Australia, it has to be said, does not have the best relationship with refugees. The government runs a number of ‘off-shore detention centres’ for refugee processing, effectively open-air prison camps where people languish for years without hope of resettlement. The camps are reportedly so bad that the government banned domestic journalists from visiting them.
Even when some refugees are eventually moved to the mainland, they can spend years in on-shore processing sites — hotels in metropolitan areas you wouldn’t know are virtual isolation chambers for people fleeing conflict when walking past them. Much of this was brought to the country’s attention last year when Novak Djokovic was held in one of these hotels in Melbourne for failing to meet vaccine requirements.
The United Nations has long been critical of Australia’s refugee policies, with the latest condemnation coming in the form of 47 member nations recommending changes to our stance in March.
However, the Australian people themselves are much more loving, friendly, and welcoming than government policy would suggest. This year’s Refugee Week is a chance to get out and show your support for those who have made epic journeys across treacherous terrain to seek shelter on our shores.
Here’s what you need to know about Refugee Week 2023.
What Is Refugee Week?
Refugee Week is a full week of celebration, learning, and activism with World Refugee Day at its centre on Tuesday, June 20. This means a week of gatherings and events to hear about the journeys refugees have made, the struggles they’ve faced and the positive impact they’ve had on their adopted home communities.
World Refugee Day is a United Nations effort, celebrated on this date since 2001, to raise awareness of and support people who have been forced to flee their home countries.
In Australia, we’ve been doing it a little bit longer. Many events are organised in collaboration with the Refugee Council of Australia, which has been running Refugee Week since 1987. Refugee Alternatives and the Refugee Foundation are also key players.
— Refugee Council of Australia (@OzRefugeeCounc) June 17, 2023
The theme for Refugee Week 2023 is ‘Finding Freedom’. As such, events this year focus on living without the fear of war, upholding basic human rights and finding a new place to live, love, and dream.
Refugee Week Activities
Starting on Sunday, 18 June, there are 141 Refugee Week Events across Australia to get involved in. These are amazing opportunities to meet people from your local community and discover some of the incredible stories that help shape the places we live.
Events range from art exhibitions, poetry readings, craft sessions, lunches, film screenings, storytelling, and more.
The events are held in most capital cities, with 45 in Sydney, 38 in Adelaide, 20 in Melbourne, seven in Perth, two in Brisbane, and one in Hobart.
Refugee Week 2023 Sydney
In Sydney, the Refugee Week Film Screening is taking place at the Ultimo Community Centre on Tuesday, 20 June, showcasing two powerful films. The first, Lovren: My Life as a Refugee, follows the story of professional footballer Dejan Lovren who fled conflict in Bosnia in 1992 and wound up playing for Croatia. The second, The Swimmers, charts the journey of two Syrian sisters who fled Damascus and swum to Greece, later competing in the 20216 Rio Olympics.
On Wednesday you’ve got African Night, focusing on the story of Refugee Week ambassador Abang Ananda Othow who fled Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya before coming to Sydney at age 17 and going on to work as an international model. African Night includes traditional African food, live drumming, singing, and dancing.
On Tuesday, June 27, join Emmanuel Asante from the Refugee Art Project for a class on painting African designs. Asante incorporates mindfulness practices and uses painting as a form of meditation, helping you unwind as you learn.
On Wednesday, 28 June, Parliament on King will be hosting a three-course banquet cooked by refugee chefs. The venue is an important place, providing training and employment for refugees and they keep the menu a secret until the night. These nights are hosted once a month throughout the year if you can’t make this one.
Refugee Week 2023 Melbourne
On Thursday, the UNHCR and HOST International are running a talk with UNHCR Deputy Regional Representative, Nai Jit Lam, on how Australia can do more for refugees. Aid organisations and community members will be present to share their experiences of the Australian refugee system.
On Saturday, Howler in Brunswick is hosting a Rock for Refugee Rights night featuring a stellar lineup of local, pro-refugee acts including the Ajak Kwai ban, Jack Parsons, Joelistics, and Belly Savalas. Tickets include two free drinks and doors open at 7:30.
Throughout the week, Free to Feed is hosting its Dreamy Winter Feasts by the Fire, each night showcasing the cuisine of a different refugee community in North Fitzroy. There will be Brazilian x Colombian cooking, a Ukrainian night, and a Sri Lankan feast, each over three hours of non-stop deliciousness.
Refugee Week 2023 Adelaide
In Adelaide, Author and poet Bior Aguer shared his journey from Kenya to Australia through poetry at the City of Tea Tree Cully Library on 21 June. Aguer grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya and uses his words to inspire others on their journey to freedom.
On Saturday, the Migration Museum is hosting the African Women’s Federation of South Australia for an afternoon of food, music, and dance. The African Kitchen Project takeover will give people the chance to understand migration stories while tasting some of the best African food Adelaide has to offer.
Other Refugee Week Highlights
On Wednesday, in the ACT, the Canberra Museum and Gallery are hosting lunchtime storytelling with refugees and the organisations that support them about the current challenges faced by people fleeing to Australia.
In Perth, the documentary Freedom Street is showing on Thursday at Windsor Cinema. The film tells the story of three refugees stuck in Indonesia as a result of Australia’s border policies, highlighting the urgent need for change.
Finally, across Australia, Afghan refugee Muzafar Ali’s Watandar: My Countryman documentary is touring, with showings throughout the country. The film focuses on Ali’s quest to document Afghan cameleer descendant migrants to Australia, uncovering a forgotten aspect of the Australian outback and the people who make it up.