Six days of sanctuary for refugees

FOR the Tamil asylum seekers being hosted by Warrnambool district families, Saturday’s Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve’s 150th anniversary celebrations aroused understandable empathy.

For many, the story of how the Aborigines on the Framlingham reserve suffered hardship and discrimination resonated with their own experience of fear and harassment in their home country, Sri Lanka.

The visit to the Framlingham anniversary celebrations was one of several events the 23 asylum seekers from seven families experienced during their six-day visit to the Warrnambool district, which finished on Monday. Their stay was co-ordinated by the Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) Warrnambool branch and was the second such hosting of asylum seekers the group has held this year.

One of the Tamils, George, said the visit to Warrnambool was the first time his family of four had been outside Melbourne.

He said the visit had been “fantastic” and they had been treated as part of the family by their Wangoom hosts.

The Warrnambool visit, organised through the Melbourne group “Home Among the Gum Trees,” was a positive step in a seven-year journey that George and his family embarked upon when they fled Sri Lanka during the height of its civil war in 2007. The family, which then comprised George, his wife and daughter, spent many years as “stateless” persons in Malaysia, enduring harassment from authorities.

They later fled to Indonesia where they were kept captive by people smugglers until taking a perilous boat journey to Christmas Island, off Australia’s north-west coast.

Rough seas and an engine failure put the asylum seekers on the boat in fear of their lives before they were rescued by the Australian navy.

During the past 20 months, George’s family has spent time in a detention camp on Christmas Island, in Adelaide and Melbourne.

George said his family, which grew to four in Australia, had a better life here but he worried about their application to be classed as refugees, which was still being processed.

They have been given temporary visas that allow them to stay in Australia for three years after which their application will be reviewed.

“After three years, depending on the situation in Sri Lanka, we can be sent back,” George said.

In the interim, he is unable to work.

RAR Warrnambool branch spokeswoman Katherine Stewart said the hostings gave local people an opportunity to show compassion for the asylum seekers, regardless of the politics of the controversial issue.

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