Refugee advocates have slammed Refugee Week, calling it a time of “shame” and a harsh reminder of how Australia is “losing itself”.
The celebration, which began on Sunday, June 15, is an annual event to raise awareness of issues affecting refugees and recognise the positive contribution made by refugees to Australian society.
However, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre campaign manager Pamela Curr said she has great “trepidations” about Refugee Week, which is organised by Refugee Council of Australia (RCoA).
In an exclusive interview with The New Daily, Ms Curr said Refugee Week “is a reminder of what Australia is losing … we are losing ourselves.”
“I have mixed feelings about Refugee Week, it’s almost as if we don’t deserve it,” Ms Curr said.
“We certainly have no cause for celebration,” she said.
“We have to be realistic about what we are doing and be honest. And what we are doing is treating vulnerable people, who have asked for our help, cruelly and harshly.”
According to current figures from Department of Immigration and Border Protection there are 190 under-age asylum seekers in offshore detention and 833 children in detention across Australia.
“Nobody can be proud of Australia at this time. No one can be proud of it,” Ms Curr said.
Refugee Council of Australia spokesman Andrew Williams defended Refugee Week saying it’s important to remember that Australia has welcomed more than 800,000 refugees since the 70s and 80s and there should be cause for celebration.
“Primarily Refugee Week is creating awareness, even if the asylum policy is less than ideal, that we disagree with,” he said.
“Many in the sector believe it’s important to connect that with our history of actually settling and supporting refugees so people hopefully are less likely to see asylum seekers as separate to refugees.”
Ms Curr disagrees.
“The present is so dark and so cruel that it is obliterating the past,” she said.
“We are in danger of losing what we have achieved in this country because we are succumbing to the worst sort of cruelty and harshness to people.”
“We should be deeply ashamed of what we are doing, there is nothing that we are doing now that we can be proud of.”
Figures show 680 female asylum seekers are being kept behind barbed wire, while 624 living on approximately $36 a day in community detention. Another 310 female asylum seekers are being kept in off-shore detention.
The total number of men in detention centres across Australian was 3,544 with 1950 in offshore facilities.
Refugee advocate Sister Brigid Arthur from Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project said Refugee Week is “superficial” and sends the wrong message to the community.
“It’s very superficial to learn about other countries’ food, music and culture,” she said, labelling the celebration a distraction from the hardship many asylum seekers currently face.
“For me, Australia needs to face the harsh realities asylum seekers face – in terms of how we pick and choose and refuse to help those that need our help the most.”
“We need to have a decent exploration of who Australia is and what we want it to become”.
“It’s a very strange sort of celebration that we are having.”
Mr Williams said Refugee Week is a broad celebration and also an opportunity for “people to reflect”.
“Not only on the circumstance of people currently in detention or on bridging visas in the community, but also people in overseas locations that are struggling with a number of issues, not having the refugee protection they need and not resettling,” he said.
“Australia is a very different place as a result of migration from different countries and refugees and asylum seekers have played an important role in that and Australia is all the better for it.”