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National RAR update. October 2022



11th October 2022

Hello to all RAR Members and Supporters – welcome to the latest RAR update.

National RAR Conference – Draft Report

The first Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) national conference in four years came together over September 16–18 at Katoomba. Our successful, indeed inspiring, conference is to the credit of the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group and all the participants.

More than 150 people from towns and regions throughout eastern Australia attended what was probably the first grassroots refugee rights conference since the pandemic.

The conference confirmed what was a common view emerging from discussions beforehand - that the Anthony Albanese government is not meeting the movement’s fundamental aims.

Members of refugee-led organisations, such as Cisarua Learning and Women for Change, and others with lived experience of seeking asylum helped identify and work out what needs to be done to change that.

At the conference there was support for Action for Afghanistan’s call for another 20,000 emergency visas for refugees from Afghanistan, and for ending offshore detention and mandatory detention — which averages more than two years — and to resolve the issue of statelessness that has meant a number of refugees have been detained for a decade or more.

Another issue which we discussed and which gained support was the lifting of the ban on the refugees who arrived in Indonesia after July 1, 2014 from applying for visas under the humanitarian program. We joined with other refugee rights activists in wanting all refugees on temporary visas to be granted permanent visas without delay and for all those seeking asylum to have access to work and study rights, and to Medicare.

A call for a Royal Commission into immigration detention, which would have powers to investigate the contracts for private companies to run the camps and to protect the refugees who want to speak out, also received broad support.

Besides highlighting the directions we will want to go in, the conference was an opportunity to learn new campaign skills and to start to consider how to strengthen unity in the movement towards achieving our goals.

Conference delegate Katherine Morrison, from Bellingen, commented: “The conference was well organized with a good and varied programme. We participants were encouraged to circulate and get to know members from other RAR groups and the speakers who sat amongst us. I found the conference well worth attending.”

A Conference Declaration is being drafted after a working session at the end of the conference, and a fuller conference report will be produced soon.

RAR annual general meeting

RAR’s Annual General Meeting was held in Katoomba on Friday September 16. Many attended in person – more than originally hoped for as more people signed up for the Conference at the last minute and came to the Blue Mountains - and a number of groups joined in by Zoom.

The AGM received an Annual Report from outgoing President, Louise Redmond, a report from the Afghanistan sub-committee presented by Marie Sellstrom, and a 2021-22 financial report from Treasurer Geoff Bryne. The AGM also adopted a revised 10-point plan, in particular adding a call for a just and efficient immigration process for those seeking asylum. All these documents can be found on the RAR website at

The AGM also elected a new National Committee:

President: Jonathan Strauss, Cairns for Refugees (QLD)

Secretary: Rosemary Bishop, Blue Mountains Refugee Support Network (NSW)

Vice-President: Paul Dalzell, Alexandra RAR (Vic)

Treasurer: Geoff Byrne, Southern Highlands RAR (NSW)

Communications Convenor: Kat Vella, Griffith RAR (NSW)

Committee members: Marie Sellstrom, Mansfield RAR (Vic); Louise Redmond, Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group (NSW); Katherine Stewart; Warrnambool RAR (VIC)

Left to right: Rev Paul Dalzell, Geoff Byrne, Rosemary Bishop, Marie Sellstrom, Jonathan Strauss, Louise Redmond, Katherine Stewart, Kat Vella.

Minutes will be circulated to members shortly.

Calling for volunteers

Are you passionate about RAR's advocacy and want to contribute to reaching a wider community? The RAR National Committee is looking for volunteers to contribute to two larger communications projects in the coming year (see below). 



Combine your passion for advocacy and writing through connecting with the RAR community all over Australia to interview people and share their stories on the new RAR website blog. You will assist the Communications Convener to source interviewees, draft questions and take part in interviewing people to then publish stories online. No formal writing experience necessary. Time commitment is open and negotiable.


