COVID-19 has touched everyone around the globe, causing economies to come crashing to a halt, shut-downs to be mandated and borders to close.
While this has affected everyone’s freedom of movement, individuals and families from refugee backgrounds have been particularly hard hit -- blocked from attaining the safety and stability they desperately need.
The COVID-19 pandemic reached Australian soil in March, and since then the Federal Government has close our borders to all entrants, allowing only Australian citizens, permanent residents, or immediate family into the country.
This has meant Australia’s refugee intake has been on hold for the past seven months, causing havoc amongst the refugee community and around the world.
As a daughter of migrants, and CEO of Settlement Services International, I have found it disconcerting to see the widespread impact that factors outside of our control can have on the ability for individuals find a safe haven.
In light of this, last week, we spoke to SBS about the many refugees who were granted humanitarian visas by the Federal Government earlier this year, and who had their dreams suddenly cut short by the COVID-19 induced border closure.
Some of these refugees are now stranded amid an enduring pandemic with no jobs, refuge, or hope. In some cases, people are stuck in limbo, forced to live in unfamiliar countries separated from family and friends.
Just one of the examples I have seen of this is the experience of David Odeesh, who was elated when his sister and her family were granted humanitarian visas by the Federal Government in January.
The family had been forced to flee their hometown of Mosul, Iraq, and escape to Lebanon due to the threat of Islamic State. They were to arrive in Sydney in March this year, but six months on, Mr Odeesh, is still waiting for them to be allowed to enter the country.
Separation from loved ones is just one of the many factors that can contribute to the endemic sense of loneliness experienced by people of refugee backgrounds during their early settlement.
There are many reasons refugees and asylum seekers experience loneliness in Australia, including a lack of community connections and support, language barriers and a limited income that does not enable them to be socially involved.
In these challenging times where isolation is rampant, it is paramount for social services like SSI and the local community step up and support newcomers who do not have the social support network most Australians can rely on.
SSI's Volunteer program and volunteers such as Shazia Mia are on the front line in helping combat this loneliness by welcoming new families and migrants to Australia and sharing what makes Australia “a great home”.
While working full-time in Sydney's CBD as a corporate professional, Shazia also works as a volunteer ambassador for Welcome2Sydney; an innovative volunteer program that encourages newcomers to develop a sense of belonging.
It was co-designed by the City of Sydney SSI and has been expanded to greater Sydney.
Shazia shared with us her belief, that I believe aligns with the foundation of the work we do at SSI:
A community only flourishes if you connect with each other, and we have to make connections with people.’
That sentiment is reflected in Foundations for Belonging: A snapshot of newly arrived refugees, a research report by SSI and Western Sydney University, which shines a light on the importance of refugees’ social connections in their successful settlement and integration
It points to actions including leveraging the willingness of refugees to volunteer, to strengthen reciprocal social and civic participation, and community initiatives that facilitate the meeting and exchange between refugees and the receiving communities at the local level.
I truly believe that when circumstances, such as border closures, are out of control, it is vital we focus on supporting refugees living in Australia’s positive sense of welcome and trust in neighbours and neighbourhoods.
The infrastructure supports provided by grass-roots programs such as Welcome2Sydney and SSI's Volunteering enable people like Shazia to put the wheels in motion for a more socially inclusive and cohesive Australia.
If you would like to learn more about our Volunteer program, we would welcome you to join us--post pandemic--at the next Welcome2Sydney event.