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The bush backing refugees

24 April 20180 comments

Refugees and asylum seekers are finding growing support from a surprising quarter – rural Australia.

Across Victoria and NSW people are opening their homes for weekends and holidays to refugees and people seeking asylum, people who’ve fled their homes and countries for safety or a new life.

And country people are raising funds to get the refugees cars, clothes, jobs, education and more.

The number of groups working under the umbrella of Rural Australians for Refugees that advocate for and support refugees and asylum seekers is now 90.

That number has almost doubled since 2010.

Rural communities are also showing signs of becoming increasingly opposed to the Federal Government’s policy of offshore detention.

The first national conference of Rural Australians for Refugees since 2004, held at Wodonga recently, gave an indication of sentiment in the bush.

Head of the refugee and support groups’ national umbrella organisation, Marie Sellstrom, of Merrijig, is pushing for an Australian charter of human rights.

A Declaration arrived at the Wodonga conference read: “There is an urgent need for an Australian charter of human rights that recognises that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. We call for the Parliament of Australia to meet, protect and uphold our legal and moral obligations under international human rights conventions and law.”

Julian Burnside, QC, and Professor Gillian Triggs were among the speakers at the conference.

Paula Brown-Graham instigated the East Gippsland Asylum Seekers Support group at Bairnsdale five years ago by inviting Brigidine nun and refugee advocate Sister Brigid Arthur to speak locally.

“I am an Australian and a Christian,” Paula says. “I had to do something. We are damaging people and we have children wanting to take their own lives. You can’t harm people and say it’s for a good cause,” said Paula, 71

Retired high school teacher Ron Myers, 63, is part of the Grampians RAR.

“I suspect many Australians — country and city — are confused by what’s going on. They want our national security and borders protected and when they hear the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton say the Government’s policy of locking people up in detention centres on and off shore is stopping the boats, this makes sense to them,” he said.

“They don’t want people dying at sea. They see this, too, as inhumane,” Mr Myers said.




Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist