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Syria refugee response ‘positively overwhelming’

Discussions with communities began this month as part of the Australian Government’s resettlement program for 12,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

In an exclusive interview with The Point Magazine, the NSW Coordinator-General for Refugee Settlement, Professor Peter Shergold, said: “These people need our help, and my role is to coordinate a holistic approach with government agencies, community groups and the private sector all pitching in to offer the best services we can for these refugees.”

Professor Shergold said that a collective community effort across industries is the key to successfully resettling refugees in Australia.

“It is vital that all the agencies of the State Government work together in a coordinated way to wrap support services around the refugee families as they arrive,” he said.

Upon arrival, refugees will be settled into housing and offered counselling and health programs, but Professor Shergold said the government’s response will go far beyond these basics.

“We need not only to provide immediate help – such as community services, health programs, trauma counselling and housing – but also ensure that the new arrivals gain access to English-language training, education and employment services.”

Since the Australian Government announced it would resettle about 12,000 extra refugees from Iraq and Syria in September 2015, messages of support have been flooding the refugee resettlement organisations and non-government organisations in NSW.

Professor Shergold said he is heartened by the response from the community, with more than 300 offers of support registered including offers of English lessons, friendship, accommodation and professional services including healthcare and counselling.

 

"This program encourages all the people of NSW to lend support, no matter what their backgrounds are. This is about a group of people who need our help and who will, in time, make a valuable contribution to our community.”

– Professor Peter Shergold.

To harness the general public’s support, Professor Shergold said he will be looking for tangible job opportunities for refugees.

“I will also be asking private sector businesses to help the Government provide employment and training opportunities for the refugees. Many – given a chance – will have skills, experience, entrepreneurial energy and the determination to succeed.”

Professor Shergold stressed that the success of the resettlement plan is dependent on state, federal and local government cooperation.

“It is crucial that we also build strong collaborative partnerships between the NSW public sector and the not-for-profit community organisations that now play such an important part in helping to deliver government services,” he told the Point Magazine.  

The additional 12,000 refugees will come from Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan following mandatory health and security checks. The Australian Government will then consider a range of factors in determining where they will be resettled.

“The Syrian and Iraqi communities in NSW are remarkably diverse, and includes people from Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Eastern Orthodox religions,” said Professor Shergold. “Some of the refugees will have existing community links, others will not.

“This program encourages all the people of NSW to lend support, no matter what their backgrounds are. This is about a group of people who need our help and who will, in time, make a valuable contribution to our community”.

He said a key component of resettlement is offering specialist help in overcoming trauma, especially among young children arriving in Australia.

“Any refugee from a war-torn country – especially children of an impressionable age – will be affected by what they see, feel and hear. The aim of our resettlement program is to provide as much support and assistance to enable people who have undergone this sort of trauma to recover and positively participate in our community.

“Australia has a proud history of accepting people from foreign countries, whether as refugees or migrants,” he said.

“This has resulted in the rich multicultural society that exists here. In my experience, refugees by nature are risk-taking, enterprising people who are not afraid of change.”

Jill Gillespie, manager at resettlement service Navitas, said: “In the past few months, the level of community interest has been so positive with a range of offers from people wanting to help. Really it’s been a resounding response and the positive energy is fantastic.

“I think one of the most wonderful things the Australian public can do is assist with social engagements,” she said.

“They can help people link up to a mosque or church, for example. A lot of the time clients want opportunities to link with the Australian general public. They love welcome barbecues, initiatives that take families out to a picnic, teaching kids how to read and just getting to know each other and feeling part of the community.”

Housing, however, is one of the challenges in resettling refugee families, said Gillespie.

“Housing is one of the hardest, because they’re on Centrelink benefits and they can’t afford generally to live in a house they would like to live in. So we often have to find something suitable to their income and that can be quite different to what they expect. So we have to manage those expectations.”

The government has reassured communities that refugees will be selected based on their need and vulnerabilities and not religion, as initially said by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The Point

Discussions with communities began this month as part of the Australian Government’s resettlement program for 12,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

References

Image licensed to Creative Commons.

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