Armidale opens hearts to Rohingya refugees

For Australians the term refugee takes on a specific meaning. And that comes from our history.

In the years following the Second World War, Australia accepted many refugees. But unlike Europe and Africa, where refugees arrived at the border seeking asylum, refugees to Australia were brought here after being selected as “suitable” to come here by Australian officials. They were mostly white.

Regardless, our history means plenty of people still accept that refugees are people who have waited in refugee camps to be selected to come here.

In more recent times, the debate has been dominated by the boats issue. Because boats appearing on the horizon did not fit with the preconception Australians had of what a refugee was.

That has seen a nasty and often misleading public discourse take place about what refugees mean for our country and our community.

Armidale as a community has seen the benefit of accepting refugees. They’ve often experienced events in their life that breaks our hearts. News that Armidale could welcome 25 Rohingyas later this month is an example of that.

Human rights investigators denounced Myanmar's "long-standing persecution" of the Rohingya minority. 

The country has been widely criticised for denying citizenship and basic rights to Rohingya.

Thousands of Rohingya forced from their homes by violence have been living in apartheid-like conditions in displaced persons' camps.

Earlier this year Barnaby Joyce said he would do everything in his power to make sure refugees were welcome in Armidale.

The former Armidale Dumaresq Council was the first council in northern NSW to unanimously vote to become a refugee welcome zone in 2003.

And Armidale Sanctuary Humanitarian Settlement are to be commended for the role they play in trying to help refugees make a home here and then become a part of our community.

Our city’s refugee advocates say the reason they are pushing for change is because the benefits work both ways.

Despite the differing views on how many we should accept, we must acknowledge our community is a lot richer for accepting refugees.

We look forward to it continuing.