As 2023 comes to an end, we look back on some of the moments that gave us hope throughout the year.
Former South Sudanese refugee Anyier Yuol won the 2023 Australia for UNHCR – SBS Les Murray Award for Refugee Recognition for her diverse achievements across sport, women’s empowerment and refugee advocacy.
Born in a UNHCR camp in Kenya, Anyier came to Australia on a humanitarian visa at the age of 10 with her sister and her father’s family. Despite the challenges of living in a new country, Anyier eventually found a way to connect with others through sport and make a difference for displaced people.
“You can’t be neutral when it comes to issues of human rights,” said Anyier. “If you have the privilege and you have the voice, use it.”
After visiting an immigration detention centre and hearing the stories of refugees, Mary Lou Byrne teamed up with her friend Therese Briggs to fundraise for Australia for UNHCR. They started organising trivia and film nights, where they served their own sweets. Then they hit on a new fundraising idea – selling Mary Lou’s signature rocky road. Their efforts have certainly made an impact. In the five years they’ve been selling rocky road, the women have raised $34,000 for refugees.
“If you want to fundraise for UNHCR, I’d suggest looking at something you already do,” said Mary Lou. “You just need to do a little more of that and put it towards a good cause."
During the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup event in Australia, FIFA partnered with UNHCR to promote a message of peace and unity.
“For displaced people, football can be a game-changer to help overcome the many challenges they face,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Crucially, it fosters inclusion in the communities where they have found safety.”
As part of the initiative, young athletes from Hope Australia Soccer Academy (HASA,) were invited to experience the thrill of a tournament. HASA is a not-for-profit sports program focused on developing football and life skills for its members – many of whom are refugees from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
Alaa Alqasem was a student at Damascus University when war broke out in Syria in 2011. She fled with her family to Jordan, joining thousands of Syrian refugees displaced by the fighting. Despite this, Alaa was determined to finish her education. Eventually, she completed a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Now, she is using the power of storytelling to bring awareness to the plight of refugees and call for action.
“I write about refugees’ stories and education in order to reach the decision makers, the people who have the power to provide opportunities such as scholarships or support innovative ideas from refugees,” said Alaa. “These ideas aren’t only for refugees or host communities; they are ideas for the whole word.”
Stories linger behind every doorway and in every marketplace at Kutapalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Rohingya refugees Zia, Abdullah, Salim and Shahida use photography to find and share those stories with the world.
This commitment has led to their recognition as the 2023 winners of the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for Asia and the Pacific. The award honours individuals, groups and organisations who go above and beyond to protect refugees and internally displaced and stateless people.
“Our stories show that we exist,” said Shahida. “And we have to tell our own stories, because we are the ones who know them best.”