Media Release 27th February 2017
Welcome Tree for Refugees Launch
People Just Like Us and City of Sydney
Venue: Customs House (31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay, Sydney NSW)
Date: 11 am Sunday 12th March 2017
Main Contact: Jane Salmon, 0417919354, firstname.lastname@example.org
People Just Like Us warmly invite you to attend our event for the City of Sydney's annual "Living in Harmony Festival"
This will be a Celebratory Launch of our beautiful "Welcome Tree", designed and made by Iranian artist Majid Rabet and our art team including architect Jason Koh.
The "Welcome Tree" is a participatory public art project intended to expand the margins of engagement in this matter of life and death. Participants at the launch and beyond will be invited to write their own messages of support for all refugees to hang on the tree. Each message can inspire more people to take action and wield the positive change we so desperately need. Your presence at the event will amplify the campaign for justice for refugees.
The Tree will be available subsequently for public engagement with a range of positive projects for refugees. We encourage other groups to use the Welcome Tree for their own events.
It can stand as a symbol of unity for the refugee movement as it becomes more united than ever and as more and more Australians question what is happening in the offshore and onshore centres in the name of deterrence. The Welcome Tree has the capacity to travel far and wide to reach ordinary Australians in every local electorate around the country.
As Behrouz Boochani, imprisoned Journalist in Manus Island says:
“My idea is that all of the groups and organisations find a way to develop more communication between them, and share their ideas and plans. There is already evidence that if civil society organisations make a structure to coordinate their activities it can have a positive effect. I know that a large number of people in Australia care about the refugees in Manus and Nauru, and a lot of great work has been done. But improving the organising structure can also help to make a change. The government should know that by keeping people in prison they will lose power.
Translated by Dr N. Jackson”
The need for public actions such as the Welcome Tree is extremely important in these unprecedented times. Abuse of the vulnerable damages us all, whereas the act of public declaration of welcome to refugees by Australians strengthens social cohesion and shifts the dominant narrative.
We must consider the worsening situation in the offshore detention camps, and the need for all of those suffering at our hands to be brought to immediate safety. We must also consider the need to provide refuge for our fair share of the huge numbers of displaced persons in need of safety around the world, including our fair share of Syrian refugees.
We must also consider what our country stands to gain by welcoming the magnificent human resources that refugees bring to us. We present this Welcome Tree as a public statement that we should welcome all people driven from their homes in dire circumstances, who come to ask for our help, no matter how they come.
If you are unable to attend, we invite you to write and send us your own message via Facebook, or our email at email@example.com
Acknowledgment of Country
We are very fortunate to have Uncle Ken Canning to give acknowledgment to country.
His activism for equal rights for Indigenous Australians led him to education in the 1980s. He was one of the founding members of Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney, working with Indigenous students at a tertiary level.
Canning's poetry has been translated into several languages and he's now finished writing his first major play, 49 Days a Week, which is one of 6 plays picked nationally for the Yellamundie Festival in Sydney 2017. He has also recently written a half hour film script titled Cocky on a Biscuit Tin, which will eventually be written as a novel. His poetry has been noted for its combination of Indigenous language and English, as well as its blunt, understated and visceral language. His poetry is published under his Aboriginal language name, Burraga Gutya.
Canning was the lead candidate for the New South Wales Socialist Alliance ticket for the Australian Senate in the 2016 federal election, under the title "For A People's Movement". After helping to organise the 2016 Invasion Day protest in Sydney, Canning said the 5000-strong march was being hailed as "the biggest march by Aboriginal peoples since 1988".
Key Speakers for the Event:
Jenny Leong joined the NSW Parliament as the Member for Newtown in March 2015. Her statewide portfolio responsibilities for the NSW Greens include Human Rights, Sexuality and Gender Identity, Housing, Arts and Creative Industries, WestConnex and Night Time Culture and Economy.
Prior to entering Parliament, Jenny worked for a number of years with Amnesty International as a crisis coordinator and campaign manager in London, Hong Kong, and Sydney. At Amnesty International, she oversaw the organisation’s response to the Middle East & North Africa Uprising and worked to protect freedom of expression in the lead-up to the 2010 Burma elections.
Jenny has been an active member of The Greens for over a decade. In 2013, she worked as the Federal Election Campaign Coordinator for the NSW Greens
Saba Vasefi is an award winning artist, filmmaker, academic, poet, voice coach, PhD candidate and a powerful voice in the transnational feminist movement. She is the director of Sydney International Women’s Poetry & Arts Festival, the director of the Diaspora Symposium, Creative Director of Bridge for Asylum Seekers Foundation, Asylum Seekers Centre Ambassador and Australia Day Ambassador. She was the recipient of a Premier's Multicultural Medal for Art & Culture, an Edna Ryan Award for making a significant contribution to feminist debate and inciting others to challenge the status quo. She is also a finalist of the Women's Agenda Leadership Award in the Agenda Setter category.
