By Casey Neill
“Food is the great connector.”
Sharing multicultural dishes in Dandenong helped refugees and asylum seekers to forge friendships on Friday 14 July.
Life Without Barriers (LWB), in Langhorne Street, hosted the community welcome dinner with help from joiningthedots to mark June’s National Refugee Week.
LWB South East Victoria co-ordinator Katina Nomikoudis said the event launched the Welcome Dinner Project in the municipality.
Guests brought their favourite dish or one traditional to their culture to share with the other people seated at their table.
“They were asked to tell a short story about their dish as a way of introducing themselves to their table mates,” Ms Nomikoudis said.
“Welcome Dinners connect newly arrived people including migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and international students with established Australians.”
Since it officially launched in March 2013, more than 200 Welcome Dinners have been held in homes and community spaces across Australia.
“There are many challenges in our society for newly arrived people and the popularity of this project demonstrates that there is endless goodwill out there to create a different kind of story – one that represents the true fair go Australia,” Ms Nomikoudis said.
She said that most people seeking asylum risked their lives to escape their homeland for freedom.
“Currently, at Life Without Barriers, the people who we assist the most are Hazara of Afghanistan, the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the Rohingyans of Burma and the Iranians from Iran,” she said.
Ms Nomikoudis said asylum seekers often transitioned into a country like Malaysia or Indonesia.
“They can wait for many, many years in the hope that they will be assessed as asylum seekers and re-settled to a host country such as Australia,” she said.
They often have little food and shelter.
“This sense of desperation can often force people to make the decision to once again risk their lives and embark on an unseaworthy boat to Australia,” she said.
She said that people who were granted visas to stay in Australia prized a sense of belonging.
LWB’s refugee and asylum seeker programs manager David Benau said the organisation started in 2009.
“We understand the unique skills and resilience that refugees, asylum seekers and other new Australians possess, and we see first-hand the significant contribution they make to Australian society,” he said.
“We also understand that people from diverse cultures can face a range of barriers.
“We work in partnership with people to overcome those barriers, to ensure vulnerable migrant groups feel safe and secure and are able to access the supports they need to thrive.”