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The story

Three decades of welcome

When the Asylum Seekers Centre was established in 1993 it was the first organisation in Australia to specifically address the needs of people seeking asylum in the community.

Mandatory detention policies had just been introduced and many people were concerned about the potential to use detention to punish people who are lawfully seeking protection.

The strength of the Asylum Seekers Centre has always been the links to the community. In the beginning the Good Shepherd Sisters provided use of a house in Surry Hills which became a place of welcome, learning, connection and generosity.

People at ASC in Surry Hills
The ASC started in a house owned by Good Shepherd Sisters in Surry Hills.

Volunteers offered a shared meal, English classes, social support and a connection to the Australian community. Many of the original volunteers continue to be a part of the ASC community.

Faith groups, communities of friends and individual donors funded the establishment of the organisation and to this day, philanthropic gifts and grants provide the vast majority of the Asylum Seekers Centre’s resources.

By 2013 the original house was bursting at the seams and the growing employment team was working in the local library. With assistance from the Good Shepherd Sisters and a community of generous individuals led by the Becher Foundation, Susan Varga and Anne Coombs, a new home in Newtown was purchased for the use of the Asylum Seekers Centre.

Anne Coombs and Susan Varga at the opening of Becher House in Newtown.
Anne Coombs and Susan Varga at the opening of Becher House in Newtown.

In 2013 the political landscape was changing again and indefinite offshore detention with no possibility of a home within Australia had become the reality for anyone seeking protection who arrived by boat.

The expansion of ASC services continued and a health clinic, professional caseworkers, emergency housing, digital connectivity and family support have all been added to the range of support available, 29 years after the doors first opened.

Volunteers remain a powerful provider of services at the ASC and they are now joined by more than 30 professional staff. A volunteer board provides governance and expertise.