22.1 C
Byron Shire
April 19, 2021

Byron now a Refugee Welcome Zone

Latest News

No accountability for proven police misconduct

On Australia Day in 1998, I was the legal observer for the ‘Nude Ain’t Rude’ rally at Belongil Beach.

Other News

Affordable myth

Patricia Warren, Brunswick Heads There is a ‘myth of affordable housing’ in Byron Shire. Well may councillors lament the lack of ‘affordable...

Remembering Peter Warner

Ballina's legendary man of the sea Peter Warner died doing what he loved best, sailing, during an attempted crossing of the Ballina Bar in rough conditions last week. He was ninety years old.

Flawed plan

Kai Beijerbacht, Mullumbimby For those of you who haven’t been living under a rock, I’m sure you are aware of the...

Sally Flannery discovers dark side of ‘Lovemore’

Since declaring her interest in running for Lismore Council, local woman Sally Flannery has been subjected to sustained attacks, both online and upon her property.

Electricity ‘fun facts’

Anonymous, Ballina I’m surprised that a part of David Lowe’s online article of March 15 slipped under the fact-check radar (‘Tamara Smith...

Step up, Ben

Martin Corben, Lennox Head With the cancellation of Bluesfest now would be a good time for the NSW state government’s...

L to R: Former refugee from Sierra Leone Sarah, North Coast Settlement Service support worker Leandro Mendes, Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson, Sanctuary Northern Rivers Inc president Michael Douglas and Byron Shire Cr Paul Spooner at Tuesday's signing of the Refugee Welcome Zone Declaration. Photo Chris Dobney
L to R: Former refugee from Sierra Leone Sarah, North Coast Settlement Service support worker Leandro Mendes, Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson, Sanctuary Northern Rivers Inc president Michael Douglas and Byron Shire Cr Paul Spooner at Tuesday’s signing of the Refugee Welcome Zone Declaration.

Chris Dobney

Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson signed a Refugee Welcome Zone declaration during yesterday’s council meeting

The signing took place in front of a group of former refugees and their supporters, who welcomed the ‘commitment in spirit’ while acknowledging more needed to be done to help settle refugees in the shire.

The commitment is to ‘welcoming refugees into our community, upholding the Human Rights of refugees, demonstrating compassion for refugees and enhancing cultural and religious diversity in our community.’

The declaration was the brainchild of ALP councillor Paul Spooner.

Cr Richardson said, ‘It’s really exciting, as mayor of this shire, that we can stand with refugee advocates and refugees to encourage Australia to improve the way we welcome refugees, the way we celebrate refugees and the way we commit ourselves to be part of the global community.’

‘As someone who’s just been overseas at the UN, speaking to people from Ethiopia and some of the African nations in particular, it was very humbling to sit amongst 200 national representatives to get a real true sense – that we often forget – in the bubble of Byron and the bubble of Australia that we are all in this together across the planet,’ Cr Richardson said.

North Coast Settlement Service outreach support worker Leandro Mendes said, ‘This region is a very welcoming area. We have quite a number of families who have been settled in Lismore and still more coming. And it’s great to see what they add to the community.

‘More often than not, when you hear the term refugee, people imagine war and fear of persecution. And there’s truth to it, however my experience in working with people from refugee backgrounds, a word that comes to mind is resilience. It’s incredible the amount of resilience and the amount of courage that they bring with them when they come to this community,’ he said.

‘Often they we have people adding and contributing to our community in exceptional ways,’ he added.

‘When we look at the Refugee Welcome Zone declaration, it talks about the commitment “in spirit”. What I would like to see is us as a community, and as a council at a political level, welcoming families to this region. It’s not a simple thing however it’s doable with some political input and I think the community are very strongly behind us.

‘I believe we could support people coming to this region and settling here, maybe not in huge numbers but a number of families that could call Byron Shire home,’ Mr Mendes said.

Michael Douglas, president of Sanctuary Northern Rivers Inc, said, ‘We’ve had about 12 years of settling refugees into this area and I must say what a beautiful journey it’s been,’ he said.

‘It’s interesting, to witness the discussion on parking fees, which I’ve just done, how some things divide us. But there are many things which actually draw us together. I think all of us are driven b y compassion. And this is an issue which we can come together on.’

‘If we declare ourselves a Refugee Welcome Zone there comes with that a certain amount of responsibility. If we are to welcome refugees into this community there are issues of housing, issues of employment – and I think we need to find a way through that. But as a community and as a community [we need to] continue to advocate for a refugee policy which draws on the hearts of people.

‘It should be something which is uniting, not divisive. And to see how refugee policy has become part of the national political agenda I think is very regrettable,’ Mr Douglas said.

Sarah, a former refugee from Sierra Leone, told the chamber, ‘I came here in 2008. I’ve spent seven years here – and it’s such a blessing. We were helped by the community; we had all the support that we needed to settle well. The organisations and people – even individual families in Lismore – welcomed us.

‘So if the policies are favourable for people to be able to come here, to this vast land, there is the support of very good people to help, not to talk of the richness we’ve brought here. When I arrived I was just so grateful to be in this heaven on earth that I call Australia.

‘When I went back to Sierra Leone last year with a “flotilla” of books for schoolchildren, I was there for about six weeks and I knew I was ready to come back home. Australia is my home.

‘So when refugees are settled here, it has a ripple effect: we not only benefit ourselves and our families, we are kind enough to help people back home, especially those who cannot come here.

‘So thank you for creating this Refugee Welcome and I hope more of this will come,’ Sarah said.

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. Judging from the news coming out of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the various US cities who have rolled out the welcome mate (at the behest of Obama) for mass immigration from Islamic countries, poor old Mullum is in for a rough awakening down the track. There’s an old saying that begins, ‘be careful what you wish for……..’

  2. Well done, Simon and Paul. It is so good to see our council can do something positive, not just waste our money on rock walls.

  3. I didn’t see any opportunity for the general public to vote on this issue.

    Who is going to pay for the public housing and lifestyle of these “refugees”?

    The councillors? Mr Abbott? The Mayor?

  4. If signing a Refugee Welcome Zone declaration makes our councillors feel warm and cosy so be it, it doesn’t cost much. However, when the council doesn’t have the money to fix potholes, what’s its mayor doing travelling to the UN?

  5. How can a place with a average house/land price and cost of living like Byron be a ‘refugee welcome zone?’ Byron Shire should declare World Peace next.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Pottsville policing forum asks the hard questions

Members of the Pottsville and Tweed Coast community say that in response to an increase in criminal activity in the area and their request for increased police presence, they were hosting a police presentation at Pottsville.

Coalition ‘hellbent’

Mat Morris, Bangalow The NSW coalition seems to be hellbent on outdoing their federal counterparts when it comes to the denigration of women and protection of...

An insult, Poppa

From what I can understand, Poppa Veet Mayo’s letter seems to imply that this latest COVID scare is a government conspiracy (yes, another one). To...

Upgrades for Lighthouse Parade in Ballina

One of the showcase areas of Ballina is about to get a safety and aesthetic upgrade, with the Lighthouse Parade Pedestrian Precinct and Road Safety Project commencing soon.