Samira Maksoud is a Syrian refugee who has been in Australia less than six months. But that hasn’t stopped her from finding a part-time job and enrolling to study in two tertiary qualifications.
Her goal for life in Australia is to find full-time work in interpreting or business administration, fields in which she already has qualifications and experience. Ultimately, she wants to stand on her own two feet and give back to the country that has supported her to start life from scratch.
Samira is one of thousands of hardworking, community-minded people that SSI has supported over the past 18 months as part of our Federal Government’s commitment to accept an additional intake of refugees escaping the war in Syria and Iraq. As the settlement of this cohort comes to an end, I’ve reflected on the wide-reaching ramifications of this unprecedented humanitarian gesture.
It enabled 12,000 individuals and families to start new lives that are free of war and persecution — to bring up their children in a safe environment, to reunite with family members, to remember their dreams and start to follow them again.
But the benefits are not just one way. History shows that as a nation, we reap huge rewards from the economic, social and cultural contributions refugees make to their new communities. For every high profile success story from the 12,000 cohort, such as Refugee Talent founder Nirary Dacho, there are thousands of people like Samira whose contributions strengthen the economic and social fabric of our country.
This is something we’ve seen again and again at SSI in the six years that we’ve been delivering the Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) program, under which refugees receive essential support and information to assist with their settlement.
This program will soon be replaced by the Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP), and I’m delighted to say that SSI will continue our long-term work with refugees under this new program. The Government announced last month that SSI has secured two of the 11 newly defined contract regions across Australia: Sydney and NSW regional, which covers northern NSW and the newly announced regional settlement hub of Armidale.
We’re looking forward to getting to work under this new program, which has a greater emphasis on English language proficiency; education and development; and employment. The three ‘Es’ are areas that SSI has incorporated for some years now as part and parcel of our service delivery. We’re pleased that they’ve now been formalised — something we see as positive reinforcement of our good work under the current program.
The arrival of an additional 12,000 refugees in Australia also saw an incredible amount of collaboration between all levels of government and community. Just last week, SSI brought together our peers in the settlement sector for a two-day conference to take stock and explore what new, innovative and creative ways have been implemented to support refugee and migrant families in settlement.
This is the second time we’ve hosted Cultural Shift, which recognises the need for greater discussion about the models and approaches for supporting newly arrived families through settlement.
Settling in Australia provides migrant and refugee families with many new opportunities. However, we know that the process of re-establishing a life in a new country can also be challenging for many families.
We know that timely and suitable support services can maximise the opportunities for families and the contributions they will make to the broader Australian community in the future.
Over the two days at Cultural Shift, we heard many great examples of services working together to meet the needs of families, ranging from community led initiatives, migrant and refugee services, child and family support services, health, employment, disability, education, housing, private sector and philanthropic endeavours.
The strength of the Cultural Shift program lay in the fact that it was full of professionals and community leaders with both lived experience and industry expertise. It was also great this year to see strong participation from our SSI colleagues in the Ability Links, Multicultural Foster Care, Housing, HSS and SRSS programs, along with SSI’s NSP partners and member organisations.
Lessons from the inaugural Cultural Shift symposium have informed our thinking and practices at SSI, and I have no doubt that the findings from this year will similarly enable us to work more effectively and collaboratively to enhance settlement and support services for refugee and migrant families.