Human Rights Defender launch: Special issue on Villawood


On Tuesday 6th September, the Human Rights Defender held a launch for its Villawood issue at UNSW Law. The launch included five guest speakers, and had a diverse crowd of guests. These included Anna Buch, Co-founder of Supporting Asylum Seekers Sydney (SASS), Vera Hazel, a member of SASS and subject of an interview in the issue, and some of the contributors to the issue.

Andrea Durbach welcomed everyone to the launch and credited the guest student editors, Nanak Narulla and Eloise McCrea-Steele, and numerous contributors to the issue for their incredible work. She also provided an introduction to Australia’s checkered relations with refugees, and how this led to the creation of a program with students visiting and volunteering at Villawood. This program prompted the creation of the current issue.

Nanak then addressed the guests, sharing how the issue came to be and some of his own experiences at Villawood, Manus Island and with SASS. He discussed how these experiences shaped his belief that advocacy around asylum seeker policies is so important. Nanak also touched on the issue’s focus on art, indicating that they hoped its use could give back a sense of emotion and humanity to the detainees that is often stripped though purely text articles, as well as to help diversify the narrative.

Following this, Angela Nickerson of the Refugee Trauma and Recovery Program at UNSW Australia presented on the long term psychological effects of detention. She discussed how the mental health impacts of post-migration stress and experiences can be as strong as those from experiences trauma. Angela referenced how it is a responsibility of Australia to avoid adverse mental health impacts for refuges both within and outside of detention.

Safdar Ahmed, a Sydney based artist and academic who works closely with refugees, was the final speaker of the launch. Safdar discussed the Refugee Art Project, a community art project that he founded, and its importance in building trust, community, and a sense of belonging and engagement for refuges. He explained how art can be used to advocate and educate through the portrayal of human stories that the closed narratives of detention centres normally do not allow. He also discussed how art can reveal complexities of the people involved, allowing them to move beyond being merely a ‘refugee’.


With thanks to Eleanor Holden, Human Rights Defender intern Semester 2, 2016, for writing this article.