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New funding announced in this week’s Federal Budget will offer some support to families fleeing the conflict in Gaza, many of whom are currently at risk of homelessness and poverty, according to non-profit organisation, Settlement Services International (SSI), which provides human services to around 50,000 people a year.

SSI welcomed the Federal Budget announcement of a $900k injection to extend Medicare eligibility to 30 June 2025 for Bridging Visa E holders arriving from affected areas of Israel and Palestine.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said families had escaped the crisis in Gaza only to arrive in Australia and find themselves largely reliant on charities like SSI, which is currently supporting close to 70 families.

“The situation in Gaza has worsened and worsened. With no hope of return, families are now navigating the process of applying for asylum in Australia, but in the meantime, their visa types mean they are mostly unable to work and ineligible for government support.

“At a time of rising costs of living, this has translated to families sleeping in cars, or living with 14 people in two-bedroom apartments,” she said.

“We welcome the extension of Medicare eligibility, noting however that most of the families we work with are currently not on visa types that are eligible for this support. More needs to be done so that refugees from Gaza receive the same support as people fleeing conflict in places like Ukraine.”

Ms Roumeliotis said it was encouraging to see broader measures to support people who are building new lives in Australia, such as a $120.9 million investment to strengthen the settlement sector and enhance outcomes for refugees and migrants.

“Robust on-arrival and settlement support is critical to ensuring newcomers are positioned to realise their full potential in Australia. It was welcome to see measures to this effect, including a modest increase in funding for some of the core settlement programs that support these outcomes,” she said.

“Disappointingly, the humanitarian intake will remain static at 20,000 places, despite record-breaking global numbers of people who are currently forcibly displaced from their homes by violence, conflict and persecution.

“A scale-up of our humanitarian intake is needed to meet the massive shortfall in resettlement places globally. It would also open up more opportunities for refugees already settled here to be reunited with family and, critically, allow Australia to demonstrate its credentials as a strong global citizen.”

Ms Roumeliotis said a strong theme of the budget was women’s safety, ranging from economic security to targeted violence prevention measures and more.

“It is a scary time to be a woman in Australia. An average of one Australian woman is violently killed every week, a significant portion of which occurs in intimate and family settings. There is no panacea for this, but this budget includes significant investment to make women’s lives safer and more equitable,” she said.

Ms Roumeliotis said SSI welcomed a number of other budget measures designed to improve access and equity in Australia, including:

  • $27 million over three years to extend targeted support for Youth Transition Support services, which assist refugee and migrant youth to access education, employment and government services.
  • $253.6 million over five years to reform employment services and supports for people with disability.
  • $468.7 million over five years to support people with disability and get the NDIS back on track.
    $925.2 million over five years to improve financial support, safety assessments and referrals to support services for victim-survivors leaving a violent intimate partner relationship.

Media enquiries:
Hannah Gartrell, Head of Executive Communications and Media
M: 0423 965 956 E: hgartrell@ssi.org.au

Ahlam, Ana, and Emad all arrived in Australia as refugees and today, they are giving back by supporting newcomers settle in Australia as part of SSI’s Immediate Services team.

We caught up with them at the Sydney Airport arrivals hall to hear more about their first steps on Australian soil and what those moments taught them to better support others.

 

Emad

Emad’s never-ending excitement to be the first to welcome newcomers down under

Emad recalls his first moments in the arrivals hall he sits today as deeply emotional.

“This was the moment when someone waited for me and, upon my arrival, said, ‘Okay, welcome to Australia. A new life awaits you here.’ Immediately, I forgot everything I left behind in my country. All the suffering turned to excitement,” Emad reflected on his experiences from 15 years ago.

Today, Emad is part of a tight-knit team of staff from refugee backgrounds and other SSI staff who make the SSI Immediate Services team, who have the responsibility and privilege to be the first people Australia’s newcomers meet and build connections with when they first land in their new home.

“When our clients arrive at the airport, usually there are family and friends waiting so often it feels like a party. Because some families are waiting for five to eight to 10 years for approval for a loved one to come to Australia,” Emad said.

“We get very excited when we see our clients happy and getting hugs from their relatives. It’s especially moving when we welcome families and kids.”

 

Ahlam: From newcomer to regular at Sydney Airport arrivals

Ahlam: From newcomer to regular at Sydney Airport arrivals

Ahlam came to Australia as a refugee 16 years ago. When she first arrived, she didn’t speak English and had no money.

“I was so scared to come out of the airport, wondering who will be out there waiting for me. I had no idea what was going to happen next. When I came out, the SSI staff made me feel good, safe and so happy,” she recalled.

Since that day, Ahlam has become part of the SSI team and one of the ‘locals’ of Sydney Airport – she comes to greet and welcome newcomers so often, she is well-known and liked by staff in the arrivals hall.

“I think about my own experience when I landed at the airport; when I see them searching for someone who can help give them a home. I know what a good feeling it is to see someone waiting, holding your name on a sign. It is a feeling you can’t describe,” Ahlam reflected.

“Because I was a refugee myself, I don’t mind as long as I’m helping people because I know how they feel. Because they’ve suffered to come here; they’ve come from such a long way and they don’t know anyone. So to be here for them, I can see in their eyes how much it means.”

 

Ana’s aim to give newcomers a smooth arrival

Ana’s aim to give newcomers a smooth arrival

Anastasiia, or Ana for short, arrived as a refugee from Ukraine two years ago. At first, she didn’t interact with SSI but soon connected with the team to get assistance with renting an apartment, furniture and everything else she needed for the household.

“My case manager was always checking up on me how I’m going and what’s happening. And the moment I was ready to look for a job, she referred me to SSI to become a Multicultural Support Officer,” she said.

This is how Ana ultimately landed a full-time permanent position in SSI’s Immediate Services team, whose responsibility it is to meet new arrivals at the airport, get them set up for life in Australia, and provide them with suitable temporary accommodation.

“My role is the ‘backstage’ person behind the curtains, providing information to our Multicultural Support Officers around what time they should be at the airport, who we’re meeting, how big the family is, what languages they speak and so forth.”

 

This job is very rewarding because I’m helping people to reduce the stress that I went through when I first came to Australia.”

 

Almost all refugees and asylum seekers who come to our shores have survived personal trauma and social upheaval. SSI’s Humanitarian Services Program (HSP) aims to provide them with the structured support they need to adjust to life in Australia and successfully settle into our communities. SSI delivers HSP services on behalf of the Federal government in several locations across NSW.

Our case workers work closely with newcomers, connecting them with the skills, support and resources they need to find their feet and develop into independent members of society.

In the last year, HSP’s diverse team supported over 3,000 newcomers feel welcome and secure in their new home country.

Watch what our clients, Nargis and Cecilia, had to say about the support they received on the first days in Australia and meet some of our expert ‘welcomers’ supporting newcomers:

Learn more

Learn more about HSP Immediate Services Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP) here:

Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP)

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