An occasional series on some of the very many people who work or have worked with BMRSG over the 22 years we have been going.
Michael Howorth tells his story.
I first visited Villawood IDC on 26/01/2012 with the BMRSG. At the time it was with Graeme Swincer, his wife and daughter. They were very active members of the BMRSG. The connection, because i live in Seaforth, was that another of Graeme’s daughters and her husband attended the same church as where my wife was the social justice pastor. They wanted the church (Seaforth Baptist) to get involved with asylum seekers and refugees.
So our friends organised via Graeme and the BMRSG for myself, my wife, our 3 children and one boyfriend to visit Villawood that day almost 11.5 years ago.
In the end I kept visiting and joined the BMRSG as the ‘coastal branch’ as there was not much point in opening a refugee support group on the northern beaches at that time.
People like Noeline Nagle will know me from those early years. I attended all the meetings in the Blue Mountains, staying with Grant Medaris and his wife. I was a big part of starting up the employment stuff, organising the training from STARTTS for detention centre visitors and a key instigator in getting legal representation (via the then PILCH) for the ASIO refugees for the Margaret Stone review. I also did a fundraiser for the ASIO refugees’ families in 2014. I visited Villawood right up to December 2019 (my last visit) and I first started working in the community in March 2012 when one of the asylum seekers I had met was released on a PPV. So I have always had one foot in both camps – community visitor and detention centre visitor. I used to visit the Villawood housing section as well as the general section.
At the time (2012), the ASIO refugees were kinda forgotten as nothing could be done for them so I kinda adopted them.
I still work with all the ASIO refugees I met and many others. Apart from one Iranian, all my clients are Tamil. In the early years I did work with other nationalities but just drifted to the Tamils. I do try to come to the quarterly meetings but it is not always possible due to family commitments (4 grandchildren).
I tend to fly under the radar as a) I am not in the Blue Mountains and b) I am not a great team player. I prefer to just get things done. That is my single biggest skill – I get things done.
I have done partner visa applications, citizenship applications, disability support pension claims, numerous Centrelink dispute resolutions and much much more. I also provide a fair bit of business advice as the Tamils are entrepreneurs but tend to miss the details like have they got public liability insurance, are they registered for GST etc.
The photo below is Michael Howorth with Tharsanan Vijayakumar, who I met on my first visit to Villawood on 26/1/12 and this is him after his citizenship ceremony on, 6/1/2019. He wasn’t one of the ASIO refugees. I also did his partner visa which re-united him with his wife and son who he had never me.
This is my ‘job’. I easily spend 3 days a week doing it sometime more like at the moment, sometimes less.
* PILCH was the Public Interest Law Clearing House. It has been superseded by a new body. It was set up to fund legal cases that lawyers felt were in the public interest but where the client did not have the money to pay for it. In this case the indefinite detention of refugees.
** The ‘ASIO’ refugees were asylum seekers that were found to be refugees and then ASIO gave them an adverse security assessment.
You can learn more about donating to refugees in Australia here.