Locals step up to help refugees

Residents gather every Thursday outside MP Kevin Hogan’s office to protest the federal government’s asylum seeker policy. Photo supplied

The plight of people who have tried to seek asylum in Australia but have ended up detained on Nauru and Manus Island is once again being highlighted on July 19 outside Kevin Hogan’s office in Lismore from 4 till 5pm.

The ‘5 years too many’ vigil marks the fifth anniversary of the speech by Kevin Rudd when he stated that ‘any people seeking asylum who arrive by boat will never settle in Australia thus resulting in the terrible situation on Manus and Nauru,’ said Gunela Astbrink, president of the Ballina Region for Refugees (BR4R).

Working to assist both refugees in Australia and those stranded on Nauru BR4R have formed both the Nauru friendship group and a homestay program.


The Nauru friendship group is a way to support women in Nauru by being in regular contact and building meaningful, supportive relationships.

‘Quite a lot of the women have been there for five years in mouldy tents and challenging conditions,’ said Gunela.

There are about ten women locally who are in contact with women in Nauru using things like WhatsApp, texting and Facebook.

‘It involves talking to women and being a friend and support – sharing photos and reaching out. This is very important for people who feel they have no end in sight and no-one cares,’ said Gunela.

‘We’ve just received a call to help a severely depressed man in Nauru to get a friendship link here. We are always keen to have more local men and women to assist.’


The main activity of the BR4R is a homestay program that provides refugees on bridging visas with a chance to have a holiday. The recent fundraiser by the Ballina Players raised around $3,700 that will be used to support the homestay program.

The program brings refugees or asylum seekers from Brisbane and sometimes Sydney to stay with a host family. 

‘We have hosts in Ballina, Byron, Mullumbimby – from right across the region,’ said Gunela.

‘Currently we have about 20 hosts and we are keen to find more hosts and people who can volunteer to help with activities and support the hosts.

‘Families or individuals come for four to seven days. They really enjoy a bit of time out. Often it is the first time they have had a holiday since they have come to Australia and it can be a respite from the daily struggle…’

Currently there are about 12,000 people seeking asylum in Australia who are on bridging visas. This figure is insignificant in the context of the refugee crisis across Europe and Asia. New asylum applications in Europe were down to 724,000 in 2017 from 1,407,000 in 2017 and 1,553,000 in 2015.

2 responses to “Locals step up to help refugees”

  1. Jon says:

    Don’t these people have anything more substantial in their lives?

  2. Sharon Boyd says:

    How do i get in touch with the group as i would like to be part of it please .i have suffered in the past with depression so know all about it… i stay on a beautiful property on the side of if Mt Warning and would love to share and connect with other woman

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