Learning to swim: Melbourne’s recent migrants introduced to the ocean at Brighton Beach.

By Sarah Farnsworth

In an old brick building, home to the Brighton Life Saving club, a line of women in colourful hijabs wearing thick jumpers and coats sit clutching their handbags and looking very out of place.

They are part of a group of Afghani, Sudanese and Ethiopian migrants learning just how dangerous a day at the beach in Melbourne can be.

Speaking slowly, so the story can be interpreted, a surf lifeguard tells the story of the drowning of two children at Gunnamatta beach.

The women glance at each other uncertainly. A few gasp. They cannot swim and this is their first visit to a beach.

For three years, volunteers from Brighton’s Life Saving club have been teaching water safety to newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers.

“It’s actually quite staggering how little they do know,” club spokesman Tim Bolton said.

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“They don’t have any knowledge of how to swim and they don’t have that reflex action to just stand up and realise they are in knee-deep water.

“They certainly have no knowledge of any of the dangers at the beach, rips or anything.”

Within an hour the women are on the sand. They have put their bags down and are playing a game of tug of war with a group of South Sudanese boys.

They lose and burst into laughter.

Then the soccer ball comes out and in amongst the local families the group is eased closer and closer to the water.

From Afghanistan to the beaches of Melbourne

Bushra Gamada moved to Victoria from Sudan four years ago.

He shyly explains he is ready to take the plunge and holds tightly onto the surfboards straps with an intense stare as he is pulled deeper into the water.

Afghani Habiba Gaffari has been in Victoria for eight months.

Her four children came to the beach with their school but she had never been.

She left them at home for the day and came to make friends. She smiles nervously and said she enjoyed it.

Building confidence in the water

Catholic Care’s Tomasa Morales organised the bus from Dandenong.

“Not many people feel confident to go into the water because for many this is new,” Ms Morales explained.

“I have met people from Afghanistan who have never seen the beach.”

“People have very difficult lives where they are coming from and sometimes they don’t have access to things that are very basic and that we take here for granted.”

She was hopeful the day trippers would think of coming down by themselves with a blanket and a couple of sandwiches.

“You don’t need to spend a lot of money, just have fun and forget about how difficult life is and forget about the past and the traumas,” Ms Morales said.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


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