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Community and refugees come together to celebrate TAFE access

The positive impact of access to free TAFE courses for refugees and people seeking asylum was celebrated on November 16 at St Stephens Uniting Church, Sydney.

The Deputy Premier John Barilaro addresses the audience at the TAFE celebration event Photo: Charles Rich
The Deputy Premier John Barilaro addresses the audience at the TAFE celebration event Photo: Charles Rich

Uniting Social Justice Forum (SJF) and members of the Uniting Church, including NSW-ACT Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford, joined the gathering along with Deputy Premier John Barilaro to recognise the fee-free initiative, a result of campaigning by the Sydney Alliance alongside other organisations in the refugee sector. Uniting and the wider church are partners in the Alliance and were active in the campaign.

The celebration showcased the diversity of organisations that were involved – including the Jewish Board of Deputies, Sydney Catholic Schools, and Settlement Services International.

The campaign was part of a broader Sydney Alliance initiative working to change the conversation around people seeking asylum by supporting newcomers to share their stories of seeking safety in Australia at Table Talk events. Members of Uniting Church congregations were among hundreds across Sydney who attended Table Talks and signed and sent bookmarks to Mr Barilaro, showing the groundswell of community support for free access to TAFE for people seeking asylum.

Those gathered heard stories of newcomers from Iran, Syria and Pakistan who had studied at TAFE for free this year and who expressed their deep gratitude for the opportunity. They spoke about how being able to study and develop their skills helped them to build confidence, participate in the community and be able to contribute to society.

Damon Amb, who shared his story at the TAFE celebration event, is a photographer from Karaj, Iran. His work incorporates photography, digital painting, collage and textural details with the intention to recreate a meaningful memory of a place or experience. Damon arrived in Australia in 2013 as an asylum seeker, and was kept in detention for around two months. This image is entitled “A Rock Bowl of Sea Weed and Blood”, 2015. For more information visit http://damonartstudio.com/. Photo: Damon Amb

Damon Amb, who shared his story at the TAFE celebration event, is a photographer from Karaj, Iran. His work incorporates photography, digital painting, collage and textural details with the intention to recreate a meaningful memory of a place or experience. Damon arrived in Australia in 2013 as an asylum seeker, and was kept in detention for around two months. This image is entitled “A Rock Bowl of Sea Weed and Blood”, 2015. For more information visit http://damonartstudio.com/. Photo: Damon Amb

Mr Barilaro was visibly moved by these personal stories, saying he was “lost for words”. He agreed that “the narrative around asylum seekers and refugees has spoilt our story”, reminding the audience that this country is made richer by those who come to rebuild their lives here. The Deputy Premier, who is also Minister for Skills, congratulated the Alliance and its leaders for their persistence and hard work in the campaign.

In closing the event, Alex Hogan from Uniting Social Justice Forum and Co-Chair of the Sydney Alliance People Seeking Asylum Team, applauded the work of civil society in this campaign as key to “making the dream of so many to access education, a reality”. To be able to involve refugees and people seeking asylum in this campaign and to “empower those directly impacted to be a part of their own movement” was “real power”, Ms Hogan said.

With more work still to be done to improve the lives of people seeking asylum in the community, the Sydney Alliance and Uniting Social Justice Forum now look forward to organising future Table Talks in Uniting Church communities and beyond, and embarking on further campaigns on this issue.

 

For information on how to get involved with the Sydney Alliance People Seeking Asylum Campaign and take action on this issue, contact Alex Hogan at the SJF: ahogan@uniting.org / 02 9407 3230.

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