By GEORGIA ROBINSON
“When I was jobless, it was hard to provide food even for my daughter. The food services we got from the Asylum Seekers Centre were a big help”, says Bala*.
Bala and his family sought asylum in Australia as a result of religious persecution as Hindis in a Muslim-majority country.
However, arriving in Australia meant they were going to have to face a new set of challenges in terms of setting up a life in a new and unfamiliar country and beginning the process of gaining refugee status.
They went to the Asylum Seeker’s Centre in 2019, initially for financial support, as their temporary visas meant they were ineligible for Centrelink support and Bala was struggling to find work. With financial support from the Centre, he was able to provide for his family again, and also work towards finding a stable job through the centre’s employment services.
Besides the support of the financial, employment and health services, they gained a sense of community at the Centre and met others like Sam, who Bala says “comforted me with his words.”
“When I was talking to him, I could see that at the centre there were other people like me.”
Meeting unique needs
The Asylum Seekers Centre in Newtown was established in 1993 to address the unique issues facing asylum seekers in Australia initially through health and educational services. Now it is looked at as a “place of welcome and provides practical and personal support for people living in the community who are seeking asylum.”
The variety of their services has continued to grow throughout the 28 years.
“We started off very small, but we now support over 4000 people who are living in our communities, ever seeking asylum,” CEO Frances Rush told City Hub.
Services range from financial and employment services, to health, education, accommodation, food and social services and in the years of 2019-2020 they helped 185 people find new jobs.
During the height of the COVID pandemic last year, their numbers tripled, and they had to rethink many of their services.
“We changed our service overnight to get food on the road to people, so that they had the very basics”, Rush says.
They transformed their daily in-person lunches, to a food delivery service and by the end of June 2020, they had provided 15,732 bags of groceries to more than 1100 people.
In addition to physical services, Rush says “the other really important part of our work is advocating constantly because you need to be vigilant in this space.”
This advocacy from the ASC is what helped Bala’s daughter get into a preschool where Bala says “she’s made friends. She’s very happy in preschool, she’s learning new things.”
Bala’s refugee status was recognised in 2020 and with permanent residency he says he can think of the future now.
“All these years, we couldn’t think of anything, only thing we were thinking was what will happen if we have to go back?”
With Refugee Week approaching in the next few weeks, the centre is kicking into gear and they are hosting two exclusive events.
This year’s Refugee Week theme is Unity, which promotes togetherness and unites “individuals, communities and organisations from many different backgrounds to stand up for a common cause.”
Rush agrees with this saying that “Refugee Week gives each of us a chance to reflect on the tremendous contribution of people who have come from a refugee background.”
In line with the theme, the centre, alongside City of Sydney and Amnesty International, is hosting a night of conversation and music on June 23rd, where people who they have supported, alongside advocates like Craig Foster can come together and share stories and experiences.
The centre is also holding a fundraiser event on the 17th June to premiere the film ‘Scattered People’. The film follows the journey of musicians going into a Brisbane detention centre where they meet two Iranian musicians. It shows the power of music in breaking down cultural barriers and uniting people of different backgrounds.
Rush feels the theme of Unity is so important because “it is a reminder to each of us what we can do, and that unity is really what makes us stronger”, and through their events, the centre is able to promote this sense of unity.
*Bala is not his real name, he has chosen to be anonymous. To support and learn more about the Asylum Seekers Centre, you can head to their website: https://asylumseekerscentre.org.au/