum seekers need to seek refugee status and why sometimes they take extreme actions like getting on a boat,’ Meredith told the students.
‘As people who have faced persecution because of who they are (their race, nationality or membership of a persecuted group) or whatever they believe (their religion or political opinion) need courage.
‘It also takes courage to speak out against injustice on behalf of refugees. In Refugee Week we acknowledge and celebrate the dedication and bravery of refugee leaders, advocates and citizens who draw attention to violations of human rights, support people at their time of greatest need and challenge callous indifference to the suffering of others.’
Meredith says Refugee Week not only gives students exposure to the plight of refugees but also allows them to learn more about multiculturalism.
Refugee Week (June 14 - 20) also encourages people to reflect on Australia’s history for compassion for refugees. Since World War I Australia has welcomed more than 800,000 people from different countries under the Humanitarian Program. With Asia being a key focus of the program, Australia has settled refugees from refugee camps on the Thai/Myanmar border, Malaysia and India, Bhutanese refugees from India and smaller resettlement of refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka.