This month marks 10 years since the beginning of the Syrian civil war -- a conflict that has displaced more than half of the country’s pre-war population and left a staggering 80 per cent of the current population living beneath the poverty line.
Despite great international interest in the first years of the conflict, coverage of the war has waned in the past few years.
This is a far cry from 2015, when the Australian government joined with other humanitarian leaders in announcing the resettlement of an additional 15,000 people displaced by the conflict in Syria and Iraq. This meant that SSI resettled 10,000 refugees in a single year. It was a huge feat that required collaboration between government, civil society and corporate organisations.
Thousands of everyday Australians also put up their hands, asking, "What can I do to welcome my new neighbours?" Refugees from that intake are now well on the way to successful settlement ― forging friendships, engaging in education, starting businesses ― making economic, social and cultural contributions to their new homes
Research has demonstrated that people from refugee backgrounds have a strong commitment and motivation to fulfil their social and civic responsibilities in Australia. This is seen through high rates of volunteering and community participation.
One of these individuals is Nohara Odicho, who arrived in Australia as a refugee with her father in 2015 and has since channeled her lived experience as a refugee to help others in similar circumstances.
Nohara went on to manage the Community Legal Education program at Legal Aid Refugee Services, responsible for educating refugees about the free services to which they are entitled. In acknowledgement of her work, she was awarded the STARTTS’ NSW Humanitarian Award for a Refugee Community Worker in 2019.
Like Nohara, George Najarian threw himself into community minded work after settling in Australia. George is an award-winning Armenian refugee who was forced to flee Syria.
He has educated thousands of Australian community members about refugees, raised more than $12,000 and launched two scholarships for refugees.
In 2020, the UN estimated that 13.1 million Syrian people like Nohara and George need humanitarian assistance. This equals the population of NSWS and Queensland combined.
If Syria does not find the resources to rebuild, this humanitarian crisis will only persist.
Australia has an obligation as a responsible global citizen to support individuals and families fleeing war and persecution. And we have so much to gain from doing so.
Take Sophie Bejok as an example:
Sophie had been in Australia for six months when she applied for SSI’s Community Innovation Fund to run community cooking classes to help other women integrate into the community. Before the COVID-19 outbreak limited her services, Sophie also ran her own Dance Fit classes and business in the Sydney area.
Economic modelling from Deloitte Access Economics suggests that increasing Australia’s humanitarian migration could increase the size of the Australian economy by $37.7 billion over the next 50 years.
Like Nohara, George and Sophie, many refugees bring with them an entrepreneurial, innovative spirit and hardworking attitude that is often attributed to a blend of their innate character and the hardship they have faced and survived. These qualities are what Australia needs to rebuild as we exit the COVID-19 crisis.
As we prepare to work towards opening our International borders, and allowing migrants into the country, it is paramount that humanitarian protection visa holders are prioritised in their entry, alongside international students. It is both a moral obligation and economic and social imperative.