Refugee Week is Australia's peak annual activity to inform the public about refugees and celebrate positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society. The first Refugee Week events were organised in Sydney in 1986 by Austcare. In 1987, Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) became a co-organiser of the week, which became a national event from 1988. RCOA took on responsibility for the national coordination of Refugee Week from 2004. Major-General Paul Cullen, the foundation president of both Austcare and RCOA, actively lobbied, from the 1980s, for a global annual celebration of the contribution of refugees. His dream was achieved in 2001, when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) coordinated the first World Refugee Day (June 20).
Refugee Week provides a platform where positive images of refugees can be promoted in order to create a culture of welcome throughout the country. The ultimate aim of the celebration is to create better understanding between different communities and to encourage successful integration enabling refugees to live in safety and to continue making a valuable contribution to Australia.
Over the past 15 years, Refugee Week celebrations have developed in a number of other countries. While there are minor differences in the dates for Refugee Week, all include World Refugee Day (June 20). In Australia, Refugee Week is scheduled to ensure that it does not clash with public holidays in any Australian state or territory.
The aims of Refugee Week are:
- to educate the Australian public about who refugees are and why they have come to Australia;
- to help people understand the many challenges refugees face coming to Australia;
- to celebrate the contribution refugees make to our community;
- to focus on how the community can provide a safe and welcoming environment for refugees;
- for community groups and individuals to do something positive for refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people, within Australia but also around the world;
- for service providers to reflect on whether they are providing the best possible services to refugees.
Refugee Week is a unique opportunity for us all to experience and celebrate the rich diversity of refugee communities through theatre, music, dance, film and other events which take place all over Australia and highlight the aims of the Week, as outlined above. Refugee Week is an umbrella participatory festival which allows a wide range of refugee community organisations, voluntary and statutory organisations, local councils, schools, student groups and faith-based organisations to host events during the week.
Past events have included football tournaments, public talks, exhibitions, music and dance festivals, theatre projects and film screenings. Everyone is welcome to participate in promoting the aims of Refugee Week – the more the merrier!
Through Refugee Week we aim to provide an important opportunity for asylum seekers and refugees to be seen, listened to and valued.