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Armidale Regional Council, a key partner in a Settlement Services International (SSI) program to relocate Ezidi refugees from Syria and northern Iraq, has won the Government Award in the 2019 Human Rights Awards, presented by the Australian Human Rights Commission in Sydney on December 13.

The Human Rights Awards acknowledge and celebrate the work done in communities by ordinary Australians, organisations, businesses and community groups to further human rights and freedoms in Australia.

The Government Award recognises a local, state, territory or federal government body that has contributed to the advancement and protection of human rights in the Australian community.

Armidale Regional Council was chosen for championing the integration and wellbeing of Ezidi refugees in its community.

The council’s approach was said to be proactive, innovative and culturally sensitive, including initiatives such as volunteering opportunities, the promotion of cultural rights through spaces for traditional cultural practices, and raising awareness about refugees in the wider Armidale community.

The awards ceremony was told since mid-2018 Armidale had welcomed around 450 Ezidi people who had fled their country, fearful of the war with ISIS and the risk of persecution.

“That number has already risen to around 600 people,” Armidale Regional Council Mayor Simon Murray said.

“Their arrival in Armidale has further enhanced the city’s vast multiculturalism, which is a source of great pride for our region and is boosted by the large number of international students at the Armidale-based University of New England.

“Similarly, it fills me with pride to be Mayor of a community that consistently proves itself to be very welcoming and supportive.”

Councillor Murray said the council was quick to assist with the Ezidi settlement program, to help ensure a smooth transition and to make them feel welcome.

SSI nominated Armidale Regional Council for the award because the council had gone above and beyond in its dedication to refugee resettlement and the needs of newly arrived community members.

SSI said the council’s innovation and commitment to the needs of newly arrived refugees had made substantial contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Armidale regional area.

During the process of resettlement, the council’s Community Services team had been supportive, culturally sensitive and transparent when working alongside settlement providers.

Community Services worked closely with SSI on a number of innovative projects that supported the refugee community to not just settle but also thrive, building the lives they wanted.

SSI said the council had displayed compassion, understanding and a pragmatic approach in welcoming Iraqi and Syrian refugees, resulting in increased access to resources, services and educational opportunities for the newly arrived community.

It had consistently ensured that its actions, policies and services facilitated the needs of the refugee community and advanced its right to cultural and religious freedom and community engagement.

Councillor Murray said, “Really, the community has to get full praise for this, not just the Armidale Regional Council.

“We’ve got a very multicultural community and it has been advocating for refugees for a very long time.”

He said, “We cannot take any of this award away from the Ezidis themselves … They want to be part of the community and that in itself is one of the major reasons they have really been adopted by the Armidale community.”

See also: Armidale community shows the way for regional settlement

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