The Community Café Dialogues team, led by PaCSIA director Serge Loode, organised two Community Cafés in partnership with the Romero Centre-Mercy Family Services. Team members included: Serge Loode, Ally Wakefield, Madeleine Belfrage, Tim Foote, Erica Rose Jeffrey, Franck Korsec and Joseph Hongoh. The venue for the Australia – Why are we here? Café was provided by Brisbane Square Library/Brisbane City Council.

These two Café Dialogues occurred around the events of World Refugee Day 2013 in Brisbane. The Refugee Film Festival Café was facilitated after a day of film screenings by the Romero Centre on 22 June 2013 at the Queensland State Library.  The Australia – Why Are We Here? Café took place at the Brisbane Square Library on 6 July 2013.

The Refugee Film Festival Café was attended by 24 people and the Australia – Why Are We Here? Café was attended by over 160 people (including children) from more than 24 different cultural backgrounds.

Feedback from participants was outstanding and heartwarming. Participants clearly voiced their appreciation of the Cafés and their requests for the program to continue. Participants built new and maintained previous relationships, developed significant insights into each other’s cultures and traditions and discussed similarities and differences. They were able to share stories of their lives regarding living in Australia or fleeing to Australia that went beyond the narrow debate in the mainstream media.

The Australia- Why are we here? Café was also attended by community development workers and representatives from MDA, QPASTT, Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), Commonwealth Department of Human Services, BCC, Qld Department of Communities and others.

Contact with people from other cultures and worldviews is often limited to attending community festivals and savouring exotic food. We wanted to give participants an opportunity to develop relationships on a deeper level. The Refugee Film Festival Café aimed at providing a constructive platform for discussion of the films screened at the festival and also for a more general discussion around what it means for people to flee their home countries and brave an often dangerous journey to Australia. Some of the films screened at the festival were dramatic and even upsetting. The friendly Café atmosphere allowed participants to stay on and debrief the films as well as discuss collaborative action to help refugees and asylum seekers.

The Refugee Film Festival Café was held at the Queensland State Library directly after the last film was screened. The film festival had been organised by the Romero Centre. As part of the film festival a series of digital stories was shown. These digital stories were produced by young refugees through a collaboration of the Queensland State Library The Edge and the Romero Centre. These films used photos and animation to articulate the stories, passions and questions of the young filmmakers around their experiences of the refugee community in Brisbane.

In the Australia-Why are we here? Café, we created a space for people to share stories of why people flee to Australia and what it means to live here. The Café brought together people from refugee backgrounds with people from many other diverse communities in Brisbane. It was an opportunity to share stories about why people have to leave their home countries and also what it means to live here in Brisbane.

We had a strongly positive response from the participants.  The Australia – Why are we here? Café had the highest attendance of any Café ever organized by the team. We received 100 RSVPs and over 160 participants came on the actual day. There were smiles, tears, laughter and the forming of new connections and perspectives.

One participant, born in Australia, stood up and shared that he was “no longer a fence sitter” in the immigration debate, and that this day led to a profound change in perspective for him. In a very moving moment – despite some hesitations about speaking in English – an Iraqi woman stood up and shared with the group how meaningful the day was and that she “felt like I am with my family.”  Members of the Tamil community commented that it was a “lovely atmosphere that was welcoming.” Members of the Rohingya community shared that it was “helpful to connect with a large number of people.”

A group of students from the Master of International Studies (Peace and Conflict) program at the University of Queensland joined the project and assisted the CCD team as volunteers in the planning and facilitation of the Cafés. This provided the students with unique opportunities to connect with Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and refugee and migrant community members.

Conversations were documented by the participants themselves through the use of flipchart paper that participants wrote and drew on. This also provided for a common thread to run through the conversations. Conversations revolved around desires for safety, security, education – and above all a chance to connect and learn from each other.

Embedded in this post is a short video with reflections from the Café.

To keep up to date with the work of the Community Café Dialogues Team please go to the Community Cafés website: http://communitycafes.wordpress.com