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National Refugee Week | Doing responsible business in armed conflict | Gift of life

19 June 2020

National Refugee Week

Hi everyone,

This week is National Refugee Week, when Australians celebrate refugees and the positive contributions they’ve made to our society for so many years.

The theme this year is “2020 Year of Welcome” – and our focus is about ensuring that refugees’ voices are heard and inform our understanding.

This year, as well as lots of online celebrations Red Cross wanted to better understand the advice and expertise of our own Red Cross people – staff, volunteers, members – who come from a refugee background. This included Abdi who shared his story on social media about being a team leader in Emergency Relief; Samira shared her story on ABC radio; Dahkeel Samoqe and Saeed Smoqi spoke about volunteering in Wagga, and on Wednesday, Gop Gai steered us through an all staff online session, with Mohammad, Banafsheh, Vincent and Amnah sharing not only their stories, but their advice for Red Cross people.

They talked about what we can all do, from supporting newly arrived families in our schools, to the critical importance of dignified, meaningful and stable work, to the importance of listening to understand. Vincent (who we discovered was also an inventor) talked about the importance of a simple smile as “welcome” and young people as contributors. Banafsheh urged us to go beyond altruism and question our own “opinions, words and actions as well as challenge and replace policies which help create injustice”, and Amnah brought home the pain of seeking asylum and knowing she could not see her mother again.

Our colleague Samira shared how she left her home in Iran at 7 years old along with her siblings and parents, in very cold conditions, for a better life.

“As an asylum seeker, it was very very hard, specifically for my parents. We were in a community detention where we had limited rights to education and employment, there was regulation around what time we had to be out and what time we had to be inside the house. There was a lot of stress for my parents around visa processes and uncertainty of what the future held for us. Despite all that, the greatest thing that made our journey easy was our lovely neighbourhood that welcomed us in the community and their homes and made us feel like, even though we were in community detention, that neighbourhood was our home at that time,” recalls Samira of her time as a person seeking asylum in Turkey.

You can listen to Samira’s story from this interview clip that was aired on ABC Brisbane.

Every day, we see the extraordinary challenges faced by those who seek a new life in Australia after fleeing their homes and the extraordinary resilience and strength in working through those challenges. Of course COVID-19 has made this all the more challenging. 

Below are some words from Mohammad, who shared his final thoughts.

“Refugees and asylum seekers who call Australia home, contribute as much to the community as the next Australian citizen. Yet, they are ordinary people like you and I, who have lost everything. They’ve left their entire lives and all their memories behind, often with just the clothes on their backs. They come here to start over. They want to make sure their kids can go to school. They want to work, and they want to contribute to our communities. Just like us, they seek a life of dignity, freedom and security…If there is one thing, I would like you to take away from today, it’s this; by definition, refugees are survivors. They have survived because of their courage, ingenuity and creativity. If we support them to recover from their persecution and rebuild their lives in Australia, Australia will reap the benefits.”

And we certainly are as an organisation. It is such a privilege to listen and learn from our colleagues' expertise and experience. Thanks for sharing your stories and please continue to share your advice, your expertise and your feedback on how we can do better, to listen and to act.

This week we take time to reflect, recognise and celebrate their contributions to our communities. It's about raising awareness and providing a platform for them to share their stories, their experiences searching for safety and their new lives in Australia. This includes helping people grapple with fears and misconceptions. 

You can watch this video of Craig Foster (former Socceroo and advocate for human rights​) and Hakeem al-Araibi discussing Hakeem's experiences as a refugee, and Red Cross' In Search of Safety work. 

You can also read about Yazidi brothers Dahkeel Samoqe and Saeed Smoqi who were reunited in Wagga Wagga and are now part of a team of volunteers who have been cooking 500 meals a week for those in need during the COVID-19 lockdown.  

