Refugee Camp in My Neighbourhood

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Rennae Sillett, MoDDD student

The Sydney suburb of Auburn, 19 kilometres west of the CBD, is one of Australia’s most diverse neighbourhoods. It also has a very interesting demographic record. First, it has Sydney’s highest rate of natural population increase – when births outnumber deaths. Second, It is one of the most popular destinations in the city for overseas migrants; and third, within a few years, more people move on from Auburn than just about anywhere else in Sydney.

How do you explain this?

Auburn is home to a large number of refugees.

Refugee Camp in My Neighbourhood is a simulated refugee camp set up for a few weeks each year in the grounds of the Auburn Centre for Community to help people experience what it’s like to flee your country and try to find safety.

Auburn’s diverse refugee and asylum seeker communities designed and operated the simulated camp, which seeks to engage, educate and celebrate the contribution that refugees bring to Australian society. At the camp, the tour guides communicated their journey to Australia through the aid of videos, sounds, pictures, life sized props, activities and acting. Many tour guides spoke about how their families were split up, or how life was living in a refugee camp, while others articulated their experience of being trapped on a tiny boat in search for a safer life. Those who do make it to Australia still continue to face both immediate and long-term challenges such as not having enough ID to prove their identity, overcoming language barriers and accepting cultural differences, among other hurdles.

The event helped set the context for my Industry Research project, which will explore “memories of home” for refugees resettled in Auburn. While this experience did not change my perspective of refugees and asylum seekers – I was already intensely aware of many of their struggles – it certainly offered a unique opportunity to step into their shoes and temporarily forget about my own troubles. `

“Some things cannot be learned by ‘Google’ or reading – it takes hearing real stories to understand” was a comment made in the reflection at the end of the experience, demonstrating our shared values and a need to connect with others on a human level.

A video about the simulated camp experience can be found at: