Think of refugees or asylum seekers at the moment and the last words you would have heard were likely to be mouthed by political representatives in their daily sniping over “border control” policies.
But behind the political point-scoring is a success story that was worth celebrating during Refugee Week this week.
Since Federation, Australia has successfully resettled more than 750,000, an impressive achievement for a nation of just under 23 million people.
Humanitarian arrivals have been a critical part of the Australian story since post-war refugees helped build the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Refugees continue to make their contribution in ways we Australians hold dear – on a football field, in business, in comedy, the arts and on the international stage.
Refugees embody the entrepreneurial spirit we admire. Some, like Frank Lowy, translated a survival instinct into business success, arriving in Australia in 1952 with little English to become Australia’s richest man. Sir Gustav Nossal arrived in Australia as a refugee and established a distinguished medical scientist and immunologist. The A-League and AFL boast players of refugee background.
Why does it work? Because when it comes to resettling refugees, Australia punches above its weight by providing the most comprehensive and sophisticated systems of support for resettled refugees anywhere in the world.
Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) provides intensive settlement support to newly-arrived humanitarian clients on arrival and throughout their initial settlement period.
These services help new arrivals become active participants in our communities as soon as possible through intensive support during the initial settlement period.
This includes intensive English tuition, learning how to open a bank account, how to enrol children in school, how to use public transport, applying for a driver’s licence as well as cultural orientation about societal norms and behaviour.
On Saturday, we launched Refugee Week in Sydney with a speech by a young woman who is testament to the success of Australia’s refugee resettlement policies. Nooria Wazefadost arrived with her family in Australia in 2000 as a 14-year-old. As members of the Hazara people from Afghanistan, the family was forced to flee civil war, persecution and ethnic cleansing. Seeking hope and safety, the family endured 10 days on a small wooden boat, arriving in Australia where they were detained at the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre. In 2004, after three months in detention and three years living on temporary protection visas, Nooria and her family were granted permanent visas. Nooria achieved her burning desire to attended school, enrolling at Holroyd High School in Western Sydney. With intensive English support, Nooria finished her schooling and is now studying accounting at university, while holding down a job as a teacher’s aide and community liaison officer.