My name is Caterina Mezzatesta and I was the co-ordinator of the Edmund Rice Asylum Seeker Project for the last five years. I have recently moved on from this position, but stay involved as a volunteer. Over the course of time with the project, I was privileged to work alongside many beautiful people. The project started out as a drop-in centre in Richmond for asylum seekers in the community to come along for support and friendship and a hearty lunch.
The project grew and evolved over time, and I found myself volunteering in the detention centre in Broadmeadows, MITA, organising activities and monthly parties, bringing in people from the community to make connection with people inside the detention centre. I was also one of the fortunate few who had authority to take people out of detention for the day. This was by far one of the most incredible gifts I have ever been blessed with. Together with Pamela Curr, Sister Brigid Arthur and a select few others, we were able to give people a day of normality. A day to feel human again, to feel like a real person exploring the world. Not a number in a detention centre, or feeling like a criminal being closely monitored and watched when out on excursions with Serco (security) staff.
In July of 2015 our privileges ceased, when Border Force took over and new and harsher rules were put in place, leaving people with very little respite from the awful existence that is life in detention. But those days where we could take people out were magical! Many just wanted to look in shops or sit in a café, walk through the city, visit a park, take in the fresh air, and just feel a sense of freedom. Get a taste of ‘outside’ and be filled with hope for what might lie ahead in a free future. We often coupled these outings with lunch at the drop-in centre, so that people could make connections so that when they were released, they had somewhere to go. This worked beautifully on many occasions.
I remember one particular excursion. I took a young family out for the first time after a year in detention. It was wintertime but they asked to go to the beach. So we went to St Kilda for a walk on the beach. Mum and her 4 year old daughter collected shells. A simple yet poignant experience to witness. Their limited English meant that conversation was basic but we had a fancy lunch on the foreshore and everyone was happy. Really happy. It was always heartbreaking to return them to a place of such despair, but so special to be able to give them a blessed memory to treasure.
– Caterina, Victoria