Bathurst Refugee Support Group urges locals to open their hearts and minds

SAFE PLACE: Bathurst Refugee Support Group chairman Brian Mowbray at the Kath Knowles House of Welcome on Busby Street.
SAFE PLACE: Bathurst Refugee Support Group chairman Brian Mowbray at the Kath Knowles House of Welcome on Busby Street.

AN unassuming renovated cottage in Bathurst’s Busby Street has provided a welcome home away from home for dozens of trauma survivors who have fled to our country.

The Kath Knowles House of Welcome is a project of the Bathurst Refugee Support Group to provide short-term accommodation for refugees with nowhere else to go.

It can house up to two large family groups at a time and is administered and maintained by BRSG volunteers.

The cottage stands beside the Rahamim Ecological Learning Centre and is leased to BRSG on a peppercorn rent by the Sisters of Mercy.

BRSG chairman Brian Mowbray opened the doors of the house to the Western Advocate to illustrate the work his group is doing for refugees.

He was responding to a social media outcry over Bathurst Regional Council’s plans to host a refugee employment workshop this year to investigate local job opportunities for refugees who might resettle in the region.

Mr Mowbray urged Bathurst residents to open their minds and hearts to refugees.

“What we are looking at with this forum is to get employers together to see what sort of jobs could be available,” Mr Mowbray said.

“They might be jobs that local people do not want to do or there might be skills shortages that could be filled by refugees.

“Some of the refugees coming to Australia were professionals in their homeland but their qualifications might not be recognised here unless they do some further training.”

Among the refugees to spend time at the Kath Knowles House of Welcome have been clients of the Sydney-based Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation for Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) and families who are visiting Bathurst for a weekend in the country.

Beds have also been made available for young refugees who have won a place to study at Charles Sturt University and just need short-term accommodation until they find somewhere permanent to live.

Mr Mowbray said the key to a greater acceptance of refugees in our community would be the chance for residents to meet refugees.

“There used to be a lot of angst about homosexuality and marriage equality but often when people get the chance to meet gay people and get to know them their attitudes can change,” he said.

“I think it is similar with refugees. People’s attitudes can change when they get the chance to meet face-to-face.”

While Bathurst is not a designated refugee resettlement zone, Mr Mowbray said BRSG was working to provide opportunities for families that wanted to come here.

“We are not looking at bringing great numbers of refugees to Bathurst, though,” he said.

“We have said as a group we would like to help 10 families get settled here and give them a new life, something better than they could find in Sydney, but even just a few families would be something.”