Doing responsible business in armed conflict

The International Humanitarian Law (IHL) department has been busy adapting to a rapidly changing world and organisation over the past few months, particularly as geographic boundaries become largely irrelevant to their dissemination work. They’ve taken up the challenge to run the annual law student moot court competition virtually – meaning we’ve been able to draw on judges from across the country including senior government lawyers and even a justice of the High Court of Australia – it’s also resulted in the highest number of participants we’ve ever seen!

We are working with our IHL Advisory Committees to shift our geographic dissemination mindset to a national one and looking at how we work together as a coordinated network on a range of virtual dissemination activities. And we’ve managed to maintain most of our training commitment with the Australian Defence Forces by moving our presentations online. By removing geographic constraints, we have seen our IHL work become more inclusive, reach greater audiences and better use the talents and skills across the country of our staff, volunteers and collective networks.

In addition, last week Fauve Kurnadi from the IHL team was able to present at the UN Virtual Forum on Responsible Business and Human Rights for the Asia Pacific at the invitation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, another opportunity that wouldn’t have been possible had the forum not moved to an online format. During her session Fauve presented to government, business and civil-society leaders from across the region and took the opportunity to profile our newly launched resource ‘Doing Business in Armed Conflict’ which has been published in partnership with RMIT.

The future of armed conflict is very different to our perceptions of ‘war’ and conflict. It is about cyberspace and technology. It is about urban warfare. It is about borderless and invisible battles which disable critical supports for societies. And it is also about the increasing role of the private sector and companies. Despite all these massive shifts, the focus for us is always and will always be on those people and communities impacted by war and conflict. By working with companies and businesses we are reaching many more organisations involved in war and conflict to work with them on the importance of international humanitarian law (or the ‘laws or war’) to ensure that the impact on people and communities stays at the forefront of the minds of leaders whichever sector they work on.

Finally, the IHL team have also been doing their part to support Australian Red Cross through this turbulent time, providing advisory support on applying the Fundamental Principles, our auxiliary role and logo use, but also by lending their talents and skills where we need them most. IHL staff have been supporting other teams with secondments in the legal team, government relations and emergency services, funnelling talents and skills to where we need them most during COVID-19 and adapting to working in a virtual environment.

The downside of all working remotely is that colleagues in the Melbourne office haven't been able to see the growth of Yvette’s beautiful belly as her baby has grown. We are very excited though about being back in the office to be there when Yvette and the baby can visit.

Celebrating Red Cross, Red Crescent – a virtual gathering

Every year, thousands of volunteers from all over the world gather together in Solferino (Italy), where the idea of the Red Cross and Red Crescent was born, to celebrate our Movement.

This year, due to the current circumstances, the Movement has decided to host a virtual world-wide fiaccolata – a candlelight procession – organised with the Italian Red Cross.

Join the Movement on Wednesday 24 June at 9pm AEST (13:00 CEST), where we will get together virtually to light candles and hear from our Red Cross and Red Crescent youth and volunteers, who will share their stories about why they choose to be part of the Red Cross and Red Crescent family.

There will also be a live stream directly from Solferino, where Italian Red Cross volunteers will light the first torches, followed by a chain of lights from all corners of the world.

Prior to the event, you can also join in by posting videos and photos of yourselves lighting a candle or simply passing one on, using the hashtag #PassTheTorch. We will create a moment of unity and shared humanity connecting every part of the world, streamed on IFRC Facebook/LinkedIn/YouTube/Twitter channels. 

Gift of life

This week also marks National Blood Donor Week which runs from 14-20 June. Every year, our colleagues at the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood mark this week by celebrating donors for their generosity and urging other to join them in donating.

Australia’s blood donors made 1.5 million donations in the past year. A huge thank you to everyone who has provided this lifesaving gift.

Have a read of this story of Launceston’s Simon Hughes who donated his blood 472 times (with no signs of stopping!) and Greg Archer who completed his 127th donation during Blood Donor Week. 

That’s all for this week.