Refugee reality comes to Canberra

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 08 Jun 2010

International aid agency Oxfam Australia today called on Canberra’s politicians to step out of their offices and cross Lake Burley Griffin to experience life as a refugee in a mock refugee camp.

Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett said the ‘Refugee Realities’ Camp was a unique experience that allowed all Australians to better understand the dangers faced by refugees around the world forced to flee their homes in search of safety for them and their families.

“We hear a lot about boats and policies when we discuss refugees in Australia but we don’t hear a lot about people and their experiences,” Mr Hewett said. “This event aims to change that.

“Refugees are ordinary people thrust into extraordinary and often terrifying circumstances. Refugee Realities simulates what it’s like to be in the position of a refugee – people visiting will have to flee their homes, be separated from their family, navigate a difficult journey, collect water and food to survive, build a shelter and experience the struggle of life in a refugee camp.

“These are things that are thankfully outside the experience of most Australians, but Oxfam hopes that providing this experience will go some way towards informing the refugee debate in Australia,” Mr Hewett said.

Refugee Realities is open to the public and nearly 3,000 schoolchildren will visit the event over the next two weeks.

The camp is modeled on real refugee camps in countries like Sudan and Pakistan, and Oxfam has drawn on its experience, as well as that of other international agencies including UNHCR and the Australian Red Cross, to make the experience as realistic as possible. Refugee Realities has also been partially funded by presenting partner AusAID.

The event has been coordinated by Nghia Nguyen-Le, a former refugee whose family fled the war in Vietnam.

“I was 14-months old when we first tried to escape Vietnam. My family initially had to split up, and the boat my mother and I were on broke down. We were lucky to escape detection and to be reunited with my father and sister in Saigon. We tried again as a family and managed to escape by boat to Malaysia, where we spent six months in a refugee camp,” Ms Nguyen-Le said.

“We were so lucky that the community in Inverell in New South Wales then sponsored us to come to Australia. A group of strangers provided us with so much support and were so welcoming. I don’t think my family would be where they are today without their support.”

Australia currently accepts 13,750 refugees a year, out of the 42 million people that the UN has estimated have been uprooted by conflict and persecution.

Refugee Realities runs between Monday 7 June and Sunday 20 June at Stage 88, Commonwealth Park, Canberra. Visit

For more information or to interview Andrew Hewett or Nghia Nguyen-Le contact Kate Thwaites on 0407 515 559, email