John Highfield: A practising broadcast journalist for nearly 50 years prior to his retirement, John began his career as a cadet reporter at Radio 2SM before joining the ABC as a journalist, foreign correspondent and presenter on Current Affairs and News programs. He was the first presenter on the long-running PM program at its inauguration in 1969.
Following three terms as a European and Middle East reporter he was promoted to be European Bureau Chief for the ABC and was appointed International Editor for the National Broadcaster in 1990.
As a senior presenter on The World Today, AM and PM he led awareness of emerging issues around immigration detention, particularly for children.
John and his wife Trish are recipients of an Edmund Rice Centre Award for their outstanding commitment to the continuing struggle for Refugee and Asylum Seeker Rights.
MCs for the Event:
Amir Javan of People Just Like Us
Amir is a former detainee who has appeared in “Freedom Stories” Amir works as a licensed real estate agent and investment property specialist based in North Sydney. After fleeing Iran at the age of 27, Amir spent four and a half years in the Curtin and Baxter Detention Centres. Initially told he would be deported, he was finally released after his case went to the High Court and then he spent a further two and a half years on a temporary protection visa.
“When I ask him in the film why he smiles so much, he tells me what he learned in detention is that we must all care about each other.
Another common trait among the former asylum seekers I’ve met is their enthusiasm and determination to contribute to their new country. It’s a truism to say these are the very people we need in Australia but it’s so.
I don’t want to idealize those people. I think part of the reason for their determination is the feeling that they must prove themselves, to demonstrate that they are not the usurpers and opportunists that many claim they are.” The Conversation
Fabia Claridge of People Just Like Us
Fabia has worked in refugee rights space for twenty years. “I am an accidental activist. Years ago, when a twelve-year-old student of mine threw himself onto the floor and tried to jump out the window at the mention of the word ‘detention’, I knew I could not rest until the cruelty of detention and deterrence towards the victims of war and persecution was rooted out of our society.”
Majid is a former refugee and creative artist and engineer now based at his studio, Artech Studio, in western Sydney. Working with sculpture, wood, metal, electronics, costumes and inventions, Majid’s work challenges the impossible, often by recycling materials into new and innovative creations. Majid has been involved in a number of community projects and initiatives, including commissions, workshops and independent projects through Blacktown Council, Parramatta Council, Powerhouse Museum, SustainabiliTEA, Bankstown Council, Refugee Art Project and most recently Cartographies of Diversity, Auburn.
Jason is head of modest digs, a building design practice focussing on sustainable design for new homes and additions or alterations to existing homes. After migrating to Australia with his family in the early 1990s, Jason obtained a degree in architecture at the University of Sydney. He has worked in civic and institutional architecture, more recently turning to domestic architecture. Jason is one of the founders of People Just Like Us.
Cleve is an architect-trained designer with 32 years of experience in the field of architectural design, specializing in urban design. Following his graduate study in urban design at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts, Copenhagen with Professor Jan Gehl, Cleveland’s design practice has been deeply influenced by the Scandinavian tradition of placing humanism front and center in design matters. His work involves close collaboration with both communities and governments on a range of projects. These include contributing to regional strategic plans such as the City West Urban Strategy 1990, and the recent design of the pedestrian and cyclist Light Bridge over the Nepean River in Penrith in 2014.
People Just Like Us
People Just Like Us is an organization that seeks to change minds and hearts to change policy. We run talks that offer refugees in the community and in our organization a platform to talk about their experiences and lives, and to share their stories with the public.
With greater public awareness of the fact that refugees really are People Just Like us, we hope to build a more welcoming and accepting Australia whose government does not rely on fear, racism, and cruel 'border protection' policies in order to gain popularity.
One of our recent major projects has been pledgeforrefugees.org.au , which provides a positive policy solution for refugees. The pledge has been signed by over 3,000 people, including prominent community members and organizations. You can follow this campaign on http://pledgeforrefugees.org.au/ https://www.facebook.com/PeopleJustLikeUs/?fref=ts and #5pointplan.
