Refugees resettling in Australia should benefit from greater cohesion between on- and off-shore programs after Settlement Services International’s Yamamah Agha took part in the Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) Exchange Program to Iran.
Ms Agha, the Humanitarian Settlement Services Service Delivery Manager at SSI, experienced firsthand the work done to help prepare refugees and humanitarian visa holders for arrival in Australia.
The AUSCO program is provided to refugee and humanitarian visa holders who are preparing to settle in Australia while still overseas in transit countries and refugee camps.
The program provides practical advice and the opportunity to ask questions about travel to and life in Australia. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is contracted to deliver AUSCO on behalf of the Department of Social Services, which funds the program.
AUSCO is currently delivered in Africa, South Asia, South East Asia and the Middle East, with additional courses provided in other locations as required.
Ms Agha said that after participating in the program’s educational classes and answering questions she was able to make several recommendations that could further support humanitarian entrants to Australia.
“It was a magnificent experience for me and provided me with a great insight into the tremendous amount of work and effort put into delivering an AUSCO class,” Ms Agha said. “The exchange program will help us align SSI onshore orientation program content with what is already covered in AUSCO and build on it.”
Ms Agha said the group she worked with was full of questions about life in Australia.
“They had more than 150 questions on the first day about Australia’s freedom, about services in Australia, about religion and whether they could practice their own religions,” she said. “They wanted to know about how they would communicate in Australian society, could they work, how Australia treats it’s sick and old people, and would they have the same rights as Australian citizens. The group actually felt quite reassured that there was someone there from Australia to answer their questions directly.”
Ms Agha said the five-day exchange program had a critical role in ensuring onshore and offshore programs worked together for the best settlement outcomes. Among her recommendations were:
- A greater emphasis on information about youth services and rights;
- An introduction to Humanitarian Settlement Service providers in each state;
- For biographical summaries of clients to be provided to service providers such as SSI by the departments of Social Services and Immigration and Border Protection; and,
- For ongoing communication between on-shore and off-shore trainers.
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