Refugee Week 2021: Diverse in voice. United in humanity.

21 June 2021

Topics: "refugee stories" "refugee week"


Too often in Australia, the voices of refugees and their stories are missing or misrepresented in the media we consume, spreading misinformation, and driving polarisation. 

But today marks the beginning of Refugee Week, and its theme of Unity serves as a powerful reminder that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. 

Refugees are people, not numbers, and this week we want to share some of the stories that show the fundamental, unbreakable link that binds us all together: Our humanity. 

No matter our circumstances and how unjust these may be, at our core, we are all united by what we care about most; our hopes; and our dreams. We all want a safe place to call home, to provide for and spend time with our family, and to freely choose how we work and live every day.

Keep scrolling to hear a series of voices from our Act for Peace community - refugees, staff, supporters, partners – sharing what matters most to them, demonstrating how connected we really are.

Shamsiya came to Australia as a refugee from Afghanistan when she was just 10 years old – after witnessing brutality that no child should ever see. Now that she lives in Australia, she makes it her mission to help people experiencing injustice as she and her family did — like the Act for Peace Ration Challenge. In 2020, she took the Ration Challenge to provide rations and protect the lives of Syrian refugees in Jordan.

We are very fortunate that we're safe in the comfort of our homes, and we have the power to restore the hopes of those who are hopeless. And that's why I took the Ration Challenge; to provide — even if it's feeding two people — those are the two precious people that I'll be saving. Those are not just numbers, you know, those are valuable human lives. And, you know, every life matters. Every life matters, rich or poor, every life matters.

Daniyel was forced to flee his home in Sri Lanka to India in May 2006. He met his wife, Raini, in the camps in India and with the help of our local partner, they have since returned home to Tincomalee. Daniyel and Raini now live with their children in a local shelter next to their extended family. He works hard as a fishing day labourer so he can send his children to school and look after his family.

If you ask what my happiness means...When I come back from my job with good wages, it's a joy, because I can do something for my wife and children…After I come back, depending on their mood and if I come with a good income, some of them like ice cream, my son likes to play with his parents. So, whatever our difficulties, even if we want to rest, we allocate one hour for the children. This is our happiness - spending time with our children and sharing their burden.

Janet is the CEO of Act for Peace and is passionate about doing what she can to break down the barriers that limit refugees from experience the safe, dignified lives we all desire. Prior to working with Act for Peace Janet worked alongside refugee colleagues in the Department of Health to design services that ensured refugees were able to access the same level of health care as everyone else in Australia. Act for Peace continues to focus on addressing barriers faced by refugees in many countries overseas – working with our partners to advocate for just and equitable systems for protection and to provide resources to address immediate needs. 

I’ve had the privilege of working with refugees from many nations – in Australia and overseas. In most cases I wouldn’t have known my colleagues were refugees until someone told me. Somehow the label ‘refugee’ begs you to think differently about people with this status. Really people with refugee status are just like us, they’ve simply endured or are enduring extreme negative circumstances in life. Other than this they laugh and care for their families, pursue dreams, make friends and take care of their local community just like everyone else. Working alongside, celebrating with, and benefiting from the company of these colleagues has provided me with rich, treasured experiences.

Farah and her daughters were uprooted from their home in Syria in 2013 when the war reached their village. As a widow, Farah has challenged many traditional Syrian customs in order to establish a life for her and her children independently. With the help of food rations provided by our local partner, Farah now earns an income by making and selling cheese to her community. 

There’s only a tiny amount of women who refuse to give their children up and marry, and I was one of those women. There was community pressure against me for making such a decision, but I adhered to my principle and refused to lean…The idea of selling cheese came to my mind as we faced a financial shortage because my son wasn't working at this point, and my girls needed to buy things so I though as long as I can make something why wouldn't I earn some money from it? After moving to Talbieh, I became stronger and more independent, I could go here and there, and buy everything my girls need. Thank god! I became much stronger than I used to be.

Alex lives in Sydney and is one of our dedicated Act for Peace Ration Challenge organisers. She has taken on the challenge two times herself, helping to raise funds and build compassion for Syrian refugees.

I think one of the most important things in life is knowing that the people I love and care about are happy, healthy and safe. Without these things, I have seen firsthand how hard life can be, and these really are fundamental, basic human rights that can change a person’s life on all levels. I help to organise The Ration Challenge because it’s more than just fundraising - it allows participants to experience a small part of what it is like to be a refugee. You can tell someone what it’s like to be a refugee, but until you try the Ration Challenge and really feel what the experience is like eating rations for one week, you can’t truly understand it. And that’s how the challenge creates empathy and compassion.

Nejabat works with our partner, Community World Service Asia in Pakistan, helping to provide maternal health services to women in need. Nejabat’s interest in this work was born out of his own lived experience as an Afghan refugee living in Pakistan. When he was just eight years old, Safi and his family relied on CWSA to access health services, and he continues this work because he believes everyone deserves the right to quality and affordable healthcare.

Now, I'm providing different kinds of services and support to vulnerable and marginalised communities in Pakistan. I remember the time someone was helping us and our heart was praying for that person, it meant a lot to us. Now, I'm enjoying that I can dry the tears of a mother and a child whom are in dire need…from my perspective, if these services did not exist, women and children would not be taken to hospital. They would be helpless and left in their homes.

Our voices, experiences and circumstances may be diverse, but this Refugee Week, we can all remember and celebrate what unites us – our humanity. From here, we can connect, empathise and continue to take action towards a safe, just and dignified life for all.