SSI News Blog

Refugees empowered by storytelling

Refugees and asylum seekers often have compelling stories to tell but for many reasons remain silent. At a special Refugee Week Speakers’ Series event hosted by Settlement Services International (SSI), a panel of writers with refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds and experience will discuss the role storytelling plays in giving voice to this marginalised sector of society.

SSI is a leading not-for-profit organisation that provides a range of services in humanitarian settlement, accommodation, asylum seeker assistance, foster care and disability support in NSW. SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the reasons why refugees and asylum seekers chose not to tell their stories were a challenge.

“Sometimes their stories are misappropriated or simply ignored,” she said, “and they often have reasons to fear that speaking out will further endanger them or their loved ones.

“With most media now published online, comments by refugees and asylum seekers are easily found by their persecutors in their countries of origin. This can have dire consequences for them if they are returned, or for their family members who remain there.

“But it is important that we explore ways to make refugees and asylum seekers feel safe, understood and respected in telling their stories. Sharing life stories should foster empathy and help society better understand the circumstances people have endured.”

The SSI Refugee Week Speakers’ Series event on Tuesday, June 17, will feature talks from three writers.

Read more: Refugees empowered by storytelling

Taekwondo champ from Iran wants to pass on skills

Hamid Shirvani

Hamid Shirvani, 43, from Iran, has taken out one of the top categories at the NSW Taekwondo State Championships and now hopes to pass on his skills as a coach.

Mr Shirvani lives with his wife and baby daughter in South Wentworthville. The family fled Iran about a year ago and is awaiting the outcome of their assessments for refugee status. This means Mr Shirvani is unable to work and has limited access to the training resources that other taekwondo competitors could afford.

But this didn’t stop him winning a gold medal in the open men’s 80 to 87 kilogram black belt category at the State Championships on May 11.

Mr Shirvani is no stranger to success in taekwondo. The sport is much more popular in Iran, where there is a professional league of taekwondo. Mr Shirvani said he was a top-five contender in the country’s professional competition for 10 years. He won several national tournaments, he said, and qualified for international events but was never allowed to leave Iran.

Now in Australia, he hopes to pass on the skills he has learned over 30 years of training and coaching in the sport. “Taekwondo is something that I grew-up doing,” he said through an interpreter, “it is part of my life and I will always be practicing it. This is what I have dedicated my life to. I have years of experience and I think I can teach and improve taekwondo in Australia.”

Read more: Taekwondo champ from Iran wants to pass on skills

The first Cultural Shift symposium for migrant and refugee families

Violet RoumeliotisSettling in Australia presents recently arrived migrant and refugee families with many new opportunities but the process of settlement and the associated adjustments to a new country can also be challenging.

“The first few years after arrival are when many migrant and refugee families face some of their greatest challenges,” Settlement Services International (SSI) CEO, Violet Roumeliotis said.

“As our population grows, it has become imperative that we work together to make the change as smooth as possible for migrants and refugees.”

Ms Roumeliotis said SSI had, for the first time in NSW, brought together leaders and experts from diverse organisations to provide an insightful and engaging interactive program at a one day symposium to be held on June 5 in Parramatta, titled ‘Cultural Shift: symposium on supporting migrant and refugee families through settlement.’

Please read on for snapshots of just some of the presentations and workshops at the symposium. SSI can arrange pre-event interviews with presenters and can arrange for interviews if a journalist would like to attend on the day.

Read more: The first Cultural Shift symposium for migrant and refugee families

SSI, Vinnies and UnitingCare to provide for people with disability

Settlement Services International in partnership with St Vincent de Paul Society NSW and UnitingCare has been awarded the tender to deliver Ability Links across 23 local government areas in inner Sydney, Metro Sydney South West, Sutherland Shire and Southern Highland region. 

Ability Links is contributing to the objectives of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and is a new approach of the NSW Government to foster full and active participation of people with disability in their community.

Sixty-four Ability Links Coordinators, known as Linkers, will be hired to provide information and support to people with disability, their families and carers, and their local communities. Linkers will work in connecting local communities in order to shape a more inclusive society for people with disability and their families.

Settlement Services International CEO, Violet Roumeliotis said the missions of the organisations regarding social inclusion made for a highly compatible partnership focused on benefiting people with disability. Providing quality services and support for vulnerable communities, SSI is a leading not-for-profit organisation providing a range of services in the areas of humanitarian settlement, accommodation, asylum seeker assistance and foster care in NSW.

“People with disability are the beneficiaries of this combined approach and the new model for full participation offered by Ability Links,” said Ms Roumeliotis.

