WHEN Methodist reverend John Jegasothy brought his family to Australia to escape pogroms in Sri Lanka during the 1980s, not many understood what a refugee was.
His family, with young sons James and Edward ” then 18 months and four years of age ” was embraced by the NSW country town of Parkes, welcome to join in all the normal sporting and community groups and activities.
An experience like that tends to shape a person and James is now the WA director of Welcome to Australia, a not-for-profit organisation formed in 2011 and committed to the vision of an inclusive, welcoming and just Australia.
He is instrumental in bringing Walk Together Day to Victoria Park for the first time, an event designed to provide a welcome for refugees, 180 of whom settled in Victoria Park between 2009 and 2013.
The Town recently declared itself a Refugee Council of Australia Refugee Welcome Zone and the third annual event, will move out of Fremantle for the first time.
‘I think back when people didn’t understand the bigger picture of what refugees were so even though we were different, like the Chinese family in town that ran the Chinese restaurant and the Greek family that had the fish and chip shop, we were treated the same,’ Mr Jegasothy said.
He said times had sadly changed and Australia was no longer the welcoming society it once was for refugees.
‘All the talk of terror, job losses, disease and government policy on asylum seekers has clouded the community’s recognition of the basic human needs of a stranger,’ he said.
‘Everyone wants to be part of a community, feel a sense of belonging, to be accepted.’
He encouraged communities to embrace fellow humans and for refugees to interact with their new communities.
The Walk Together Day will include games, music, sports, food stalls, markets and free halal barbecue, as well as the Town’s signing of a ‘Refugee Welcome Zone’ Declaration followed by a balloon release.
‘By starting a conversation and breaking down barriers we start to see our common dreams and values, like wanting to be able to raise our families in a safe and nurturing environment,’ Victoria Park Mayor Trevor Vaughan said.
WHAT:Walk Together Day
WHERE: John McMillan Park, Kent Street, East Victoria Park
WHEN: 11am-3.30pm, Saturday, October 25