More than 20 young refugee men spent a sunny weekend in February surfing and kayaking on the Bellarine coast.
The activities were part of a two-day camp supported by the Queenscliff Uniting Church. The congregation provides financial assistance to Diversitat, a not-for-profit organisation that organises programs for migrant communities in the Geelong region.
Hussain Haidari (Haidari) is community development worker at Diversitat. The former refugee from Afghanistan has lived in Australia for the past six years. Haidari understands the challenges of moving to a new country and is particularly interested in helping new arrivals adjust to life in Australia.
“We work with Afghan, Iranian, Karen, Karenni, Congan, Sudan, Somali and Tibetan communities,” Haidari said.
“We have a lot of activities for youth, both girls and boys.”
On the weekend of 13-14 February, Diversitat organised a camp at Queenscliff for young refugee men from Geelong.
“We had surfing in the morning, which they really enjoyed,” Haidari said.
“In the afternoon, we had kayaking and then cycling the morning after. Some of them also played soccer.”
The surfing lessons were an opportunity for the men to learn essential water safety skills. For some, it was their first time surfing.
The open ocean is a rare sight for refugees who come from landlocked countries where there are few opportunities to take part in sea-based activities like surfing and kayaking.
Before boarding the kayaks, safety instructors taught the men how to protect themselves from dangerous marine animals, such as the highly venomous blue-ringed octopus. They also learnt about the sacred land of the Wathaurong people and the dark history of colonisation in Australia. As one of the instructors explained, Indigenous Australians have become “almost refugees in their own country”.
One of the participants was 20-year-old Kamal Hussain. He lived in Afghanistan and Pakistan before migrating to Australia three years ago.
“We did a lot of activities. We had a lot of fun surfing at Ocean Grove,” Kamal said.
Kamal said the hospitality of the local community reminds him of his friends back in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The people there are fun and friendly, like Australian people,” Kamal said.
“Afghanistan and Pakistan is good, but there’s no safety place there.
“When we go to a new country, we make new friends. It’s a lot of fun; we can hang out and chill.”
After a long and tiring day in the sun, the men relaxed with a barbecue dinner hosted at Queenscliff Uniting Church member Les Harrison’s house. Other Queenscliff congregation members also joined the dinner.
Haidari thanked the church and the local community for their support.
“They are very helpful people. They’ve helped us many times,” he said.
“Les is a very good and nice man. He helps collect many bikes for newly arrived people. Every two months, we get 14 to 15 bikes from Queenscliff Uniting Church.”
The camp is just one of many refugee programs the Queenscliff congregation supports. They recently hosted an ‘Out of the Darkness’ exhibition which seeks to improve community understanding of why people come to Australia by boat. The art installation combined paintings, photography, sculpture and text to highlight and challenge Australia’s response to people seeking asylum.
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