Australia: JRS opens new refugee shelter
07 January 2011

"Apart from one small apartment we had for women, we couldn’t house these people before. It’s really difficult to find crisis accommodation for women."

For the first time ever, Jesuit Refugee Service Australia will be able to accommodate entire refugee families after opening its latest shelter, a former boarding house in the Sydney beachside suburb of Manly.

The organisation recently held a housewarming party for the 13 residents – including a tiny baby - who will call the shelter home until their asylum applications are processed and they are able to get back on their feet.

"There are some rooms vacant but we are probably going to fill them soon," says JRS Project Coordinator Louise Stack. "It’s a real mix of couples, single men and women, and we’ll hopefully have some families in there soon."

Ms Stack says it is the first time since the inception of the JRS Shelter Project that the organisation has had additional capacity to house women, couples and families.

"Apart from one small apartment we had for women, we couldn’t house these people before. It’s really difficult to find crisis accommodation for women."

Elizabeth*, an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe, lives in the shelter with her three-month old daughter, who was born in Australia. She fled political persecution in her homeland, leaving behind a husband and three young children.

"I would love to [bring them to Australia], that’s what I’m actually hoping to do. But the thing is you can plan that you want to do this, you want to do that, but sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan. You just take it as it comes," she says.

Effectively a single mother for now, Elizabeth is grateful for the female companionship at the shelter, as well as the support of the JRS volunteers.

"They are very nice people, they are very supportive. It is nice to have other ladies here. I haven’t met many [local] people as yet. I know that one of our volunteers, she comes here if we need any assistance."

Despite the difficulty that comes with living in limbo a world away from home, Elizabeth is quick to praise the Australian government for allowing its citizens to live in peace. 

"Here, I find if people aren’t happy with their political leader they can say it out in the open and nothing happens to them. Whereas in Zimbabwe, even if they suspect that you are a supporter or if you think anything bad about the government you will be targeted, as well as your family. That actually gets everyone into trouble. I’ve realised that Australia is a very peaceful country."

Tashi, a Tibetan refugee living at the shelter, has been granted asylum after spending 18 years as a refugee in India. He is currently updating his qualifications.

"My father was a famous political prisoner in Tibet. When I was eight years old, I took two months climbing the mountains and crossing rivers, snow caps, through the Himalaya range [from Tibet to India]. It’s amazing, a very hard journey I took in my past life."

Tashi is thrilled with his new country, and enjoys the abundant sunshine of Manly. But despite its proximity to the ocean, Elizabeth is not sure about visiting the beach anytime soon.

 "Zimbabwe is a very landlocked country, there’s no water, so I’m so scared of water," she laughs. "I can’t go down there. I prefer the dry ground."

 *name has been changed to protect privacy

Catherine Marshall

Press Contact Information
Oliver White
+66 2 271 3632

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