Join the small Instagram team on the national committee to help connect a broader audience to RAR's advocacy work and mission. You will help draft copy for posts, design graphics (if you want to, otherwise this is optional), source images and video that works to RAR's social media strategy. No previous Instagram experience is necessary but it is preferred. Training and support will be provided. Time commitment is open and negotiable.


If interested or you would like to know more, please contact Kat Vella, RAR Communications Convener on 0426 953 698 or email


Please help us to assist Afghan People in Danger.

The recent Kaaj Tution attack in Kabul where 57 young students were killed by the Taliban has demonstrated to us the brutality of the Taliban and the precarious lives for Afghanistan people particularly Hazaras.  The Hazaras have suffered genocide from the 1890s and it must stop.

It will take greater power than the RAR to achieve this but we can make a small contribution.  RAR members are sponsoring over 90 families, the majority of whom are Hazara. Ten of the families being sponsored have been moved to Pakistan and Iran because they were in extreme danger in Afghanistan and were in hiding.  This means that we had received evidence that the Taliban were searching for them to execute them.

Many of the sponsors are sending money to the families they are sponsoring to buy food because they are being refused the opportunity to work.  In the case of the families who are in Iran and Pakistan RAR is helping members to pay for visas and visa extensions which are very expensive.  (100s of dollars).  RAR groups are raising money to pay for living expenses as these families had to leave Afghanistan with no money and in some cases no documents. 

In September 2021 when the Taliban took over Afghanistan RAR members who were not sponsoring families very generously donated money to support our Afghan brothers and sisters.  RAR funds to support these families are now running low.  We are asking members to open your hearts, if you are able, to help keep the people we are sponsoring safe and help them to eventually reach Australia.

Marie Sellstrom

Convenor Afghan Sponsorship



Positive vibes from meetings with Immigration minister Andrew Giles

Refugee and asylum seeker advocates are reporting positively on their engagement with Andrew Giles, stating recently that there are now encouraging signs that more people who are assessed as low risk are being released into the community. In an interview with Guardian Australia, the minister emphasized that the government “is committed to ensuring humane and risk-based immigration detention policies. If there are no security or safety concerns, individuals should be living in the community until a durable solution is found.”

It appears that the minister is now taking positive steps to honour the commitments made by Labor prior to the federal election. Hannah Dickinson, the ASRC’s principal solicitor has welcomed the change in direction, stating: “We have been encouraged about the pragmatic, humane decision-making in releases from detention since May. It’s slow but encouraging – we’re optimistic.”

We need to keep up the pressure to ensure that the detention of asylum seekers becomes a last resort, not a starting point. Every day that an asylum seeker or refugee remains in detention is a day too long. They have suffered enough, and the government needs to urgently allocate the necessary resources to allow them to live safely in the community.


Slow start to New Zealand refugee resettlement

It is now six months since the previous federal government finally accepted the New Zealand government’s offer to resettle 450 refugees over three years, and yet, at the time of writing, not a single refugee has been resettled. There are some thirty-six refugees whose applications are currently under consideration, but, so far, less than half of them have been interviewed. The main problem, according to UNHCR, is that, after up to a decade of punitive detention, many of the refugees are in such a poor mental state that they are simply not able to engage with the application process. Emily Chipman, at the UNHCR, stated: “The mental health impact of what these individuals have experienced has significantly affected their capacity to engage in the resettlement process and has led to a general lack of confidence. Refugees have evoked concerns about leaving family members behind in Australia, and about not being psychologically strong enough to rebuild their lives in another country.”

In addition, a number of the refugees are awaiting the outcome of their applications for resettlement in Canada or the US, and are therefore not eligible to apply for resettlement in New Zealand.

What is clear is that these people require intensive mental health support in order to successfully navigate the resettlement process. Given that it is the Australian government that is directly responsible for their terrible suffering, then it should urgently take the necessary steps to put in place the resources required to get the resettlement programme on track.

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