7 December 2006

Edmund Rice Centre and Virginia Walker win Human Rights Community Awards

A group of volunteers - including two nuns in their 80s - who tracked down asylum seekers refused entry to Australia, and a lone "cow girl" who set up a fund-raising and support-giving network for recently released Villawood detention centre detainees, have won Community Awards at the 2006 Human Rights Awards.

Established in 1996 by the Christian Brothers, the Edmund Rice Centre has a long history fighting for the rights of Indigenous people and those involved in the horror of people trafficking, but its work on the Asylum Seeker Returnees Program won them the 2006 Community (Organisation) Award.

Those involved in the program visited 18 countries and formally interviewed 82 people who"d sought, but were refused asylum in Australia. They uncovered the tragic truth that nine asylum seekers and three of their children had been killed on their return to Afghanistan.

Their work with an often neglected group in society was not being done by anyone else and the judges hailed the corroborated research for its timeliness and the "capacity of the report to influence public debate and policy."

There were two highly commended entries in the Community (Organisation) category - South Sydney Youth Services and National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).

Established 20 years ago by Redfern residents, South Sydney Youth Services has steadfastly worked to improve opportunities for local young people and their families - particularly Indigenous families. It has also promoted anti-racism campaigns and worked within the community to create attitudinal change.

A national peak Aboriginal health body representing more than 130 Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Services around Australia, NACCHO, has also been commended by the judges for its specialised work, "developing broad responses to meet important health needs in Indigenous communities".

The winner of the Community (Individual) Award, Virginia Walker, co-founded the Bridge for Asylum Seekers in 1993 by rustling together a group of friends when she realised those released from Villawood Detention Centre were cut adrift with no rights or access to Medicare services.

Since then, Virginia has built up a network of friends and supporters who have raised and allocated more than $500,000 to provide a basic living allowance to families in Australia on bridging visas.

She has set up an expert committee of volunteer lawyers and caseworkers to assess the genuine refugee status of people before allocating assistance, which more than 200 people have received since 1993.

The Bridge for Asylum Seekers is currently helping 98 people - including 41 children.

Kari Kristiansen was highly commended in the Community (Individual) category for her individual and systemic advocacy on behalf of - and alongside - Indigenous people and their human rights.

A lawyer with many years professional and pro bono experience working with Indigenous communities, between 1997-2002 Kari delivered a National Indigenous Legal Studies program to more than 120 Indigenous people.

The prestigious Human Rights Medal was also presented at the ceremony, along with awards for Law (sponsored by the Law Council of Australia), Arts Non-Fiction, Print Media, Television and Radio. For full details: www.humanrights.gov.au/hr_awards/

Media contact: Louise McDermott 02 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597





Last updated March 27, 2009