Bwe Thay, from Melbourne, takes on a variety of roles as he fights to ensure that refugee communities across Victoria are kept safe and well informed during COVID-19 and beyond. His own experience of living in a refugee camp for five years on the Thai- Burma border has given him a unique perspective on life in lockdown and a deep commitment to make sure no one is left behind in this trying time.
“For people who have not gone through being locked up before, social isolation is quite a daunting experience. In some ways I feel like I was actually blessed that I spent time in refugee camps in lockdown because I can now utilise that experience at this time through the work that I am doing.
“I’ve been involved as an advisory board member with the Refugee Community Association of Australia and as the Vice President on the Communities Council on Ethnic Issues. Through COVID-19 we have been able to meet with and consult our communities. We were approached to see if we could deliver or run an emergency food relief program because many of the Asylum seekers and some of the community members could not access Jobkeeper because of technicalities.
“Through the goodwill of the wider community we started delivering food hampers which would last for two weeks to the Rohingya community, and then we expanded the program the following week to reach out to Asyrian/Kaldian communities, Burmese communities, the Iranian communities, the International student network, the Bhutanese/ Nepalese community and also other, smaller groups who approach us.
“I also see that we need to advocate for these diverse communities so that materials about COVID-19 are translated in their own languages. Having materials in their own languages empowers the community through information so that they are doing the right thing and complying with the rules and regulations of the Victorian state. I have also set up a Facebook group with many of the community leaders that I have close relations with and we share information, so that we can pass it back to our communities as quickly as possible. Our communities have to be empowered not with second hand information but with accurate information.
“The reason we did this was to ensure that no one is left behind. We are all in this together, and, coming from a refugee background myself, we know what it means when you are left out or when you run out of options. Advocating for our diverse communities closely aligns with my personal values. If the community benefits from it and I can contribute in a small way, that is something I am passionate about. I don’t do things based on expectation of what I get back. So it doesn’t matter what ethnicity or religion, to me I don’t see that, I see us as communities, as human race and what matters is how we can empower and inspire one another.
“We saw that in the spirit of the Australians in the bushfires crisis. It is a free spirited, generous, friendly, kind and fair person and I think during the bushfire disaster we saw that not only from the Government but from the community level and through COVID -19 I’m able to see it again. The passion and compassion from the communities to help one another and help their fellow Australians is beautiful, so having the opportunity to experience that Australian spirit makes me very proud to be an Australian.
BIO: Bwe Thay Commissioner with the Victorian Multicultural Commission and a passionate advocate for a multicultural Australia. He has held many leadership roles within Victoria’s multicultural sector with a focus on education and employment for new and emerging communities. He has received a range of community and academic awards for his contributions, including the Victorian Multicultural Commission’s 2018 Emerging Leadership in Multiculturalism Award
His voluntary work spans grassroots, community development and empowerment right through to advising all levels of government. Focusing on bringing people together, building capacity and raising aspirations, Bwe has worked tirelessly to empower new Australians of all backgrounds to take advantage of the power of education to improve their lives and the lives of their families and communities. As part of his engagement with these organisations, Bwe builds awareness of multicultural, migrant and refugee issues among government and policy makers, and in effect provides a voice for those yet to find a voice in Australia