By Jess Baker
Tens of people filed in to Warwick’s St Mark’s Anglican Parish Hall on the afternoon of Sunday 6 June, in celebration of the Southern Downs becoming the newest Refugee Welcome Zone in Queensland.
Southern Downs Regional Council voted to declare the local government area a Refugee Welcome Zone in February this year, following a request by the Southern Downs Refugee and Migrant Network.
The council formally signed the official Refugee Welcome Zone Declaration on 12 May at an ordinary council meeting, in front of representatives from the Refugee Council of Australia and the Southern Downs Refugee and Migrant Network.
The groups hosted a picnic lunch at the grounds of St Mark’s Church on Sunday to mark the momentous occasion.
The event was well-attended, with guests lucky enough to witness performances by a local Filipino dance group and folk singers Laurel and Bob Wilson.
Southern Downs Refugee and Migrant Network member Fiori Cruz said the decision by the council was a “milestone” that would hopefully encourage more refugees to come to the Southern Downs.
“We’re all very happy,” Fiori said.
“Hopefully we can get three or four families, or even five families, to come to town.”
Fiori said the signing of the Declaration is incredibly important as it demonstrates to refugees and migrants that they will be accepted in the Southern Downs region.
“You come from a life where there’s nothing there for you. You’re hopeless and helpless. And suddenly people welcome you here,” she said.
“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”
Southern Downs councillor and bush poet Marco Gliori recited a poignant poem at the event and reiterated the significance of the occasion.
“This decision … it means that you are so welcome here on the Southern Downs, regardless of where you come from across this planet,” he said.
“We look forward to your contribution.”
Southern Downs Refugee and Migrant Network member Sue Francis said the council’s decision would play an important role in assisting refugee settlement and promoting community harmony.
“We look forward to building on the current momentum of the declaration and the opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to those many, many people who come to our shores who have had a less fortunate experience in life than many of us,” she said.
Guests at the event shared traditional Filipino food, coffee and tea and enjoyed an afternoon of entertainment and conversation.