Australia

Refugee children hope Parliament House performance inspires better understanding

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A Sydney theatre group made up of refugee children will tell their stories of terror and resettlement in Australia in a special performance at Parliament House.

When Sydney teenager Bassam Alzuhiri arrived in Australia in August 2017 after fleeing Iraq, he found it difficult to talk about his experience. 

Now he's preparing to tell his own story, along with other young refugees from Afghanistan and South Sudan, in front of politicians at Parliament House as part of a special performance from the Sydney Treehouse Theatre. 

"Right now I feel confident and I can tell my story," the 16-year-old from the Mandaen minority group said, ahead of the performance on Wednesday.

"My father had been kidnapped two times and he was scared of what’s going to happen to me, that’s why we left Iraq."

Fereshteh Mirzaei and Bassam Alzuhiri will share their own stories as part of the special performance at Parliament House.
Fereshteh Mirzaei and Bassam Alzuhiri will share their own stories as part of the special performance at Parliament House.
SBS News

Bassam said he hoped politicians enjoy the show, but the young refugees in the performance also hope decision-makers learn a few lessons as well. 

"In Australia, there’s a lot of refugee things going on and I think that after we tell our stories, they take something from it, maybe they help more with refugees," Fereshteh Mirzaei said. 

The 15-year-old and her family fled Afghanistan and arrived in Australia in 2014. 

"I would never imagine myself at Parliament House, it’s a big honour," she said.

Fereshteh said being a part of the show, called Suitcase Stories, had helped her get through a tough time. 

“I’ve definitely gotten more confidence, and my sleeping times, before Suitcase Stories I had a hard time sleeping.” 

Drama therapy

The Sydney Treehouse Theatre began as a form of counselling and drama therapy, mixed with English language practice. 

Co-founder psychologist Catherine Maguire-Donvito said the children's development through the process was noticeable. 

Many of the children involved had never talked about their experience before joining the theatre group. 

Ms Maguire-Donvito said scripting and rehearsing their stories was a creative way to help them recover. 

"It’s kind of like a repeated exposure to the trauma and each time they feel a little calmer and a little more comfortable with telling their story. Because in the past they thought ‘oh if I even think about these things there’s going to be disaster," she said.

Young refugees involved in the Sydney Treehouse Theatre will perform their own stories at Parliament House.
Young refugees involved in the Sydney Treehouse Theatre will perform their own stories at Parliament House.
SBS News

"That sort of level of fear that they experienced during the initial trauma is still there because it’s unprocessed. By us putting it into a coherent narrative for them, it helps them recover."

The performance comes as debate about border security dominates Parliament sparked by a bill to make it easier for asylum seekers in offshore detention to receive medical treatment in Australia. 

Ms Maguire-Donvito said several of the children's parents had spent years in detention. 

"Refugees are not just statistics or numbers, given a number in detention, that they are real people. There is such a negative aura around being a refugee, they just want to show that they are normal people."

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