Issues Unpacked

Since There Was War, There Have Been Refugees

The 1951 Convention regarding the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as a person who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” (2002 – 2013 UNHCR Regional Office – Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific.)

The UNHCR also assists “Persons of Concern to UNHCR” including asylum seekers (those who have not yet been recognised as refugees), stateless people, internally displaced people (IDPs) and returnees. According the the Refugee Council of Australia, refugees are defined as those who “are forced to leave their country because they are at risk of, or have experienced, persecution. The concerns of refugees are human rights and safety, not economic advantage. They leave behind their homes, most or all of their belongings, family members and friends. Some are forced to flee with no warning and many have experienced significant trauma or been tortured or otherwise ill-treated. The journey to safety is fraught with hazard and many refugees risk their lives in search of protection. They cannot return unless the situation that forced them to leave improves.” Of note here, is that refugees are forced to flee and do not consciously seek economic advantage – this is a fundamental difference between a migrant and a refugee.

Key Refugee Issues in Australia

In Australia, refugees face all the problems of settling in to a new country as well as dealing with past trauma. These issues can be compounded by a lack of acceptance by the wider community. However, there are some support organisations assisting refugees now living in Australian communities. For further information, see United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees website and the Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors website.

Key Refugee Issues Targeted by Treehouse Theatre

First and foremost, Treehouse Theatre is a trauma therapy program, whose aim is to restore and heal the young person who has undergone trauma, and who, through flashbacks, nightmares and lack of sleep, may continue to experience that trauma.

The needs of the participants are at the heart of every decision and activity, artistic or otherwise.

In the process of the program, many issues are addressed. Treehouse Theatre builds confidence in self and presentation skills, and in English language proficiency, that is, we amplify the voices and capabilities of these young people. We foster a sense of belonging: to the Treehouse family, and to Australia. As the young people’s stories are autobiographical, they are intrinsically embedded in culture which invites pride in their cultural heritage. Treehouse verifies hopes and dreams for the future.

These benefits of the program build resilience.

Equally important, Treehouse Theatre’s public theatre performances educate the community. Our verbatim theatre practice chronicles the autobiographical stories factually and clearly, so that the Sydney community can trust their experiences of these remarkable narratives.

As we blend art and science, throughout the process of a program, Treehouse cultivates a sense of reverence for the deep mystery of who these young people are.