About 1000 people celebrated World Refugee Day by enjoying the talents and culture on display at SSI’s New Beginnings Refugee Arts and Culture Festival, on June 20.
The festival was billed as a “celebration of hope, unity and new beginnings” on the United Nations’ World Refugee Day to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
SSI General Manager Peter Zographakis said at the festival, at Addison Road Community Centre, Marrickville, that the occasion had given the community opportunity to consider the huge contributions people from refugee backgrounds made to Australian society and culture.
“Refugee week has also given us the opportunity to acknowledge and discuss the challenges refugees face and the resilience they show to overcome these challenges,” Mr Zographakis said. “One of the many positive ways refugees, former refugees and their families, contribute to our society is by adding their creative talents and expressions to Australia’s diverse culture. And that is what we are here to celebrate today.”
New Beginnings Ambassador Matt Huynh, a professional illustrator and cartoonist, also spoke at the event, reflecting on his parents’ journey to Australia as refugees. Mr Huynh said his parents were refugees from Vietnam, who travelled to Australia by boat after a period in a Malaysian refugee camp. His mother, he said, was in her early 20s at the time.
Mr Huynh said he was incredibly grateful to his parents for their bravery, which had allowed him to live in Australia and follow his dreams.
SSI Case Manager Tenneh Kpaka, a former refugee from Sierra Leone, sang a song she had written to thank Australia for protecting her and her children.
“I have a refugee background and I know what it is like,” Ms Kpaka said. “I know what you feel during the resettlement process and about the fracture of identity. Advocating for refugees and asylum seekers is my passion, my story and my life. This is why I wanted to participate in this festival.”
There were 48 individuals from refugee backgrounds participating in the festival as performers, artists, film writers and directors and market stall holders.
The festival was initiated and organised by SSI Arts & Culture Coordinator Carolina Triana, who said she hoped the festival would continue and grow in future.
"The New Beginnings Festival was an opportunity for communities to come together and acknowledge the diversity, skills and contributions made to Australia by people from refugee backgrounds,” Ms Triana said. “I believe we achieved that. The atmosphere during the day was one of celebration and unity between communities.
"Seeing the artists and stallholders networking and collaborating with each other on the day was a big highlight for me. And, the feedback from the audience and festival participants has been overwhelmingly positive. We hope to bring New Beginnings back next year and make it a regular feature in the Refugee Week events calendar"