In the ACT we have a proud history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers and acknowledging the enormous contribution they make to Canberra’s social, cultural and economic life.
Canberra today has residents from nearly 200 different nationalities, with almost a quarter of Canberra’s total population born overseas.
The ACT Government also plays an important role in providing services to support and assist refugees and asylum seekers to settle in our city, and to promote social harmony.
Of course, we don’t do this alone, and we are proud of those organisations who share our passion and commitment to help every person reach their full potential as a member of our diverse, inclusive and creative community.
The Refugee Council of Australia has chosen the theme ‘With courage let us all combine’ for Refugee Week in Australia for 2015 to 2017.
We know asylum seekers are pursuing safety and a better life, and they’ve often taken great risks and have shown immense courage in their journey:
- Courage not to deny identity or beliefs in the face of persecution.
- The courage to leave all that is familiar and step into the unknown in search of peace.
- The courage to keep going in the face of devastating loss, difficulty and despair, and
- The courage to begin again, to work hard and to maintain hope in an unfamiliar land.
In our current political climate people speaking out on these issues tend to be portrayed as un-Australian or are seen to be acting against our national security.
That’s not how I feel.
If we ignore this debate and continue to focus on the boat arrival of asylum seekers, asylum seekers will continue to suffer.
We must match the courage of refugees and speak out against the persecution and injustice that many refugees face - both in their countries of origin and often in places where they seek refuge.
We must celebrate the dedication and bravery of refugee leaders, advocates and citizens, who speak out against persecution and injustice, and support people at a time of great need.
This is so important.
Because I think if more Australians were aware of what is going on when asylum seekers try to come to Australia, and what’s happening in our detention centres and with offshore processing, I believe, they would that what is hapenning to asylum seekers is not ok.
I agree with our former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope who said: “Just as we’ve looked back on the white Australia policy, I have no doubt that my grandchildren and their children will look back at this period in our history and think ‘what did they think they were doing and how did they allow themselves to demean Australia and themselves in that way?”
As Minister for Multicultural affairs and Assisting the Chief Minister on Social Inclusion and Equality I was proud to announce that the ACT Government along with our key service providers and community organisations will come together, to officially declare Canberra as a Refugee Welcome Zone.
I was joined in formally signing this declaration by Companion House, Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services of the ACT, ACT Multicultural Youth Services, Canberra Refugee Support and the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum.
We are all different and this is a wonderful thing. This declaration celebrates our differences and acknowledges that these differences make our community strong.
Becoming a Refugee Welcome Zone is a way to continue our proud tradition of supporting refugees and make a public commitment to welcoming refugees into our community, uphold the human rights of refugees, demonstrate compassion for refugees and enhance cultural and religious diversity in our community.
More than 100 local government areas across Australia have declared themselves Refugee Welcome Zones but significantly the ACT is the first jurisdiction of all the Australian states and territories to be declared a Refugee Welcome Zone.
The declaration is supported by the Refugee Council of Australia, for some background visit: www.refugeecouncil.org.au/get-involved/refugee-welcome-zones/
Our declaration builds on existing ACT Government initiatives to support refugees and asylum seekers, such as the ACT Services Access Card. This card makes access to entitlements for refugees and asylum seekers easier.
It will also act:
- To highlight and acknowledge the important work of local community groups and individuals that support refugees and asylum seekers and raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees.
- To demonstrate support for refugees and a stand against racism and discrimination, and
- To pursue a more active role in advocating for refugees and asylum seekers and a more coordinated approach to supporting refugee settlement.
As a delegate to the Australian Labor Party’s national conference I look forward to advocating for these values in our party platform so we can see change at a federal level.
But at this time through this declaration the ACT Government is showing that we stand for unity and hope against fear and racism, it is only one step, but an important one for our community.
Our ACT government’s social inclusion and equality program means implementing policies and practices that respond to poverty, deprivation, and disadvantage as well as cultural and systemic problems such as homophobia, sexism, racism and violence against women and children.
It will now be further enhanced when the Declaration of the ACT as a Refugee Welcome Zone.
Thank you for being part of a community who take each other as we are, where our differences are respected and celebrated, where we say welcome regardless of our different backgrounds - something that makes Canberra a great place to live.
Yvette Berry MLA
Minister for Multicultural Affairs