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How a Greek boy started the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Maurice Blackburn
Thanks to our brand partner, Maurice Blackburn

The teacher pauses at the name. A Karapanagiotidis in a small country town of Smiths and Joneses.

In the playground, “dirty wog” rings out.

So what do you do when you’ve been told to “go back to where you came from” too many times to count?

You start an organisation to help the Mohameds, the Lazarevskas and the Abdels. The ones who can’t go back to where they came from.

Kon shares how he started the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, on the Fighting For Fair podcast:

As a child, Kon Karapanagiotidis was “Greek without a doubt and hairy beyond my years,” he says.

“My memories growing up in the little country town are ones of absolute grief and sorrow and ones of horror… Desperate, desperate to fit in.”

A first-generation Australian, Kon came from a family of people who never really belonged anywhere. His grandparents were refugees who had to flee their country, and his father too crossed the sea as a migrant to seek a better life in Australia.

But for Kon, this ‘multicultural’ land was not abound with the safety and acceptance that was promised. Australia, he found, was littered with racism.

This is a country where we routinely knock back desperate people seeking a safe haven, or relegate them to detention centres.

And when they are let in, it’s where they are attacked for the colour of their skin. It’s where job seekers have to anglicise their names at times to try and get around the racism they face. It’s where they are mocked and taunted, all the way to breaking point.

Kon as a child. Image supplied.
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Even as he moved into adulthood, loneliness enveloped that little Greek boy.

"I remember trying to comfort myself, asleep in tears on my bed, wondering why I was someone people hated so much," he said.

"I wanted the earth to swallow me whole, completely, right then and there - so I didn't have to suffer anymore."

But there was love inside him to give, and Kon began seeking out places to share that love. A momentous decision for a man who had spent most of his life as a receptacle for hate. He spent the next decade reaching out to any group or community that had been forgotten. From homeless folk and young people at risk, to people who had been abused and tortured. Kon held out his hand. 

After losing his father, Kon began to think about his own experiences growing up and how he could help others in his situation.

An asylum seeker protest in Melbourne. Image supplied.

He imagined "a place where people like me would have a home of welcome, a place that made sense, a place where they belonged - because that is all refugees are seeking - a place where they belong."

So began the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC).

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And it was exactly as he pictured it. Both a place and a movement. Empowering and uniting people.

Fiercely independent, the ASRC is a community-led and owned not-for-profit organisation that has welcomed and given hope to more than 12,000 refugees and people seeking asylum in the last 15 years. Their programs support and empower more than 3,000 people every year to build a brighter, safer future. As a movement, they mobilise and unite communities to create lasting social and policy change for people seeking asylum in Australia.

Community meals at ASRC Footscray. Image: Tim Turner.

"I see families who the ASRC once helped gain their freedom who are now thriving
and contributing as citizens," Kon says.

But for every happy newcomer he sees, Kon wants to help the countless others seeking asylum, whether it be from a dangerous or oppressive country, or prejudice on our own shores.

"Because for every one of these stories and every one of those moments, there are thousands of others right now yearning for that freedom - dreaming to be free and safe, but fighting in that limbo. Searching for a place to call home."

For more stories about Australians fighting for fair, you can listen to past episodes here:

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