Immigration

Former refugee launches 'I Came By Boat' campaign to highlight migrant contribution

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A former refugee who fled her home at 19 has launched a new campaign aimed at raising awareness about the positive contribution of refugees and asylum seekers.

Blanka Dudas wants to change the way Australians think about asylum seekers.

"People are naturally fearful of the unknown and many people think asylum seekers are a threat," she told SBS. "I really believe that if we met them, if we gave them a chance, if we knew their stories...that we would hug them and welcome them, and not vilify them."

The 44-year-old fled her home in former Yugoslavia with only the clothes on her back at the age of 19. She lived in the United Kingdom for six years before moving to Australia and building a successful career as a make-up artist.

Inspired by her own experience and the global refugee crisis, Ms Dudas has now launched the "I Came By Boat" campaign, aimed at raising awareness of the positive contribution of refugees and asylum seekers.

The campaign features three people who came to Australia by boat and went on to build successful careers in the country.

Among them is Melbourne dentist and yoga teacher Fern White (pictured above), whose parents fled Vietnam with Fern and her older brother in 1981. "At the time I was on the boat I was three months old," she told SBS.

The family travelled to Malaysia where they spent 10 months in a refugee camp before they were able to settle in Australia.

Ms White said she hoped the campaign made people more aware of the plight of asylum seekers and refugees.

"People do not flee their country, their home and leave everything behind, and go through so much fear, anxiety, separation from their loved ones without it being due to something quite horrific," she said.

"We are an extremely lucky country and I would love to see people be given a chance and long term, they would see that ripen and flourish."

“I was given a chance and here I am now. My life could have been completely different had I still been in war-torn Vietnam.”

"I really believe that if we met them, if we gave them a chance, if we knew their stories...that we would hug them and welcome them, and not vilify them."

Ms Dudas also stressed the importance of giving refugees and asylum seekers the chance to give back to society.

“Most people who have fled conflicts have relatives and friends who are still trapped and they don’t know whether they are alive, and if they are occupied and if they are working and can keep creating their lives it works much better for them and I think it is much better for the community as well.”

The other people to feature in the campaign include Iraqi-born surgeon Munjed al Muderis and law student Najeeba Wazefadost, who fled Afghanistan as a child.

The campaign consists of posters featuring the three stories but Ms Dudas said she would like find more people interested in sharing their stories.

A campaign has been launched to raise money for more posters and the development of an interactive website. Find out more here.

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