About 120 people attended the Pitt St Uniting Church on June 18 for the launch of Refugee Week, which was the themed “Freedom from Fear”.
Five women singers from Sierra Leone in traditional dress and headgear opened the event, which was hosted by the Refugee Council of Australia and NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors.
The chairperson, SBS Dateline’s Yalda Hakim, who is also a former refugee from Afghanistan, said she had just returned from Tunisia where 100,000 foreign workers are crossing the border to escape the fighting in Libya.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a signatory.
A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative told the gathering that 5 million people have been living in dire circumstances as refugees for more than 15 years.
There are about 11 million refugees registered with the UN and 80% of these are in developing countries, not the developed countries.
About 2 million refugees are hosted in Pakistan alone. Last year, less than 200,000 people were able to return home, the lowest figure in 20 years. About 30% of refugees are less than 18 years of age.
There is a great need for the international community to take action and invest in peace to prevent more people becoming refugees.
A young Sudanese refugee from the Illawarra area, Grazia, was the keynote speaker.
She spoke of her experiences of trying to adjust to a new country, culture and language and the hard work it required to make that adjustment.