Event em­braces all

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - John Mcmillan Park - Michele Nu­gent

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 not­for-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.

Wel­come To Aus­tralia WA Di­rec­tor James Je­ga­sothy, Refugee Week Am­bas­sador for the Refugee Coun­cil of Aus­tralia John Je­ga­sothy and Vic­to­ria Park Coun­cil­lor Brian Oliver.

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