A Pilgrimage of Gratitude

Rev Nguyễn Hữu Trí, a refugee from Vietnam, reflects on his ‘Pilgrimage of Gratitude’ from Melbourne to Canberra in 2014 to express his thanks to Australia for the gift of refuge and to help raise awareness for justice for people seeking asylum.

In 2014, Nguyễn Hữu Trí, a refugee from Vietnam, walked from Melbourne to Canberra on a ‘Pilgrimage of Gratitude’ to express his thanks to Australia for the gift of refuge and to help raise awareness for justice for people seeking asylum. Ten years on, Rev Nguyễn Hữu Trí reflects on his journey and heart for justice with the Common Grace movement. 



I walked from Brunswick to Canberra ten years ago with three Asylum Seeker friends. We pulled a replica model boat (of the one my family escaped Vietnam with), hoping to change the negative conversation about Asylum Seekers. The walk involved visiting all the towns along the way, being welcomed and hosted by local churches and sharing stories and music with communities open to hearing and encountering the personhood of Asylum Seekers and seeing the beauty of their humanity, resilience, and courageous hearts. We arrived as strangers but left as friends, with tears from the encounters. 

It took us thirty-three days and 650 km, and every day was beautiful, even in the rain. My three walking companions were like little excited children going on an adventure, discovering the beauty of Australia and its people. 

I wanted to give the boat to Parliament as a gift of gratitude for providing generations of refugees with new beginnings and a hope-filled future, but the government of the day did not accept it. However, Andrew Wilkie MP decided to receive and host the boat in his office and assured me it would be passed on and hosted by other MPs. For the last ten years, the boat has been floating among the offices of members of Parliament, currently in Senator Anne Urquhart's office. 

While two of my walking companions, Linda and Daniel, have received permanent visas, Majid was taken back into the detention center shortly after the walk. I visited Majid a few times, but then he suddenly disappeared. Many of my asylum seekers' friends are still waiting for permanent visas after 11 years or more; some have significantly suffered from physical and mental health issues, others have given up hope, and a few have made applications and were accepted to reside in New Zealand.

I often think back to when my father, sister and I arrived at the refugee camp in Pulau Bindong after being rescued from being held by pirates. We were in the camp for only a few months before the Australian government accepted our application. We flew to Melbourne and stayed at the migrant hostel, which provided us with access to everything we needed to begin a new life. 

Local churches welcomed us to Australia, took us to their homes and on family vacations, and helped my dad find work and apply for sponsorship for my mother and two young brothers to be reunited. 

The former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, was instrumental in establishing Australia's quick response to support for Vietnamese refugees, ensuring they were quickly processed and well cared for to begin a new life. 

"And I wish you all the best for your future lives in this country, yourselves and your children, that in Australia, your best hopes and aspirations for the future will be realised." Malcolm Fraser, Prime Minister 1975 - 1983 

Asylum Seeker's humanity and dignity have continued to be eroded by our current political hostility. The trauma of living in liminal spaces will forever form their life. My heart has been broken time and time again as I can only sit silently with my friends, hearing their pain, and I have nothing to say or do to encourage and comfort them. While we have celebrated with the few who could start over again, many still languish without hope. 

Like Israel in Malachi's time, we have continued to 'deprive the foreigners living among you of justice'




We are deeply grateful to Nguyễn Hữu Trí for his courage and generosity in sharing his story with us. We acknowledge the heaviness of his experience journeying alongside many people seeking refuge and asylum in our country and pray for justice and for hope to break through. We continue to call, pray, act and walk together for justice for people seeking asylum and long for the day when those seeking safety on our shores are met with welcome, compassion, generosity and love. 

You can find out more about Rev Nguyễn Hữu Trí’s story and his 2014 ‘Pilgrimage of Gratitude’ here: www.thegiftofrefuge.org.au, SBS News, and SMH.


📸 1: Nguyễn Hữu Trí arrives in Canberra at the end of their pilgrimage. 2: Day 12 walking to Benalla. 3: Tri, Linda, Daniel, and Majid welcomed at Wangaratta. All photos shared with thanks - www.thegiftofrefuge.org.au

Rev Nguyễn Hữu Trí is a former refugee from Vietnam, and is currently the Associate Pastor at Springvale Vietnamese Evangelical Church, Melbourne. Trí and his family live, work, study and play on the beloved land of Wurrundjeri peoples.

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