SEEKING ASYLUM: OUR STORIES

The voices Australia should hear

Seeking Asylum: Our Stories introduces readers to the lives of some incredible people. This stunning new coffee table photo book, published in partnership with Black Inc. shares stories of the resilience, courage, love and hope of people seeking asylum in their own words.

Contributors share how they came to be in Australia, and explore diverse aspects of their lives: growing up in a refugee camp, studying for a PhD, changing attitudes through soccer, being Muslim in a small country town, campaigning against racism, surviving detention, holding onto culture, and dreaming of being reunited with family.

Accompanied by beautiful portrait photographs, these stories of seeking asylum show the depth and diversity of people’s experience and trace the impact of Australia’s immigration policies.

100% of the proceeds from Seeking Asylum: Our Stories will be reinvested by the ASRC to fund projects that build people’s capacity to tell their story in their own way and provide opportunities to amplify their voices.

To support people seeking asylum through the ASRC and help further amplify the voices of people seeking asylum, you can pre-order the book via the link below.

Refugees and people seeking asylum are the most courageous, resilient and resourceful people. They love their families so deeply that they have crossed the earth to find sanctuary. These are stories that all people should hear.

Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM, CEO, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

MEET SOME OF THE CONTRIBUTORS

GHOFRAN

Gained her PhD as a mature-age student and now lectures in biomedicine

“I loved primary school and as a child I dreamed of becoming a doctor. Inside the cover of our school books there was a picture of the president, Saddam Hussein. One day I was drumming on his face with my pencil, thinking of all the things Saddam’s government did that my father objected to. I tapped until I made holes in his eyes. If someone had seen this, it would have been very dangerous for my family: we could have been killed. I hid the book for an entire year inside our house. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my mum. I was just nine years old, holding all this fear inside me.

When I was in Grade Six, my family fled Iraq and I missed a year of school. I spent six years in a Saudi Arabian refugee camp in the desert. Over 20,000 people lived there, in tents with no fridges or air conditioning. To cool down we would dip a bit of fabric in water and cover ourselves with it. But after five minutes it was dry again. There were no showers and long queues for the toilets.

One day the camp opened a school in a tiny caravan – I was so happy. When the teacher asked me what year I was in, I lied and said I was in Year Seven because I didn’t want to repeat a year. I had already lost so much time. Later, we travelled to Iran, but we weren’t treated as citizens there. There was little freedom and no future.”

GORDON

A musician spreading peace,
love and unity

“Back home, I would be recognised wherever I walked. If you know music in South Sudan, then you know me. I think my success is because the themes of my songs always focus on peace, love and unity.

Yes, I am blind, but that does not make any difference. Perhaps, if I was not blind, I would never have become a musician. Perhaps I never would have learnt to play the Thom (a wooden banjo-like instrument from the Upper Nile region).

31 years ago, I decided that I would be a musician and I am sticking by that career choice today. This is my skill, my passion and a performance of my culture; it is very important to not leave your culture behind.

I miss playing my songs live to the Nuer community, but unfortunately politicians and their wars have destroyed much of South Sudan and taken the lives of so many of my friends. When you come to another country seeking asylum, it’s not because you don’t love your country, it’s because you have no choice.

When people come to Australia seeking asylum, they are very stressed, dealing with trauma and separation from family in a new foreign land. I believe that it takes a community to help someone feel safe again. Through comfort, counselling and feeling welcome, people seeking asylum can rebuild their lives, maybe find a job and start to feel normal again – it takes a lot of love.

This next album, titled ‘Unity’, has some songs like ‘Asylum Seeker’ that I have written to give hope to all people seeking safety. I still need that hope myself as I have not hugged my children in four years. With that hope, I can trust that we will be united together soon.”

BETELHEM

A human rights activist and survivor of offshore processing on Nauru

“I was on the boat for six days. I was the only Ethiopian, so I couldn’t communicate with anyone. It was very scary and I was young – I turned twenty-one on the boat. We ran out of food and, on the fifth day, petrol. I didn’t think we would survive. There was a big storm and the boat started to leak. On the sixth day, Australian border force found us and took us to Darwin. After five days, guards came in the middle of the night and asked, ‘Do you want to go to Nauru?’ I didn’t know what they meant. They told me there were education facilities there, good medical treatment and fair processes. I trusted them so I agreed to go. Ten of us, all women, were taken to Nauru. When we arrived, we saw tents and lots of children and families crying. I was confused. Because I was the only Ethiopian, I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. For ten months we didn’t have phones, television or radio, so there was no way to find out where
I was. We were the first people transferred to Nauru and the detention centre was still being built. When we did get a phone, we were only allowed to use it once a month for fifteen minutes. If your family didn’t answer, that was your chance gone.”

Every copy of Seeking Asylum: Our Stories that is purchased will help fund projects like the ASRC’s Community Advocacy and Power Program, which provides people with lived experience of seeking asylum with training to become storytellers, advocates and most importantly, leaders in the community.

Available in national book stores in late November, Seeking Asylum: Our Stories is an invitation for people to learn more about the diversity of people’s experiences, and redefine their assumptions about people who have sought safety.

As a compelling argument for a kinder, more compassionate Australia, the book includes a foreword by Liliana Maria, an essay by Abdul Karim Hekmat, and an afterword by ASRC CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM. A section by Human Rights Lawyer Julian Burnside QC OAM & the ASRC’s Jana Favero demistifies Australia’s asylum policies and history and equips people to take action toward creating a more welcoming and fair Australia.

Our immense gratitude goes to Black Inc. Publishers who have supported the ASRC’s work for many years. They have generously donated the cost of all publishing services completely gratis, with all proceeds from the sale of the book helping to fund the ASRC’s investment in capacity building projects owned and run by people with lived experience.