Refugee Welcome Zones

I’m not a refugee. I’m lucky. I didn’t have to escape war to come to Australia. My father went through the hardships of being a refugee and in many ways, he took the ‘bullet’ for me.

Coming from a community where so many members are refugees and now working amongst refugees on a daily basis at Welcome to Australia, I’m well aware of the sacrifices that people make and the hardships they face. I’m also well aware of the discrimination that many deal with depending on how they arrived in Australia.

So while it may be difficult to change policy in Canberra, it is good to see local governments recognising the discrimination faced by refugees and choosing to become refugee welcome zones.

Adelaide City Council recently committed to becoming a refugee welcome zone. This means that they have committed to ensuring that their council area is culturally safe for refugees.

It is a fantastic initiative for local governments to openly say, “This is a place where refugees are welcome and we will not tolerate discrimination toward them.”

Around Australia, 108 of 565 city councils have now committed to being refugee welcome zones. This means that 19.1 percent of our local councils are actively showing their support for refugees.

However, it’s interesting to compare these statistics with the 71 percent of Australians who support ‘turning back the boats’ which indicates a growing intolerance for refugees.

These views are perpetuated by the media bias surrounding the issue and the fear-mongering politics that continues to poison what should be a fair and humanitarian conversation.

Perhaps the inconsistency stems from the use of the term ‘boat people’. It has become a label for the ‘other’, the cheater and the basis for xenophobia to the point that no ‘boat person’ could be accepted as a ‘genuine’ refugee, despite 90 percent of those who come by boat being just that.

Welcome zones are fantastic, but it’s much like drawing the outline of a picture.

What we need now is for the community to colour it in.

Whether or not Adelaide is actually a welcome zone in more than just theory, now depends on the everyday person and their attitude toward refugees.

And since we can’t always tell refugees apart from everybody else, perhaps it’s about opening our minds to treating everybody equally, irrespective of who they are or what they look like.

If we aim for this, then perhaps we wouldn’t need specific zones to welcome people. Otherwise, we may also find ourselves sending the message that refugees are welcome in some areas, but not others.

PHOTO: Mark Zed  Welcome to Australia Assistant Director Manal Younus speaking outside of Parliament House.


welcometaustraliaWelcome to Australia exists to engage everyday Australians in the task of cultivating a culture of welcome in our nation. You can follow them on facebook here

Manal is a Spoken Word Poet and activist of Eritrean origin who is currently completing her International Relations Degree at UniSA.

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