Approximately 200 people have welcomed Tweed Shire’s declaration as a Refugee Welcome Zone, by attending a recent free movie screening in Murwillumbah.

“It was really heart-warming to see so many people fill the Regent Cinema to support the initiative,” the Chair of the Refugee Council of Australia, Sonia Caton, told the event.

“One of our big initiatives to achieve social cohesion is to get councils on board through this program,” Ms Caton said.

She said this backing was “absolutely critical” because it created a level of community support that was impossible for governments to ignore.

Tweed Shire Council joined a number of local governments, including Lismore City, Coffs Harbour City and Port Macquarie-Hastings councils, in aligning with the Refugee Council of Australia initiative.

Tweed Shire Council resolved in September 2015 to join the program.

Sunday’s ceremony featured the screening of the feature-length film Mary Meets Mohammad, which tells the story of Tasmania’s first detention centre and the bond that formed between local Christian woman Mary and Muslim Afghan Hazara asylum seeker Mohammad.

A DVD copy of the film is now available to borrow from the Richmond Tweed Regional Library, to give more residents a chance to watch the documentary.

Tweed Mayor Councillor Katie Milne said she was extremely pleased the Tweed councillors resolved unanimously to declare the Tweed a Refugee Welcome Zone, sending a strong and symbolic message.

Cr Milne, who signed the declaration aligning Tweed Shire to the program, was unable to attend Sunday’s ceremony but had a prepared speech read to the crowd.

Cr Barry Longland, who read the speech and who initiated Tweed Shire’s move to join the program, said multiculturalism enriches a community and should be embraced.

“It’s no secret the issue of asylum seekers does create divisions in our society,” he told the ceremony.

“The program is about the positive things that can happen at the shire and village level and the positive things for people coming to our area.”

The matinee film screen was addressed by an Afghan refugee who arrived with his family in Australia in 2012 and was still waiting for his application for residency to be processed.

“We are just grateful to be here because we are still alive. If we had not made the decision to come to this country, we would be dead by now,” he said.

The crowd was told he and his family had been targeted by terrorists in Afghanistan and death had become part of his daily life, as people he knew were killed by insurgents. After being targeted, he had no choice but to escape his country. His family travelled for six days aboard vessel that nearly sank in the middle of the ocean, until the boat and its passengers were rescued by a commercial ship.

“You would not want anyone to go through a journey like that unless it was really necessary to stay alive,” he said.

Courtesy Tweed Shire Council