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Learning English, connecting with the community, and finding employment and housing will be the key priorities for refugee families arriving in Armidale in the coming months, according to a leading settlement expert.

Yamamah Agha, the Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP) Manager for community organisation and social business Settlement Services International (SSI), said in the 16 years she had been working with refugees, those areas consistently rated among new arrivals’ top goals for life in Australia.

“On arrival to Australia, we assess individual needs, skills and experience in order to assist refugees to identify and work towards their settlement goals. Invariably, these goals include securing stable housing, learning English, making new social connections, and engaging in employment or education,” she said.

“At SSI, we work hand-in-hand with refugees to ensure they are supported to achieve these goals. Depending on their individual circumstances, this might include supporting a family to source and secure a private rental, linking a young student with a bridging course that will enable them to resume their university studies, or assisting a professional to identify the pathway to resume practice in their field in Australia.”

Armidale was selected last year as a new refugee settlement area, with arrivals expected to begin in the coming months. Overseeing settlement will be Ms Agha and her team at SSI as part of the government-funded HSP service. Ms Agha was this year selected by UNHCR for the important role of Rapporteur at its annual NGO Consultations in Geneva.

According to Ms Agha, one common misconception about refugees was that they were content to remain on government assistance.

“This is totally at odds with my experience at the coalface. Last year, SSI supported 10,000 refugees to settle in Australia. The three things they had in common were resilience, gratitude and a burning drive to make the most of the opportunity to begin new lives in Australia,” she said.

“Refugees don’t just want to survive here — they want to thrive. When, for example, refugees are faced with significant barriers that inhibit their capacity to find employment, they don’t just give up the search. Instead, we see a significant number create their own employment by starting a business.”

As the provider of the government-funded HSP in Armidale, SSI will support newly arrived families for up to 18 months, offering support to reach their goals in areas including:

  • Employment and education: Some 75% of refugees arrive with at least high school level education, while 35% have a tertiary qualification obtained either pre or post arrival — compared with 39% of the Australian population. With a little assistance during the early days of settlement, refugees go on to make significant economic contributions. This support includes identifying suitable pathways to resuming studies or employment, and connecting new arrivals with local employment services providers and work experience opportunities.
  • Housing: New arrivals receive critical information on arrival about the local rental market and their rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Refugees without existing community links are also connected with specialist housing support to identify and secure long-term housing in the private rental market. SSI research last year showed almost all people supported by SSI secured private rental accommodation by the time they exited the service.
  • English: Each new arrival is entitled to up to 510 hours of English language tuition as part of the government-funded Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP). School age refugees receive equivalent support through Intensive English Centres. SSI ensures all new arrivals are linked with the appropriate language support. Both anecdotal feedback from refugees and research indicates that learning English is a top priority for the majority of new arrivals.
  • Community linkages: SSI links new arrivals with ethno-specific and mainstream organisations that will support them to rebuild their social and support networks in Australia. In SSI’s research, more than two-thirds of respondents scored highly when it came to feeling part of the community. They reported finding it easier to make friends in Australia, understand Australia culture, and talk with their neighbours.

“Regional communities like Armidale have much to gain from resettling refugees, including social contributions such as reviving regional schools and countering population decline,” Ms Agha said.

“Refugee resettlement also has economic benefits. With the population growth comes an increased need for teachers, doctors and other services to support an expanding community. In the Victorian town of Nhill, for example, the net monetary gain of resettling 160 refugees over a five-year period exceeded $41 million.”

For a detailed refugee settlement timeline, click here.


About SSI: 

Settlement Services International (SSI) is a community organisation and social business that draws on its background, expertise and experience working with a wide range of people seeking support, including newcomers, refugees and asylum seekers and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities. We work with vulnerable communities to capacity build and enable them to overcome inequality. SSI is an advocate for the people and communities it represents and serves. Through the work we do we empower people to change their lives, and through our advocacy and representation, we influence and shape ideas and policy and we change people’s minds.

Media enquiries:

SSI Communications Coordinator Hannah Gartrell: 0488 680 287

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