The Refugee Week theme of "restoring hope" to refugees shone through during Ali Ali's speech on Saturday.
The former Afghan asylum seeker delivered the keynote address during the first western Sydney launch of Refugee Week at Granville Town Hall.
Ahead of the event, the 30-year-old Hazara man, of Merrylands, shared the tale of his journey from Jaghori in Afghanistan to Australia via Indonesia on a rickety boat with 130 others.
"Once you get on a boat, the risk is only of drowning. Given the despair, that's not a big risk"
"Once you get on a boat, the risk is only of drowning," Ali said. "Given the despair, that's not a big risk."
Ali fled at the peak of the Taliban's power, when the religious extremists were kidnapping young Hazara men, taking them to the battleground and forcing them to fight: "The whole purpose was to wipe you out."
As the persecution intensified, Ali's mother — who died in a refugee camp told him to flee.
Alone, and only 17, he dodged the authorities and made it to a vessel he described as "unseaworthy".
In May 2001, Ali landed at Christmas Island, after 36 hours at sea, to the words "welcome to Australia" and "you are safe".
"What more can you expect than that?" he said.
"The Australian authorities, including Customs and the people of Christmas Island, were so marvellous.
"I will never forget the treatment we received."
After being detained at the remote Curtin Immigration Detention Centre, Ali enrolled at Holroyd High School and continued his studies while on a temporary protection visa.
He graduated from UNSW with a master's degree in international law and international relations.
During those years, he worked non-stop, including as a forklift driver, a factory worker, food packer, tiler, car washer, labourer, cleaner, metal fabricator, strawberry picker and taxi driver.
In February, he moved into his own flat.
"It has not been easy," he said.
"But it was not only my commitment, it was not only my hard work, it was also the support of the community and from my teachers . . . I was not alone."
He said his message for Refugee Week was for Australians to "take a different look" at the issue of people seeking asylum.
"We don't need a military solution for this humanitarian issue. We don't need to punish these asylum seekers, those refugees who desperately need our help, our affection and our compassion."
James Boubli is living on food rations for a week, to support Burmese refugees who have fled their homeland for neighbouring Thailand and now live in refugee camps on the border, subsisting on just a small amount of rice, flour, salt, fish paste, split peas and oil.
The Cherrybrook resident started Act for Peace’s first Ration Challenge on Sunday with 100 Australians.
They were all sent a parcel beforehand with food rations a Burmese refugee receives in a camp, and have been asked to raise at least $200 for these refugees.
‘‘I eat a lot and I’m not really that excited about having to eat rice and fish, but knowing the money I raise will help people who’ve had to survive on those rations for years really motivates me to see it through,’’ Mr Boubli, 22, said.
‘‘This is as much about raising money as it is raising awareness.’’
The challenge works on an honesty policy. You can only eat what’s in the ration pack, unless you’ve ‘‘earned’’ other ingredients by raising: $200 (buys you flavouring); $300 (earns you a 75g serving of vegetables to eat); $400 (150g of fruit); $500 (extra protein, e.g. two eggs, 65g red meat, 85g poultry, 100g fish or 170g tofu); $1000 (anything to the value of $10).
You can drink only water.
If you slip up, you can make a $50 penalty donation.
As of Friday, the challenge had raised $20,000.
■Details: firstname.lastname@example.org, 1800025101.
$216 could pay for a refugee’s food rations for an entire year.
$1032 could feed a family of five for a year.
$500 could equip 35 families with a gardening kit and train them in how to grow their own vegetables.
The United Nations 1951 Convention defines refugees as people who are outside their country of nationality and are unable or unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.
■ Auburn: 2382 of 13,520 settlers;
■ Blacktown: 2171 of 18,516 settlers;
■ Blue Mountains: 10 of 763 settlers;
■ Hawkesbury: 14 of 542 settlers;
■ Holroyd: 1255 of 12,710 settlers;
■ Hornsby: 165 of 10,137 settlers;
■ Parramatta: 1740 of 20,517 settlers;
■ Penrith: 417 of 4080 settlers;
■ The Hills: 244 of 9558 settlers;
■ Grand total: 76,022 of 1,144,401.