“The evidence for how important refugees are in the community is staring us right in the face.”
“My family’s story is one of migration, but when I look further back it is one of constant migration and, in some cases, fleeing war by foot,” Benjamin says, adding his grandparents lived through the Sino-Japanese war.
“I have always been interested in ways to help and support refugees because even though my family story isn’t a refugee story, I understand the need, the desire to seek a better life.”
The Australian writer and broadcaster was born in Australia to migrant parents who left China for Hong Kong due to encroaching communism and the revolution.
His parents eventually moved to Australia after sovereignty over Hong Kong was returned from Britain to China. Benjamin has been a supporter of Australia for UNHCR since 2013, helping our teams deliver shelter, protection, clean water, food and medicines, as well as longer-term projects including healthcare, education and livelihoods.
“I think a lot of us have something to give back to the community,” he says.
“It is contingent on Australia being a nation of Indigenous people, migrants and refugees to ensure safe passage and to ensure there is that basic support. UNHCR provides that, so I am really, really proud to support that and donate to that.”
Benjamin is used to sharing his family’s story and personal experiences. His 2010 memoir, The Family Law, of his formative years growing up on the Sunshine Coast with his four siblings and parents, was adapted into a comedy television series screened on SBS.
But his journalism often involves telling the stories of people who are underrepresented in mainstream media.
Among those he has written about are chef Luke Nguyen, a former refugee turned restaurateur, Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, and disability activist and speaker Carly Findlay.
“I am always much more interested in the outsider story because it is the story I haven’t seen before, or a story I haven’t heard before.”
He is particularly passionate about highlighting the strength and resilience of refugees and the value they bring to the community. He believes that too often, refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people are demonised in mainstream media and in political debates.
“The narrative must be flipped,” he says.
“Some of the most popular media personalities, like Anh Do and Dr Karl – they come from refugee backgrounds. The evidence for how important refugees are in the community is staring us right in the face.”
In the past, Australia has been proud of its intake of Vietnamese refugees following the Vietnam War and students from mainland China after the Tiananmen Square massacre, but Benjamin believes the topic of refugees and asylum seekers has become overly politicised.
“The Chinese Australian and Vietnamese Australian communities alone have changed what Australia is permanently, and for the better,” he says.
“It has enriched our lives, it has enriched our communities, and it has enriched our national palate. I think we need to remind ourselves that so much of what makes Australia great is because of refugees.”
Craftivists Stephanie Dunlap and Tal Fitzpatrick reached out to artists around the world to raise funds for Australia for UNHCR
The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.