Contact Event and Media Coordinator:
People Just Like Us:
Key Speakers Contact
Saba Vasefi firstname.lastname@example.org 0449 077 280
John Highfield email@example.com 0417 024 766
Fabia Claridge firstname.lastname@example.org 0423 878 606
Amir Javan email@example.com 0420 312 782
An Open Letter to President Obama: Please Call for Universal Ratification and Implementation of the Refugee Convention
Mr President, please call for universal ratification and implementation of the Refugee Convention
Dear Mr President
I am Amir Hossein Javan and Co-Convenor of People Just Like Us a grassroots organization fighting for refugee rights in Australia. We have been informed that the UN General Assembly will host a high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach. The reason I personally decided to write to you is I am one of those refugees who fled and left his motherland unwillingly because I did not have any choice and it was not safe for me.
I ran away in April 2000 just because of my political views and activities, and left my mother and father although I knew that they needed me. Like a huge number of asylum seekers, I was unable to speak a word of English and I was by myself in Malaysia, the first country I could travel to. Through connections I managed to find a person who told me how I could go to Australia to seek asylum because it was the only way to be a bit safer. So he organised the journey and I went to Indonesia, where I hid myself for a month and then my journey began with a fishing boat to Australia. It was not because I enjoyed travelling through the sea but only because I had no other choice. It took seven days and nights in the middle of the Indian Ocean, fighting with huge waves, suffering physically and mentally and continuing non-stop because there was no safe way to return to my home. There were forty-three innocent women and children in the boat who were hungry, thirsty, crying and praying to find a safe place to settle down. It was beyond imagination. After we arrived in Australia, we were transferred directly to an immigration detention centre in a remote area under surveillance of the Australian military. Our first meeting with the head of Department of Immigration was unforgettable because he clearly told us: On behalf of all Australian people, I tell you that, "You are not welcome in Australia". These were the first words I heard.
I was locked up initially in isolation camp for ten months with no access to any media, phone or even a letter. Then I had an interview with a member of The Department of Immigration, who ignored my claims, but commenced legal proceedings against me, without my documents, so I had no choice but to appeal the matter in The Federal Court. It took two years to appeal this through a couple of courts. I finally managed to win at the full bench of The Federal Court. I won my case but the Australian Government again appealed the decision to The High Court, which took another fourteen months to appeal and to wait for a hearing. Eventually, after four and half years of being locked up, I won the matter in The High Court and received a Temporary Protection Visa. That was four and half years in the prime of my life wasted, in the detention centre, fighting in court after court against the minister for immigration to prove that my claim was eligible and genuine.
After I was released, huge numbers of Australians apologised to me and said, ‘It was done under our name but it was not what we do’. I have received a lot of assistance with kindness and love. I managed to study and get my qualification and I have been a Licenced Real Estate agent for 6.5 years. I have met many beautiful people in the community and I cannot believe what happened to me in the past.
However being locked up in isolation and battling for years has left me with trauma, anxiety and stress. Since then I have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The daily images of asylum seekers in Europe and the Middle East haunt me and my heart is with all the men and the families who left their homes and have no place to live safely. We all know that no one can choose where he or she is born. Yet, people who have had to run away from warzones and homes that they love, are left to suffer daily without any hope. They have a human right to safety, as has already been decided in our international conventions and they have so much to offer the world if only given a chance.
History shows us what happened to the Jewish people in Europe during the Second World War, to the Vietnamese people in the Vietnam War, to the Yugoslavian people in the Balkan war, to the Afghan and Iraqi people in war and nowadays to the Syrian people in this war with ISIS.
How many times has mistreatment of people seeking refuge happened in the past? Why do we still mistreat refugees and try to close the door on them? Would it not be better for all to have open arms and show love and peace to them? What do we achieve by locking them up and treating them like a bunch of invaders? In whose interests is it?
It is the nature of all humans to want to escape from danger. Hence, innocent civilians who cannot defend themselves and would like to protect their wives, kids, families have to flee and have the right to ask for asylum. As you well know, there are sixty-five million displaced persons today. This number is greater than ever before. It is in the interests of everyone to find better pathways to resettle them. We already have the International Refugee Convention.
I therefore ask that you urge countries attending the upcoming conference, including Australia, to ensure, as a bottom line, that their domestic migration law complies with the Refugee Convention and other human rights conventions already established.
Mr President, I sincerely ask you to intervene with your influence, your power and show your fervent compassion on this issue.
Please urge and advise all leaders of countries, including Australia, to also be more compassionate and accommodating in this matter and to abide by the Refugee Convention by actively implementing it and by enshrining it in their domestic migration law.
Furthermore, I hope you will urge countries like Australia, with stronger economies, to accept more asylum seekers.
Specifically, I entreat you, as a matter of urgency, to facilitate the immediate release and settlement of the people who have been locked up in detention on the remote islands in The Pacific, under conditions that breach so many international conventions. Your assistance in this humane matter would be greatly appreciated.
Amir Hossein Javan
People Just Like Us