At a members’ forum held last month interviewers Amalie Mannik and Kim Nefyn spoke of the “amazing” assignment which gave them a new insight into the lives of refugees and their contribution to the South Australian community.
Funded through a bequest from the South Australian Council of Churches, the project involved interviews with 16 refugees/asylum seekers. A few of the individuals had received negative determinations and were in the process of appealing those decisions. Eighty per cent of those interviewed had come to Australia by boat.
Reflecting on their involvement, Amalie and Kim said while they had been told heart-rending stories, what stood out was the sense of positivity of the refugees and their desire to “give back” to the country that had taken them in.
“It was not just the sad stories, but listening to the positive, the resilience and the humour that comes with everyone’s lives. I found that inspiring,” said Kim.
“When they were talking about why they left (by boat) they said they understood the risks, but the hell they had lived through for many years of persecution and war… they were willing to take the risk. Family members had died, but they still had to do it.”
Amalie said she felt “privileged” to conduct the interviews and noted that on arrival she was greeted by the smells of a “feast” that had been prepared in her honour.
“They were very welcoming and it was a humbling experience,” she said. She was aware that the families and individuals had little money yet they were unfailingly generous.
“What came through was the resilience in the face of adversity. The stories of perseverance, the stories of how people reframed the experience to make meaning for them, stories of resourcefulness, stories of how someone can be at their lowest point and have nothing, and they can build a life.
Finding kindness in an unexpected place
“It was amazing to see the skills and contributions people are making to Australian society and their eagerness to be able to do that.
“People studying English were saying that while they were getting support at the moment, this was leading them to paying taxes and paying back to society. It was very much a transient stage and their attitude was that they would pay back.”
Both interviewers said everyone was grateful for the support they had received from the Mercy House of Welcome and Circle of Friends.
“The people interviewed also said everyone in Australia was so friendly, that they could walk to the shops and smile at them and they would smile back. They felt quite welcomed,” Kim added.
As part of the project, four support workers were also interviewed about their work with refugees.
Amalie said she was surprised that these were the “more emotive” interviews.
“There was frustration about the system they were working in and the systems they had to navigate,” she said.
Kim added she was “amazed” by the support workers’ “capacity and commitment” to the individuals and families.
“It’s a challenging and turbulent area to be in,” she said.
The interviews will be used by J4RSA for promotional purposes to help educate the public about the contribution refugees are making to the community.