Sanctuary Founders with a Burmese family they helped to settle.

Sanctuary Founders with a Burmese family they helped to settle.

Sanctuary’s Story

Originally called Sanctuary Refugee Support Group and then Sanctuary Refugee Foundation, Sanctuary Australia Foundation was founded in 1988 by Sue and Peter Hallam, after what they describe as ‘a life-changing experience’ in Mexico, where they spent time with a priest who was sheltering destitute Salvadoran refugees. “He was humble.” Sue recalls. “His dedication and kindness were an inspiration to us, and we knew then that this was going to be our life’s work! ” Subsequent history testifies to the strength of this commitment. After returning from Mexico, and working with refugees in Canada, the Hallams and their three sons migrated to Australia in November 1987, settling in Coffs Harbour on the north coast of NSW.

They soon established Sanctuary, and began working as volunteers for the Governments Community Refugee Settlement Scheme. Within 12 months, they welcomed four refugee families from Central America to Coffs Harbour. “It was a huge undertaking, as most arrived traumatised, with nothing but the clothes they were standing up in! We helped them in every way possible, including accommodation, furniture, food, clothes, schools, bank, medicare, and so on, and tried to make them feel safe and welcome…..”

In 1997, the group became a Registered Charity and began to send money directly to refugees suffering overseas, as well as clothing, shoes and medicines. In response to the famine in S.Sudan, over $17,000 was raised and sent to help feed those in need. The Sanctuary Australia Foundation sponsors and assists refugees who are in desperate situations overseas, and since 1987 have helped thousands of refugees from many war-torn nations, including Chile, El Salvador, Vietnam, Iraq, Burma, Bosnia and Southern Sudan. On arrival, these refugees are assisted with accommodation, furniture, food, clothing and are generally welcomed into the community.

In 1996, Sanctuary set up a revolving travel loan fund in order to provide interest-free airfare loans for refugees to come to Australia. Read more about it on our programs page. Sanctuary continues to provide assistance for refugees wanting to sponsor their relatives stuck overseas, as well as advice and support for those who are struggling to find accommodation, employment, and housing.