Five minutes with Adama Kamara, Deputy CEO, Refugee Council of Australia

Published 30 June 2022

Adama Kamara looking directly at camera smiling

The Refugee Council of Australia is the national umbrella body for refugees and the organisations and individuals who support them. It has more than 1,200 members.  

Their vision is for the voices of refugees to be heard, the rights of refugees to be respected, the humanity of refugees valued, and the contribution and leadership of refugees celebrated.

We spoke with Adama Kamara, Deputy CEO, to learn more about the work they do.

Can you tell us about the Refugee Council of Australia and the work you do?

The Refugee Council of Australia is an advocacy organisation. We advocate for fair and humane refugee and asylum policies here in Australia and internationally. 

Our work is primarily focused on research and policy analysis, advocacy and representation, public awareness and raising support for refugees through community education. We try to get the broader public to understand the reality of the refugee experience and the reality of their life in Australia; and through that understanding we believe we can raise support for refugees.

When did you join the organisation and what does your role entail?

I joined the Refugee Council of Australia in January 2021 as the Deputy CEO, a new role within the organisation. 

I work with the CEO to manage the organisation and ensure things run smoothly. I look after many HR aspects, write funding applications and led the development of our new three-year strategic plan. I also speak at conferences, represent our organisation on panels and lead consultations that inform our advocacy work. 

Before joining the Refugee Council of Australia, I spent 10 years working in local government in Western Sydney; a local government area with the highest number of people seeking asylum in the country.

I myself have lived experience seeking asylum. My family is from Sierra Leone and in the early 1990s we came to Australia as my father was studying on a scholarship. The plan was to stay for four years, but during that time war broke out in Sierra Leone and it wasn’t possible for us to return home. We were able to seek asylum in Australia and we sponsored family members to join us through the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. That process led me to work in the refugee response sector.

Can you tell us about Operation #NotForgotten and how this campaign is providing a lifeline for some refugees detained on Manus Island and Nauru?

Operation #NotForgotten is a partnership project that we developed in 2019. It's a community-led response to the current policy in Australia, which stops people who arrive by boat from resettling here permanently. The project provides private sponsorship to Canada for refugees who have been caught in Australia’s offshore processing regime and are stuck on Manus Island or Nauru forever.

Our primary role is to fundraise. To date, $4.3 million has been raised through donations from everyday Australians who don’t agree with the Australian Government’s policy. 

The funds required for income support for a refugee in their first year in Canada is around $21,500 or $36,500 for a family of five. There also needs to be a team of volunteers ready to welcome and support them during their first 12 months.

The program has been really successful; we've been able to submit applications for 172 refugees and 144 of their family members from across the world. So that’s 316 people who will have a chance to live a normal life.

We are very proud of this project and the support the Australian public has provided.

‘CRISP’ – the Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot – is due to commence this year. How will this program enable groups of everyday Australians to welcome refugees into their local area?

This program kicks off in July. It is based on the Canadian model and will allow Australian community members to band together and support new refugees to settle in their community. The Refugee Council of Australia advocated for many years to achieve this and the team at Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia (CRSA) has been working hard to get the program up and running.

Whilst government policies might be really harsh on refugees or people seeking asylum, we know that overwhelmingly, the broader public is actually really accepting.

CRISP will allow groups of everyday Australians (including those in regional communities) to get involved in welcoming refugees into their local area from day one of their Australian journey, and to continue to provide them with practical hands-on support throughout their first 12 months. Training is provided but it’s mostly about being warm and friendly and building trust.

To find out more or register your interest, you can visit the CRSA website.

Refugee Week ran from 19-25 June. Why is Refugee Week important and what is the significance of this year’s theme, ‘Healing’? 

Refugee Week is one of the most important things we do. It’s about highlighting the positive contributions of refugees. 

Too often, when it comes to refugee issues, people think about vulnerability. But we need to remember that refugees have capacity, there’s social capital, there’s strength and resilience; and refugees make an enormous contribution to society. Yes, things are challenging, and we need to advocate for better policies, but we also need to acknowledge the resilience and positivity of refugee communities.

As well as being a celebration, Refugee Week is an important opportunity to educate and raise awareness. 

The theme for 2022 was ‘Healing’. The last two years have been intense and COVID has shown us the importance of human connection and taking time to heal. This year was the first time in two years that we have had in-person events.

The Refugee Council of Australia coordinates the celebrations for Refugee Week. We produce resources, host webinars and provide a speakers’ program which gets booked out. 

Refugee Week is the fun part of my job and I enjoy travelling and attending events around Australia. So much is on offer and events spill out of Refugee Week and across the month of June. It’s more like Refugee Month which is wonderful! 

Refugee Camp in My Neighbourhood looks like an amazing experience. Where is it located, what does it hope to achieve, and how can schools and members of the public book a tour?

Refugee Camp in My Neighbourhood will be delivered from 1 to 19 August at the Whitlam Institute within Western Sydney University, Parramatta Campus.

It is a simulated refugee journey. You go on a tour and place yourself in the shoes of someone who has had to leave their home and seek safety. You see the reality of the refugee journey and meet amazing tour guides who have lived that journey themselves. They share facts with you as well as their personal story.

Refugee Camp in My Neighbourhood is an opportunity to raise awareness, increase understanding and to consider what each of us could do differently to make the resettlement process easier. 

There are dedicated, interactive tours for primary and secondary school students as well as tours for health professionals, teachers and other staff working with refugees and people seeking asylum.

Further information and bookings are available via the website.

How can members of the community support the work of the Refugee Council of Australia?

There are so many ways individuals can support the work of the Refugee Council of Australia: 

  • Raise awareness and be supportive of refugee issues; use our Quick Guide to fact check information.
  • Speak up for refugees and engage with your local MP.
  • Book a speaker through our face-to-face program.
  • If you are interested in our work, follow us on social.
  • Support Operation #NotForgotten.
  • Become a member.
  • Make a one-time or monthly donation. Our organisation is primarily funded through donations which pay for staff wages and allow us to continue our advocacy work, so they are greatly appreciated.

To learn more visit www.refugeecouncil.org.au

Last updated:

10 Aug 2022

Was this content useful?
We will use your rating to help improve the site.
Please don't include personal or financial information here
Please don't include personal or financial information here

We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the ongoing connection Aboriginal people have to this land and recognise Aboriginal people as the original custodians of this land.

Top Return to top of page Top