“At the time our legal team consisted of myself, a young man named Malik, who was a Pakistani refugee himself who we had helped get out of detention, and a legal student, Anita. The three of us would run the legal clinic and provide people seeking asylum with representation”.
“Back then, nothing had a plan to it, but it always had a purpose. We learned so many lessons around how when you have nothing to lose, but the people you support stand to lose everything, it infuses you with fearlessness and relentlessness and it spurs you to keep doing what is right. Every time a need would come up, like when someone would turn up without Medicare… we just needed to respond. I remember taking a student on placement and saying to them “You’re starting the first health service for people seeking asylum in Victoria, that’s your social work placement”. Two weeks later, it was up and running. By April 2002, Dr. Karen Phelps was in a 9 m2 room with a tiny desk officially launching the first ASRC Health Clinic.
“We took more students on placement, and one started an Employment service, another a casework service, another a counselling service. We just responded. And it was all done by volunteers.
“So many of the programs, a decade on, were still run by volunteers. 90% of what we see at the ASRC today is a perpetuation of what was already in place by 2004. It has been subject to growth and expansion, but it was all started by the volunteers who believed in us at an early stage. It was a time of incredible innovation, when everything was possible.