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SSI Speaker Series: Perception is reality

Settlement Services International’s (SSI) third Speakers’ Series event for 2014 will explore the theme: Perception is reality: How do we form our perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers? The live panel discussion will approach the complex question from different angles following a presentation by Professor Andrew Markus, who heads the Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion research program based at Monash University. The 2014 Mapping Social Cohesion report suggested that the majority of Australians support a humanitarian settlement program, which assesses refugees overseas but are negative towards asylum seekers arriving by boat. The predominant view is that asylum seekers are illegal economic migrants. Claims of persecution are often ignored as a push factor. These views have increased since 2011. 

Wrestling champion hangs on to hope and new friends

Mohamadreza Ashori, 30, dreamt of competing at the Olympic Games, and still holds on to those hopes despite setbacks throughout his life. In May he won the 74 kilogram division at the Australia Cup of Wrestling. He would have qualified for the Commonwealth Games earlier in the year after success in other events, but he is not an Australian citizen. Mohamadreza is seeking refugee protection in Australia and has lived in the community for about 12 months while his application is assessed. That means he is not eligible to compete in the Games. He has been supported by Settlement Services International’s (SSI) Community Support Program during that time.

Once denied education, Mahdia now relishes her school work

  Mahdia, 18, could not attend school in Iran because of social and financial barriers. But since she arrived in Australia with her mother and brothers, she has thrown herself into school work with vigour. “I really, really love going to school,” Mahdia said, “because I had so many barriers in the country where I came from. I love my school, I love my teachers and subjects and I love to study. I like to go to the library to study whenever I can and if I don’t, I feel like I have missed out on something.”  Mahdia was born in Iran, where her family had fled to from war-torn Afghanistan. Attending school in Iran was all but impossible, she said, because of her gender and ethnicity. “But I studied by myself and went to an institute to study English,” Mahdia said. “Then we came here to Australia. We were so broken. We had a lot of issues but we did it.” 

People come together at Iftar Community Kitchen

Each person asked about Ramadan is sure to describe its meaning in their own considered, subjective terms. Jawad Hussain described what Ramadan meant to him, as about 120 SSI Community Support Program (CSP) clients broke their daily fast at a Community Kitchen Iftar meal.  “Ramadan means to fast, but not only from food; (it’s to fast) with eyes, with mind; we have to be good person,” he said. “It means to be really nice, gentle man. You make a special effort. If you practise Ramadan, you believe it will bring some change in your personality.” Jawad came to Australia from Pakistan and, like most people at the Iftar, is awaiting assessment for refugee status. He is a regular at Community Kitchens who volunteers to prepare food and set up and tidy the community centre.

Forum highlights barriers for refugee women

  Australia has a long and proud history of resettling some of the most vulnerable refugee women and their families, however, major gaps in support services for these women have been identified and need to be addressed.  Speaking today in Sydney at the Refugee Women at Risk forum hosted by Settlement Service International (SSI), SSI Manager Humanitarian Services David Keegan said that based on consultations with refugee women, it’s clear the current level of support should be reviewed. “Research conducted by the UNSW Centre for Refugee Research suggests refugee women in Australia under the Woman Risk visa category experience higher levels of post-traumatic stress and face greater challenges on resettlement,” he said. As the largest provider of services to refugee women in NSW, SSI has observed that a significant number of refugee women who enter via other visa classes have also suffered extreme physical and sexual violence and trauma prior to their arrival and require higher level specialist support services during settlement in Australia. “SSI currently supports about 1000 vulnerable women, and consultations with 50 women have highlighted a greater need for support services, particularly in employment, affordable housing, health and education,” Mr Keegan continued.

Ability Links: A new way for people with disability

The Ability Links program operated by the partnership of Settlement Services International, St Vincent de Paul Society NSW and UnitingCare has officially started today, July 1. The partnership was awarded the tender to deliver Ability Links across 23 local government areas in Sydney Metro North and Metro South and the Southern Region.   The Ability Links program contributes to the objectives of the National Disability Insurance Scheme to foster full and active participation of people with disability in their communities.

Symposium highlights holistic support services best practice

Access to timely and collaborative support services during their first years in Australia is critical to migrant and refugee families, ensuring a smoother transition to a new life here. This was highlighted at today’s Cultural Shift symposium on supporting migrant and refugee families through settlement. “It’s during the first few years of settlement that families […]

Grassroots support for family seeking asylum

The community has joined members of the Budokan Judo Club in Castle Hill to rally in support of the Moghadamshaidie family since they first told their story of fleeing Iran for the relative safety of Australia. Teenage boys Shaheen and Hussain Moghadamshaidie should soon represent NSW at the National Titles but that opportunity to fulfil their potential would not be available if not for the near $1000 raised by supporters. Settlement Services International (SSI) CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the family was in Australia awaiting assessment for refugee status. That means parents Ali and Maliheh are unable to work, but have access to support through SSI’s asylum seeker assistance program. “The family’s little funds are exhausted on rent, food and bills so the cost of travel and competition fees for judo is unmanageable,” Ms Roumeliotis said, “but after the community was made aware of the family’s circumstances, supporters raised money on their behalf. This was a generous show of support that the family is very thankful for, as it will help the boys reach their goals and potential.” One of those supporters was Romy, who did not provide a surname. Romy is a humanitarian aid worker with asylum seekers and refugees. “When I saw the story about Shaheen and Hussain I forwarded it on to friends and colleagues and they were all really excited to be able to help out,” she said. “I hope the money will get the boys to the national titles or as far as they can go towards achieving their goals.”

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.

Taekwondo champ from Iran wants to pass on skills

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.”

Cultural Shift symposium for migrant and refugee families

Settling 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.   

The first Cultural Shift symposium for migrant and refugee families

Settling 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.

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.

SSI, Vinnies and UnitingCare to support 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.

Exhibition gives voice to refugees and asylum seekers

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. “Most of these artists have worked professionally in their countries of origin in a range of media that include, painting, sculpting, photography, and as jewelers and engravers. “We hope this exhibition will not only showcase their talents but help the artists make new connections in the community that will help them pursue their art here in Australia.” Of special interest at the exhibition will be the work of ‘coffee artist’ Masoud Akhava Ghassabzadeh. Coffee art is practiced by artists who have spent time in detention centres. With no access to paints or other materials, asylum seekers in detention began using instant coffee mixed with water to paint with.  

Symposium to highlight innovation in services for new arrivals

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.

Asylum seeker’s Olympic and academic dreams on hold

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.”

Sydney to Tehran: the AUSCO exchange program

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 […]

New advocacy body to be the voice of NSW multicultural youth

Settlement Services International (SSI) has today announced the establishment of an independent multicultural youth organisation to focus on the needs of youth from refugee and migrant backgrounds. SSI is the largest provider of refugee settlement services in NSW and a representative body for 11 migrant resource centres and multicultural services. SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said: […]

Harmony Day: “Diversity is our strength̶1;

About 300 staff, volunteers and clients celebrated Australia’s cultural diversity on Harmony Day, with a halal sausage barbecue, music, dancing and a game of soccer. At the event on Friday, March 21, Settlement Services International Humanitarian Services Delivery Manager Yamamah Agha said the message for people to consider was that “everyone belongs”.  “Today we are […]