It was fitting that Refugee Week 2018 was celebrated in Mingoola on Tuesday, June 19 with the Department of Home Affairs (formerly Department of Immigration) NSW and ACT regional director Lesley Dalton joining the Mingoola community to mark the success of its refugee program.
“The government theme for this year’s Refugee Week is ‘Refugee Entrepreneurship and Regional Employment’, celebrating refugees who enrich our communities through their businesses in many ways,” Ms Dalton said.
“Refugees have to overcome many challenges, but they don’t come as a burden. They have their own skills and talents. Many go on to build successful careers in business, education, sports and the arts.
“When I look around here I can see the benefits of successful refugee settlement.”
She said the Australian refugee program increased its intake to 16,250 during the 2017/18 year just closing.
MC Phillip Harpham – who, together with wife Julia, spearheaded the resettlement of three refugee families in Mingoola to reinvigorate the community – said it was timely to remember the 66 million people displaced around the world at this time.
In introducing Emmanuel Musoni, Great Lakes Agency for Peace and Development director who connected the Mingooola community with the refugee families willing to relocate, Mr Harpham said the community had embraced him as a great friend.
Mr Musoni was pleased that Ms Dalton had chosen to celebrate Refugee Week in Mingoola, noting that of the 65 million refugees a large number are from Africa. He expressed his concern over the US halving its humanitarian intake since 2016, urging Australia to increase its efforts to help compensate.
Mr Musoni said the Burundi/Congo area from which the Mingoola refugee families originate is a very troubled area, probably second only to Syria in the need for resettlement.
“No-one prepares to be a refugee,” he said.
“They just wake up, in surprise, as a refugee.”
Mr Musoni said families often escape trauma in their own country only to find themselves sandwiched by fighting groups in the next country, and often again in the country after that.
“Today, these families can celebrate a life far away from the guns and machetes. We thank the Australian Government for being so generous.”
Mr Musoni said not only did the project give the refugees a chance but also the Mingoola community.
“Two years down the road, this community could have been looking very different.”
The families have applied for relatives still in Africa to join them, and Mr Musoni said welcoming them would mean an even more vibrant, lively community with more students in the local school and more visitors on occasions like today.
Mr Musoni interpreted for refugee patriarch Isaac Icimpaye who described his family’s refugee journey, fleeing their country with three young children and spending the next 13 years in refugee camps, eating leaves off trees for sustenance and often having no water.
“Many died,” he said.
“I thank Australia. It is well-known around the world as a generous country.”
He said his family’s acceptance into Australia felt like a 1000 kilogram weight being lifted from his shoulders, but he fears for those still living the life he came from.
“Refugees don’t have a value,” he said.
Amanda Barwick of the Regional Australia Institute, a thinktank on regional affairs, said many people are taking about ‘the Mingoola Project’.
“We want to see this happen in many rural communities,” she said.
The institute’s economic research indicates the positive impact being achieved by regional migration, citing Mingoola and 12 other communities the institute has profiled where schools are filling up, local businesses are thriving and new homes are being built for the first time in many years.
She emphasised, however, that you can’t take a blanket approach to refugee settlement.
“You’ve got to match the right people with the right community,” she said.
She has been approached by not only media organisations across the country but even the New York Times wanting to find out about Mingoola.
“So it’s a big ‘well done’ to the Mingoola community,” she said.
Here’s a video of the entire presentation...