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How is everyone doing in these very strange times? With millions losing their jobs, some their homes and some hope itself, it is a time for us to reach out and support each other.  If you need assistance in any way with shopping or any other task, please reach out to the Committee. If we can help, we will.
 
As we enter another month of restrictions we are at last hearing via mainstream media about how the Covid-19 lock down is affecting refugees in hotels and detention centres in Australia. The news is not good of course with conditions worsening, the quality of food deteriorating and guards who have been on duty becoming infected. Large numbers of those on temporary visas or on community detention of course are without work and not eligible for government assistance. Many are tirelessly working behind the scenes keeping up the pressure on the government. If you would like to join the letter writing campaign, please let us know and we can add you to our email distribution list.
 
Despite limitations on how we can raise funds, we have committed to keep our regular donations going to a number of groups here and on Manus to offer basic support with the purchase of clothes and phone credit mainly. We are asking anyone who is missing their daily coffee to consider donating the cost of that coffee to us via the donate button on our website. If you would like a short bit of information to send to friends or family working from home to encourage their workplace to donate, we can provide!
 
We are still seeking donations of working mobiles (with chargers) and laptops for refugees. Again we'd appreciate it if you asked around your friends and family. With so many people doing a clean out I am sure there must be a few nestling at the back of drawers.
 
Despite the limitations on public gatherings, we are planning a series of open meetings for members and volunteers. These will be held on Saturday afternoons 4-6pm via Zoom. Zoom is free for those joining, and it is easy to use. If you have never used Zoom before and would like a walk through, we can set up test meetings with you. Advice on the subjects will come via a direct email to you if these are organised between newsletters. The first open Zoom meeting will focus on a project known as Operation not Forgotten where we will be joined by a group in Canberra who are working to get as many men from Manus into Canada. As soon as we have a date we will advise you by email.
 
We have to keep hope that we will get through this time with new learning, and perhaps more concern for everyone in our community, no matter where they came from and how they got here.
 
Ruth
 

Tasks needing done

 
With no rushing around the country for any of us, some of you may have unexpected spare time on your hands!
 
We are looking for assistance with our newsletter/ FB page, administration tasks and support for our volunteers. If you can assist in any way, drop me an email to president@br4r.org.au.
 

Computer and Phone Donations

On behalf of two asylum seekers living in Community Detention, members of Ballina Region for Refugees, Sr Anne Shay and Maureen Fletcher (pictured), were last week excited to accept the donation of a laptop computer and mobile phone, from staff of Southern Cross University.
 
Anne and Maureen said that the two female asylum seekers, who were brought to Australia from Nauru, for medical reasons, were very excited and grateful to be the recipients of the donation.
 
One, a young mother, said that the phone was essential to help her keep in touch with her family, whom she expects never to see again. 
 
The other is planning to use the laptop to write the story of coming to Australia, and her experiences in offshore detention. Maureen commented that the process of writing about her life will help this asylum seeker to regain the self-confidence that was damaged by her years on Nauru. It will also assist her to learn English and to assimilate into the community.
 
For many years, members of Ballina Region for Refugees tried to keep up the spirits of female refugees on Nauru through phone contact, gifts of phone credit, and parcels of food – especially spices, nuts and grains that could not be accessed on Nauru. 
 
In some cases the friendships have continued in Australia. Gifts of phones and laptops are very much appreciated because asylum seekers in community detention are not permitted to work or study.  

Markets and more markets.....

Before coronavirus, Meg and Trish rarely missed a month at the Ballina Markets, arising before dawn to set up BR4R's stall.  Along with a faithful band of helpers, they raised almost $3000 last year, selling popcorn, books, clothing and bric-a-brac. 
This financial year so far:
Ballina markets raised $ 2975.55 (this includes a garage sale of plants by Meg - $167)
Lismore car boot - sales $1042.25, donations $903.40 = total $1945.65
Total = $ 4921.20
Let's hope it's not too long before they can start their valuable work again. Here they're pictured with assistant Stephanie Rake.

A musical marriage of opposites

Kazem
The ever-ebullient and tenacious Dawn Barrington has pulled off a musical challenge, marrying her folk style with the heavy metal of Kurdish-Iranian refugee Kasim, known on Instagram as Manus Metal Man.
Dawn visited Kazem on Manus Island last year, and one night when she couldn’t sleep, the words of a song began swimming around in her head, so she wrote them down.  The next morning Kazem came to her with an excited smile on his face, saying he’d written a melody and needed some words to go with it.  That’s how We Live and We Die was created. Dawn had the song professionally recorded and added the video of them performing it on Manus Island. You can see it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaXaRAI4lk4
Although his music is freely roaming the world, Kazem is not. He is now indefinitely detained in Brisbane, confined to a room in the Kangaroo Point Hotel. 
There must be many Australians who’ve just spent two weeks in a hotel in quarantine, who could empathise with refugees like Kazem.  He and many others have been there for nine months or more, with only brief, intermittent periods of exercise outside their rooms.
The cakes in the photo were made by Kazem.
Qassim
Qassim is another refugee visited by Dawn on Manus Island last year. He had been in the hospital for a few weeks “in squalid conditions”, Dawn wrote. Qassim wanted to end his life and hadn’t eaten for twelve days”.
At first Qassim didn’t respond to her efforts to talk to him, except for crying. But on the third day of talking and singing to him, Qassim began to respond.
“He's an incredibly smart man, charismatic and has a great sense of humour. But I didn't see any of that until I saw him in Brisbane nine months later. While he was in hospital on Manus I just saw a broken man with no will or hope left.”
 
