A small group of families from war-torn Iraq and Syria arrived in Armidale last week – the first of 200 refugees fleeing their home countries who are expected to move here by the end of June. The NSW government and local community organizations will work together to resettle them into their new homes.
The refugees, a spokesperson from the Department of Social Services (DSS) said, are among the most vulnerable applicants for resettlement: persecuted minorities, women, children, and families.
Member for New England Barnaby Joyce announced last August that more than 200 refugees would settle in the Armidale region, after refugee advocacy groups and the Armidale Regional Council lobbied for years to recognize the city as a suitable refugee resettlement location, joining Coffs Harbour and Wagga Wagga.
“Armidale has the infrastructure, employment opportunities, affordable housing, and availability of support services, including English language tuition, education, and employment services, to support effective settlement,” the DSS spokesperson said.
“In addition, Armidale provides a range of opportunities to connect with, and feel safe in their new home through a welcoming community, as well as cultural and religious expression.”
Many of the refugees seek protection from conflict or trauma, and need help adjusting to life in Australia and learning a new language. To help them resettle, the government has engaged Settlement Services International (SSI), a NSW community-based not-for-profit organization, to implement the Humanitarian Settlement Program, which helps refugees become self-reliant and active members of the Australian community.
SSI picks up the refugees from the airport, using people who speak their language; finds accommodation; and helps them to study or find long-term jobs, and learn English.
“We connect them to different places around town,” explained Joe Wright, SSI’s volunteer program manager; “we set them up with Medicare cards, take them to the bank to set up an account, and we help them enrol their children in school. All the essential elements to starting life in a new community.”
The response from the Armidale townsfolk has been, he said, “pretty incredible”. About 140 people attended two community information sessions SSI organized to talk about volunteering and supporting people as they settle into the communities.
“There’s some pretty good support within communities for newcomers to town,” he said, “and there’s a great community spirit within Armidale.”
UNE has announed a new scholarship for refugees and asylum seekers. The Scholarship for Asylum Seekers and Refugees is open to those holding, or applying for, specific visas, meet the English language requirements, and reside in Armidale. More: https://t.co/rhLH71bGps— Uni of New England (@UniNewEngland) February 13, 2018
SSI hopes to have volunteers onboard within the next month. They are looking for a housing assistant, to help people find accommodation; and a community support assistant, to help refugees access local services like schools; build social connections like joining sports or religious groups; or figure out how Australia works. More information about these roles is on the SSI website.
The refugees, many of whom speak Kurdish Kumanji, will also receive up to 510 hours of English language tuition through the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), and be eligible for free skills training at TAFE”s Armidale Campus.
“I am proud TAFE NSW and the NSW Government will be providing the assistance required to make the transition for these vulnerable people all the more easier,” Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall said.
While locals help refugees start a new life, refugees also benefit those communities. SSI and the Department of Social Services point out that they increase the population; develop small businesses; stimulate the local economy; create jobs for teachers, doctors, and other health services; and make communities more multicultural and diverse. The Victorian town of Nhill, for instance, gained more than $41 million over 5 years through resettling refugees.
“Country communities like Armidale have much to gain from resettling refugees,” Mr Marshall said, “and I look forward to welcoming these people to our local community.”