24 Jan 2023Opinion
From the CEO: Anniversaries highlight Australia’s welcoming spirit
February marks two anniversaries that highlight the generosity and success of Australia’s approach to refugee resettlement.
The more sombre of the two, February 24, marks the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has driven more than five million people from their homes, including thousands of individuals and families who have found safety in Australia.
In February 2022, SSI begun working with Ukrainian nationals unable to return home due to the war with Russia. It was a unique and complex resettlement scenario, in part because many refugees were already in Australia on tourist, holiday or working visas.
A good example of this is Yurri and Inna Chuchenko, who arrived in Australia on temporary visas and were connected to SSI. We helped them access the full suite of support they were entitled to as refugees.
The nature of refugee resettlement is that we must be responsive. SSI responded in 2015, with the one-off intake of 15,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq, and again in 2021, when we had just hours to prepare for the arrival of refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
It takes a whole ecosystem of support to achieve successful settlement outcomes, and we were fortunate to forge strong partnerships with Ukrainian community members and diaspora groups to ensure individuals retained cultural ties as they began their new lives in Australia.
Another example of the success of our whole-of-community approach to refugee resettlement is in the regional city of Armidale, which is Australia’s newest refugee resettlement location. Next month, SSI celebrates five years of supporting refugees to build new lives in Armidale.
Armidale is a case study for the dual benefits of regional refugee resettlement, with hundreds of refugees now rebuilding their lives in the area. Their new community has, in turn, been enriched by the social and economic contribution of new arrivals
The Armidale community has worked collaboratively to find meaningful ways to ensure newcomers feel welcomed and supported in their new homes, and successive community pulse surveys from the University of New England have charted increasingly positive attitudes towards refugees in Armidale.
This new resettlement location has seeded many friendships, like that of Salwan – an Ezidi refugee – and Simon, an Armidale local and photographer, who has mentored Salwan and nourished his aspirations of becoming a photographer himself.
In reflecting on these two anniversaries, I am immensely proud – both of the efforts of our staff and partners, but also of the resilience and tenacity our clients who have displayed in rebuilding their lives in Australia.
Welcoming refugees has numerous benefits for individuals, but so too does it benefit the broader community by making us a more compassionate, diverse and inclusive society.