Read more: SSI, Vinnies and UnitingCare to provide for people with disability

Exhibition gives voice to refugees and asylum seekers

Victor Youssef

Art Is Our Voice is an exhibition showcasing the creative work of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia. The exhibition has been organised by Settlement Services International (SSI) in conjunction with University of Sydney Amnesty International and Amnesty International’s ARTillery project, with the support of Verge Gallery, run by The University of Sydney Union.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the exhibition would give artists from communities often marginalised in our society the opportunity to present their stories to the world.

“The exhibition will give voice to people who are too often spoken for and about by others,” Ms Roumeliotis said.

“By presenting their work to the community, these 15 visual artists from Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Sri Lanka can show their skills and express their creativity.

Read more: Exhibition gives voice to refugees and asylum seekers

Symposium to highlight innovation in services for new arrivals

Violet Roumeliotis

Access to timely and innovative services during their first years in Australia is critical to migrant and refugee families, ensuring a smoother transition to a new life here, a concept that will be explored at the upcoming Cultural Shift symposium.

“It’s during the first few years of settlement that families face some of their greatest challenges, so it’s vital that NGOs and Governments alike provide innovative responses to these challenges,” said Settlement Services International (SSI) CEO, Violet Roumeliotis.

“Services that build capacity in the process of settlement and the associated adjustments to a new country’s social, cultural, legal and other systems allow migrants and refugees to achieve a ‘cultural shift’ in their settlement journey.” 

Ms Roumeliotis said SSI had brought together leaders and experts from the NGO and Government sectors to provide an insightful and engaging interactive program. The June 5 ‘Cultural Shift: symposium on supporting migrant and refugee families through settlement’ will be held in Parramatta. Registrations, which opened last week, will close on May 30.

Read more: Symposium to highlight innovation in services for new arrivals

Asylum seeker’s Olympic and academic dreams on hold

Hamed Ghorbani

Hamed Ghorbani is a high achiever in his chosen sport and academia and a prime example of the talent and dedication found in many new migrants and people seeking asylum in Australia.

Hamed, 27, from Iran, is living in the community on a bridging visa and is provided support by Settlement Services International (SSI) while he awaits a response to his application for refugee status.

SSI is a leading not-for-profit organisation that provides a range of services in the areas of humanitarian settlement, accommodation, asylum seeker assistance and foster care in NSW.

The organisation’s CEO, Violet Roumeliotis, said Mr Ghorbani’s achievements were impressive.

“Mr Ghorbani is an elite athlete in the Olympic sport of handball, who has won a national club title with the University of Sydney and a silver medal for the NSW team at the national championships.

“He is also a skilled researcher with a Master’s Degree in Sports Science and Physical Education. And in 2012, he was awarded a silver medal for best invention at the Taipei International Invention Show and Technomart for an ergonomic running machine that he designed.

“Had Mr Ghorbani been born in Australia he could have strived to be an Olympic representative with a career in sports medicine research and development.”

He now lives in Ryde, Sydney, after seeking asylum in Australia in May last year. Unable to work due to his asylum seeker status, Mr Ghorbani soon approached the Sydney University handball club to ask if he could play.

“It is very good there,” he said, “I met new people. I feel very welcome there with the good relationships I have with my team mates and coach. They are very good to me; they help me and support me.”

Mr Ghorbani represented Iran at youth levels and played in the country’s professional league for five years.

Mr Ghorbani’s Sydney Uni team qualified for the Oceania Club Championships in New Caledonia in June, after winning the national championship. Mr Ghorbani is unlikely to join them, however. Living in Australia on a bridging visa means he is unable to travel overseas. But he still holds hope after lodging a ministerial intervention request to be granted an exception.

If granted refugee status and eventually citizenship, Mr Ghorbani hopes to represent Australia at an Olympic Games and develop a career in sports science research.

“I would like to study more,” he said, “and make lots of research in the field of sports medicine, especially in knee surgery and ankle surgery in Australia.”



Sydney to Tehran: the AUSCO exchange program

Yamamah Agha

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.


Media enquiries:

SSI Online Communications Coordinator, Callan Lawrence, 0478 156 491, or, 02 8799 6746

SSI Marketing and Communications Manager, Angela Calabrese 0401 284 828


Success stories

Ignite helps Saman Khaladj Iranian refugee forge new career path

Saman Khaladj launched his own business with the support of the SSI Ignite Small Business Start-ups initiative. Arriving in Australia in 2013 marked the beginning of a new life and career for 49-year-old Saman Khaladj.


Read more ...