Refugee Week 2022 is from Sunday 19th June to Saturday 25th June. To learn more about the event, and about one of our incredible merchants, read on below.
HISTORY OF REFUGEE WEEK
Refugee Week is held annually in Australia, and aims to both educate the public about refugees and celebrate the contributions made by refugees to Australian society. The first Refugee Week events took place in Sydney in 1986. In 1987, Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) became a co-organiser of the event, with Refugee Week becoming a national event from 1988.
REFUGEE WEEK 2022
The theme for Refugee Week this year is healing. The organisers cite the global pandemic as a reason for the choice of theme, stating that human connectedness has been affected throughout the last two years. The organisers state that both “mainstream and refugee communities alike can draw upon shared hardship to heal wounds, to learn from each other and to move forward”.
In the spirit of the theme of healing, we have interviewed one of our merchants, Chef Mahshid Babzarbati, who is a former refugee from Iran.
Mahshid arrived in Australia in 2013 by boat, fleeing Iran in fear of political persecution. She was immediately detained when arriving in Australia, but was freed from detention after around 3 months. “I was one of the lucky ones”, she says when speaking of this freedom, as many refugees are detained for years (according to statistics from the Department of Home Affairs, the average number of days refugees remain in detention is now the highest it has ever been, at 697 days).
Mahshid explains that her first year living in Australia was extremely difficult. She reflected on this difficulty and made the decision to actively help other refugees, particularly those who couldn’t fluently speak English. “I thought, well, it’s really hard for me and I can communicate [in English], how hard is it going to be for people who are not able to communicate?”. Mahshid founded a group called House of Asylum Seekers which was officially registered in 2018 as a volunteer organisation that provides useful information about Australia to people seeking refuge and asylum. The organisation used to have monthly meet-ups, however in its current form it runs online only as a Facebook group.
In Iran, Mahshid worked as an interpreter and translator. Unfortunately, she was not able to continue that work as a career here in Australia, as her years of experience are not recognised in this country without a formal qualification. This is how she came to work as a chef – she tells us, “I started cooking at the age of 10. Culturally we learn cooking at a very young age, [especially] in my generation”. Mahshid began working as a cooking instructor in 2016, telling us that “since then I’ve been working in different communities, different areas, helping asylum seekers like myself”. Mahshid states that her classes, which she runs privately, are more than just cooking classes; she uses them as an opportunity to bring people together and spread awareness about asylum seekers. She tells us that “I’ve been using my cooking classes to bring awareness about why we seek asylum, why we are here”.
Heartbreakingly, Mahshid has experienced much loss in her personal life; “one of my sons died in Iran and the other one, I haven’t seen for 11 years”. Mahshid explains that because she has a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) she is barred from returning to Iran. Her son, who is too unwell to travel on his own, cannot come to Australia and Mahshid explains, “because of the temporary visa that I have, I am not able to invite [my son] here and I cannot leave the country”.
On top of this, Mahshid has had to deal with the many misconceptions that the Australian public hold about refugees. Sadly, Mahshid has come across the biased notion that people seeking asylum are a waste of taxpayer money. “The only thing [the public] know is what they see in the media”, she says. She tells us that “there are a lot of people who don’t like asylum seekers [and] a lot of people who don’t know much about asylum seekers”. Mahshid is working to change that through her advocacy and awareness-raising work.
What comes next for Mahshid? We can share the exciting news that Mahshid is soon releasing her first cookbook in Australia titled ‘Taste of 1001 Nights’, the title of which is inspired by Persian folktales. Mahshid promises that this book will be “more than just a cookbook”, and that the book will contain anecdotes from her personal life and wisdom she has accumulated over the years.
Follow Mahshid on Instagram here to stay up-to-date with her cooking and other endeavours!
Featured image via Feast for Freedom