Record-breaking numbers of forcibly displaced people worldwide have increased the importance of this week’s Refugee Week celebrations, according to Settlement Services International (SSI) CEO Violet Roumeliotis.
The annual celebration of the courage and contribution of refugees would be a particularly poignant occasion this year in light of the staggering number of refugees and other forcibly displaced people around the world, she said.
“UNHCR figures* show we’re on track to see the number of forcibly displaced people exceed 60 million for the first time. Among that group are more than 20 million refugees, which is the highest number recorded since 1992,” Ms Roumeliotis said.
“These figures show that no-one is immune to the effects of war and persecution, so it’s important that we use opportunities like Refugee Week to raise awareness of the issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions they make to Australian society.”
Many of the people SSI works with have only been in Australia a short while, but already, many are making a meaningful social and economic contribution, Ms Roumeliotis said.
“The refugee community has a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and we’re also seeing a widespread desire to give back to Australia and help others by volunteering and pursuing careers in social work or community services,” she said.
“A great example of this is a young Syrian refugee, Ania, who arrived in Australia late last year with her family after living in Lebanon for four years. Ania has studied extensively, speaks four languages, and recently secured work with the NSW Government. When she achieves her goal of studying political law, her contribution to Australian society will only grow. ”
Ms Roumeliotis said Refugee Week, which runs from June 19 to 25, was a chance to acknowledge the skills refugees like Ania bring to their new homes.
“Behind the ‘refugee’ label are people like you and me. Seeking safety, they have been forced to leave behind everything they know – friends, family, memories, their homeland – and it’s incumbent on us to offer a warm welcome,” she said.
SSI launched its Refugee Week celebrations on Saturday with the New Beginnings Refugee Arts & Culture Festival in Darling Harbour, which featured live music, dance performances, workshops, and food and market stalls.
The celebrations will continue over the next week, with an art exhibition, documentary screening and more. Visit Newbeginningsfestival.com.au for more information.
*Source: UNHCR Mid-year Trends
SSI Communications Assistant Hannah Gartrell 0488 680 287 or 02 8799 6740
SSI Communications Coordinator Louise Wallace 0488 680 255 or 02 8799 6741