As our frontline teams work around the clock to stop the spread of coronavirus in refugee settlements, Australians from all walks of life are stepping up to help.

Prickles the sheep went missing after the Dunalley fires in 2013, so it was a huge surprise when she was spotted in a nearby paddock sporting seven years’ worth of wool.

“When we found Prickles, we were joking that she was an expert at social distancing,” says Alice Gray, a sheep farmer from Tasmania and supporter of Australia for UNHCR.

“That got us talking about people in this world who don’t have the luxury of being able to social distance. A lot of us are complaining about being stuck at home, but imagine if you didn’t have a home, and imagine if you couldn’t wash your hands whenever you went outside or touched something someone else had touched?”

Alice (and Prickles) decided to support Australia for UNHCR. They started a contest to guess the weight of Prickles’ fleece, and a fundraising page for people to donate as they guessed. 

Starting with ABC Hobart and the Hobart Mercury newspaper, the story raced around the world – even reaching UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements in Geneva, who recorded a special message for the Gray family.

Prickles was shorn on 1 May, and by then the 13.6kg fleece had raised nearly $13,000 – almost a dollar for every gram. 

And so many other communities around Australia are stepping up in support. The Muslim community, for example, have been thinking of refugees during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. By the end of Ramadan on 24 May, tens of thousands of dollars had been raised in the charitable spirit of ‘Zakat’.

Overall, since the campaign began in March, Australians have already raised more than a million dollars.

That money is going to work immediately. With last week’s deliveries to DRC and South Sudan, UNHCR completed provision of the first batch of 1.5 million masks to priority country operations. In Yemen, more than 16,500 core relief items, such as blankets and kitchen sets, and personal protective equipment for 24,000, have been delivered since March.

But there’s more to do, and from 14-20 June, Australia marks Refugee Week, culminating in World Refugee Day – with the apt theme that ‘Everyone Counts’.

There will be local and national online get-togethers, including a major online event featuring UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett, our Special Representative Marta Dusseldorp, and refugee voices from across the globe. Register here to join us for what will be a very special conversation.

And after Refugee Week there are many other ways to get involved. For example, though the traditional Spring ‘running season’ is off, Australians can raise money for refugees in their own streets and back yards via a planned ‘5-5-5’ challenge.

The idea is to run five or walk kilometres, donate five dollars, and encourage five other people to take part. Several other initiatives are in the works and will be announced soon.


UNHCR distributes emergency supplies in Tripoli

The coronavirus appeal is already helping millions. In Libya, UNHCR began a series of extra emergency distributions in Tripoli, to assist some of the most vulnerable people during Ramadan, and as war and COVID-19 present new threats. © UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem

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