 

Letter writing ............ join us

BR4R has a small band writing letters to politicians regularly on topics related to refugees and asylum seekers. One of our writers received the response below recently from the Shadow Home Affairs Minister. 
We regularly email our sample letters/ topics for letter writing to a contact list who are prepared to write letters. If you would like to be part of our contact list for letter writing please email Christine McNeil at tworosellas@yahoo.com

A reply to letters to Kristina Keneally

I want to thank you for contacting me regarding access to government support for temporary visa holders following the outbreak of coronavirus. This is an unprecedented health crisis, and Labor has been working with the Government to do everything we can to protect Australian lives and jobs. 
  
A virus does not check a person’s visa status – it affects everyone in the community. This means that during the coronavirus crisis, if someone living in Australia needs support, they should be able to access it - it is in our national and public health interest that everyone in the community is able to practice social distancing and self-isolation.  
 
While Labor agrees with the Government that temporary migrants should return to their home country if they cannot support themselves, the reality is that many cannot due to border closures and international airline shutdowns.  Labor has lobbied hard for the expansion of appropriate government support to a wide range of workers who miss out of the JobKeeper program, including casuals, university workers, local council workers, and temporary migrant workers who cannot get home. 
  
The Government has listened to some of Labor’s calls and now many New Zealanders living in Australia are eligible for the JobKeeper wage subsidy. However, as recently as 8 April, the Government has rejected Labor’s constructive suggestions to provide meaningful support to temporary visa holders who cannot return to their home country, including skilled migrants, seasonal workers, international students and many New Zealanders who still cannot access JobSeeker and other social security payments.  
  
While the Government has not yet provided meaningful support to temporary visa holders who cannot return home, it is important for you to know that two Government Ministers can, with a stroke of a pen, change all of that.  
  
Thanks to Labor’s work in the Parliament, the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and the Social Services Minister, Anne Ruston, can now provide any temporary visa holders with access to JobKeeper, JobSeeker, or other appropriate social security payments. This means the only person standing in the way of temporary visa holders who cannot get home from accessing JobKeeper is the Treasurer. The only person standing in the way of temporary visa holders who cannot get home accessing JobSeeker or any other social security payments is Minister Ruston.  
  
I don’t think that Minister Ruston or the Treasurer appreciate that, with the stroke of a pen, they can change real lives. They need to hear the stories of people with temporary visas in Australia and need help.  
  
If you have a story that you think Minister Ruston or the Treasurer should hear, I want to hear from you.  
  
To help me understand your story, please complete this form.  Alternatively, you can contact Minister Ruston and the Treasurer yourself-.  
  
Senator the Hon Anne Ruston 
Minister for Families and Social Services  
PO Box 6022 
Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600  
Phone: (02) 6277 7560 
Email: Senator.Ruston@aph.gov.au  
  
The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP 
Treasurer 
PO Box 6022 
Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600  
Phone: (02) 6277 7340 
Email: Josh.Frydenberg.MP@aph.gov.au  
  
In the interests of public health, support needs to be provided to temporary visa holders required to self-isolate or who are in severe hardship and have no other way to support themselves. This virus affects everyone in the community. The time to act is now, before the virus takes hold widely in Australia. It is in Australia’s national interest for everyone – citizen or not – to be part of the extraordinary national effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. 
  
Thank you   
Kristina 
  
Kristina Keneally
Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
Shadow Minister for Home Affairs
Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship
Senator for New South Wales
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Link to BR4R on Facebook
This week the Kaldor Centre launched COVID-19 Watch, a dedicated space for expert analysis of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on refugees, people seeking asylum, and others who are displaced.  Through this website the Kaldor Centre will keep a watching brief on how the challenges play out – in Australia and around the world. The editor states, "We hope that you find it informative, thought-provoking and illuminating. .We all know how challenging the coronavirus crisis is right now. But for displaced populations, the impacts of a pandemic will hit particularly hard. 

Refugees, scholars, legal practitioners and humanitarians have answered our call to share their expert insights, reflections, ideas – and hopes – about how the world might better respond to the needs of displaced people. Their insights will build the rich content in COVID-19 Watch over the coming months, monitoring changing conditions, laws and policies".

If you are interested in the effect of Covid-19 on the refugee community, BR4R encourages you to bookmark this webpage listed below
 

Latest News

For the latest news on matters related to people seeking asylum and refugees please follow these links
Refugee Council of Australia
Kaldor Centre for Refugee Law UNSW
Amnesty International Australia
Rural Australians for Refugees
Ballina Region for Refugees
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