SSI Youth Collective steering committee member and refugee advocate Arash Bordbar was elected Chair of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) in June 2019.
Arash Bordbar creates awareness of issues faced by young refugees
APRRN is an open and growing network of more than 340 civil society organisations and individuals from 28 countries committed to advancing the rights of refugees in the Asia Pacific.
As a longstanding member, and a partner since 2017, SSI has supported APRRN’s activities in key areas, including joint advocacy for refugee rights at national, regional and international levels.
Other activities between the affiliated organisations include knowledge sharing and capacity-strengthening, addressing responses to key protection challenges focused on issues around legal aid, advocacy, refugee law, mental health, gender issues, statelessness, and alternatives to detention.
Mr Bordbar was an integral part of the SSI Youth Collective before receiving the Young Australian Human Rights Award in 2016 for his work with refugee youth. His advocacy work has strong connections with his own lived experience.
“My advocacy started more than ten years ago, the moment my family and I stepped foot in Malaysia after escaping to safety from Iran,” Mr Bordbar said.
“We found ourselves in a foreign land with no friends and no direction. The process with UNHCR was long and hard, and that was when I started my advocacy to help refugees, like myself, to find meaning in this world.”
Mr Bordbar is particularly passionate about education as he believes it is the first stepping stone to future happiness for many young refugees.
“Study was the most important thing for me when I was facing problems. If I could study, I could see people, become wiser, gain more knowledge, and get more hope,” he said.
“When you don’t have a good education, when you can’t study, you think you don’t really have a bright future.”
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said achievements like Mr Bordbar’s amplified refugee voices.
“These are the refugee lived experiences that truly illustrate what it means to walk in their shoes, and Arash is a great example of a young person who has referred to his own lived experience to advocate for others,” Ms Roumeliotis said.
“We are excited to continue work with Arash in his new appointment as Chair and to continue our partnership with the APRRN secretariat.”
Mr Bordbar fled his home in Iran at the age of 16 and arrived in Malaysia registering as a refugee with UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur. He spent five years there, where he completed his secondary education online, before being resettled in Australia in May 2015.
“As a refugee in Malaysia during that time, we had no access to education and employment since we were considered illegal immigrants,” he said.
While awaiting approval to come to Australia, Mr Bordbar finished his high school studies and picked up conversational English. He then developed fluent English skills and began volunteering as a translator for a not-for-profit refugee organisation.
Mr Bordbar went on to volunteer for the UNHCR, where he spent two years providing translation services and helping other refugees and asylum seekers to navigate life in Malaysia.
After being resettled in Australia, Mr Bordbar enrolled in university and, in 2016, was nominated to be the Australian delegate to the UNHCR-led Global Refugee Youth Consultation in Geneva.
His involvement led to the establishment of the Global Youth Advisory Council, a mechanism ensuring that youth voices are taken into consideration during the UNHCR decision-making process.
Mr Bordbar has been working with APRRN since 2016 and now sees an opportunity not only to build a strong network but also to help refugees find their voices during moments that matter the most.
“I believe that inclusivity should always be part of the conversations and planning, as we should make sure that every human being has an equal opportunity to be heard and represented,” said Mr Bordbar.
“As the chair of APRRN, I would personally like to make sure that we continue to fight for the rights of refugees and provide support as needed to make sure that people are represented equally and fairly. Together we can make it happen.”
Learn more about the Youth Collective.