We’ve all become desensitised. The incessant rate at which we witness coverage of humanitarian crises has heartbreakingly made many people glaze over at any new mention. This can lead people to close off, remain uninformed or misinformed, and even develop empathy fatigue. Bear with us, then, for just one short paragraph, while we share a few cold, hard facts.
Every day, just like this very Sunday, 440,400 people worldwide are forced to flee their homes. 2016 saw the highest levels of displacement on record in recent years, with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced worldwide due to conflict and persecution – that’s two-and-a-half times Australia’s ENTIRE population.
The challenge is to cut through that ’empathy fatigue’, sharing refugee stories in a meaningful, accessible way. As well as to ensure the optimistic stories are shared, alongside those of the horrors that have occurred.
One particularly genius response to this challenge comes from Sydney’s Cumberland Council, who have created the immersive, 12-day event, Refugee Camp In My Neighbourhood. Bringing together interactive installations, guided tours, and exhibitions taking visitors beyond the brain-numbing statistics, this initiative aims to connect Sydneysiders from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds with the rest of the community.
‘In its fifth year, Refugee Camp In My Neighbourhood continues to shed a personal light on the realities that refugees face when having to make the difficult decision to flee for reasons outside of their control,’ said Cumberland Mayor Greg Cummings. ‘Refugees are a vital part of our community. Through this project, we aim to educate people while celebrating the important contributions made by refugees in our neighbourhood and continuing to warmly welcome all.’
The initiative came about after a long process of consultation with members from refugee and asylum seeker groups. ‘They proposed the “journey simulation” idea, focusing on their shared, lived experience of coming to Australia – although these are quite different among people of diverse backgrounds, and span across a long history of many waves,’ explained Mia Cox, Community Participation Coordinator at Cumberland Council. ‘They wanted the opportunity to share their own stories on their terms, partly, I think, because refugees and asylum seekers can sometimes be represented in a way where the real, personal stories are missing.’
Event-goers can experience an immersive ‘refugee journey’ with simulations of fleeing home, crossing borders, living in a refugee camp, a boat journey, and ultimately resettlement in Australia.
The exhibition One Good Thing, featuring incredible portraits by Nikki To and text by writer Sophie McComas, will also be on display. This project shares seven diverse community members’ unique stories, following their arrival in Australia, focussing on ‘one good thing’ that has had a monumental impact on their new life here.
‘The most interesting thing about me now is that I go to yoga. I wait every week for this lesson,’ said Samih (Sam) Mousa, who features in the exhibition and was also helping prepare on-site when we visited. Born in Syria, he arrived in Australia in 2016. ‘When I call my friends and they ask “What are you doing in Australia, Samih?” and I tell them “I’m going to yoga!” they laugh and laugh… Some people my age who come from Iran or Syria or Lebanon, they really feel a shock and some of them have psychological problems, but meditation and yoga, or working in a team or a group really helps you feel better.’
In addition to the 12 days of tours, on Saturday, August 4th the Auburn Centre for Community will transform into a festival ground for Celebration in Our Neighbourhood. There will be vibrant market stalls, free workshops (Afghan tapestry, kite-making, rangoli design, mural painting and more), plus delicious food and entertainment reflecting the diverse community.
‘I think most of us hear a lot about refugees, and often have an opinion when it comes to the topic,’ added Mia Cox from Cumberland Council, ‘but the beautiful thing about this project is that it gives you the opportunity to make a connection with another person, a human being that has been through something that you have not experienced, helping you to build a deeper understanding of their story.’
Sydney residents, we hope you can make it, and tell your friends!
Celebration In Our Neighbourhood
Refugee Camp In My Neighbourhood tours and exhibitions (including One Good Thing) in addition to markets, workshops, food and entertainment.
Saturday, August 4th, 10am-4pm
The Auburn Centre for Community
44A Macquarie Road Auburn
Free, book here
*family-friendly tours run every 20 minutes. Auslan tours are also available.
Refugee Camp In Our Neighbourhood
Interactive journey tours and exhibitions
Monday, July 30th to Friday, August 10th
Group bookings only